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Posted on September 05, 2014
From the stars to nautical charts and radar, mankind has relied on a wide range of navigation tools to guide travels on the open water. Of course, any veteran sailor knows nothing can replace tried and trusted gut instinct, but a little help never hurt anyone.
As my fellow crewmembers and I prepared for the Newport Bermuda race, an annual, 635-mile nautical competition from Newport, Rhode Island, to Bermuda, we took a leap of faith and decided to use predictive analytics to shape our course across the Atlantic. Although conventional wisdom and weather reports produced right before the start of the race suggested traveling a route on the west side of the course would provide better winds and strong currents from the Gulf Stream, six weeks of analyzing weather systems and data from past races using predictive analytics undeniably pointed east.
We faced a choice; we could use the traditional approach of following the weather forecast generated the day of the race or allow “bigger” data to drive our decision-making. This is precisely the same fork in the road currently facing myriad organizations across both the public and private sectors. It’s a departure from tradition. It’s change. It’s scary. Yet, I knew the numbers wouldn’t lie; and with the right team, the right tools and a little luck, we could win this race. And so….we put faith in the data and pointed our boat, the Nanuq, eastward.
The weather was brutal – we saw days with no wind as well as a day with heavy squalls and near gale-force winds that forced one competitor boat to succumb to the conditions and withdraw from the race after suffering an equipment failure. Yet, our analysis of the course was correct; the wind and Gulf Stream current remained toward the east while wind died completely on the western side of the route. At times, our competitors rested at a standstill as we edged forward in what felt like our own private breeze.
In the end, our crew crossed the finish line first in our class! Our team certainly had a lot to celebrate, as the victory serves as a major milestone in our sailing careers. However, I believe we also presented another important proof point for the power of predictive analytics. As clients, business leaders and colleagues continue to find themselves at the crossroads of siding with tradition or the unknown of allowing data to drive decision-making; I will forever be reminded of the Nanuq’s victory this year.
When the competition plays it safe and relies on the status quo, dig into the data and head for better waters. You might just make it to the finish line first.