Sometimes, life-changing discoveries are stumbled upon through serendipity. Take penicillin for example. Louis Pasteur once observed that "chance favours the prepared mind." And that's often the genius behind accidental inventions - the scientists were prepared, and astute enough to see the magic in a mistake, set-back or coincidence.
We don't tend to approach business with the same attitude. We typically focus on historical views of market, company, departmental and individual performance, with the aim of doing better next year - not easy in a stagnant economy.
However, most companies have under-exploited data that could point to more innovative ways to get ahead. Armed with analytical tools such as those in the SAP Crystal Solutions suite, you can take a more experimental approach to company data to find inspired solutions to business problems.
The conventional methodology is to ask highly specific business questions of the data - 'known unknowns' such as "What would happen to our margins if we opened a new distribution hub in Ireland?" or "How many engineers would we need to recruit to reduce installation lead times by 10%?". These types of hypothetical scenarios are easily modelled using the dashboards within Crystal Solutions. Featuring interactive components that can be adjusted to predict outcomes, this kind of relatively sophisticated, multi-dimensional analysis is now within the grasp of any numerically literate business person, rather than the preserve of statistical wizards.
But half the battle in today's conditions is discovering new opportunities and better ways of running a business. That's why a complementary, more open-ended approach is needed. Applying a 'discovery science' mindset to analysing business information can allow you to identify patterns in, or relationships between, data that lead to the formation of new hypotheses. Like peering into Alexander Fleming's now-famous petri dish, you are likely to observe indicators of opportunities that are usually hidden from plain view.
Of course, it's a positive step when companies start to apply some scientific rigour to their data, but we should always remember that the most lucrative business opportunities often come from 'unknown unknowns'. The only way to tap into them is to have a closer, more exploratory relationship with data - and, of course, a prepared mind.
Who's applying science to business? Data lovers, Opta, creators of the world's biggest and best sports database, use SAP Crystal Solutions to help explore and make sense of the information they collect from hundreds of sports events around the world. This scientific approach is helping football teams focus on the successful strategies of their opponents, discover new playing strategies and improve their training programmes.
If you enjoy the challenge of analysing your data, get some like-minded views by following @DataLovers on Twitter.