What Would Doc Brown Do?

by Jim Cain

Last week I posted Alfred, Robin, and how to be a Great Analyst, the first in our“ Napkyn Classics: Smart Thinking Never Goes out of Style” series.

Like that one, this post was also written 10 years ago but I think it still holds true today. 

We use way more pop culture references in the office than we do math/sciences ones. A good reference tells a story much better than a detailed (and alienating) technical description.  If you don’t believe me, ask me to explain tag management systems using nothing but Terminator 2 references.

With this in mind, I thought I would use the blog this week to share another popular pop culture reference that comes up in meetings all the time, in the form of the following sentence:

“So, what would Doc Brown do?”

I won’t spend too much time explaining the character of Doc Brown, because if you haven’t seen Back to the Future, you probably aren’t old enough to read this.

I will, however, talk about some of the critical aspects of the character of Doc that every analyst should aspire to when approaching their work.  If the Batman reference helps explain how a good analyst should approach their executive stakeholders, the Doc Brown one is for day to day problem solving.

Doc Brown is a hacker: Does the Doc ever give up because he can’t get enough speed and power into the Delorean?  Heck no!  He defines his goal, looks at what he has available, and builds an appropriate means to his end. Many analysts get way too caught up in their technology and lose sight of their goals (support decision making, make more money). Others feel they aren’t able to be effective because of a lack of developer support or enterprise technology. You would be amazed what you can do with a copy of Excel and a little bit of ingenuity.

Doc Brown doesn’t live in the present:   Based on the end of Back to the Future III, this is a literal statement — but I digress.  The real point is that Doc Brown constantly made decisions based on the fact that the only way to both affect and understand the present is to understand both the past and the future. The only thing better than a critical metric is a performance-focused metric, tied to both historical performance and year-end goals. This temporal context always helps support quality decisions.

Doc Brown isn’t the hero, but he is a critical character:  Similar to Robin and Alfred, Doc Brown is not the star of the Back to the Future movies.  Without him though, Marty McFly would just be some Huey Lewis fan in California who doesn’t respond well to being called a chicken.  Doc is the person who uses technology, intuition and decision support to allow Marty to optimize his family, get the girl, and save the day.

The next time you are looking at a tough analysis problem, do what we do at Napkyn and ask yourself, “What would Doc Brown do?”.  Taking on his DIY attitude and temporal attention will have your boss yelling “Great Scott!” in no time.



PS – We have several pop culture references we use all the time at the office – what are yours?

Jim Cain

Founder and CEO, Napkyn Analytics

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