Business Analytics and Hollywood: A Match Made in Heaven?


My favorite acceptance speeches are from Oscar recipients in science and technology. In contrast to actors, directors, and writers, these winners love pushing the envelope in fields like animation, special effects, costume design, and sound editing. They are like NASA engineers enjoying the thrill of landing an astronaut on the moon, placing a telescope in orbit, or landing a rover on Mars that can provide facts that answer questions that so many of us are interested in the answers.

How do film awards relate to implementing projects?

There is a tight connection between Oscar winners and project teams implementing business analytics of all flavors. Examples are regression, cluster, segmentation, and correlation analysis. A subset, predictive analytics, is now also popular since decisions made today only affect the future. Project teams also enjoy success seeing these types of solutions go live and being leveraged for employees to gain insight and foresight, make better decisions, and align work activities and priorities with the executive team’s strategy.

Here are few examples of the Academy Award best movie nominees from last year with these connections to business analytics:

    • Zero Dark Thirty – In this film Maya, a CIA operative, is single-minded in her pursuit of leads to uncover the whereabouts of Al Quaeda’s leader Osama Bin Laden. She demonstrates the tenacity that experienced business analysts have in using data mining, business intelligence, and analytics tools to gain insights from data and patterns to gain insights to solve problems or realize benefits from opportunities.


    • Argo – In this film that takes place in 1979 the American embassy in Iran is invaded by Iranian revolutionaries taking American hostages, but six managed to escape to the residence of the residence the Canadian Ambassador. CIA expert Tony Mendez concocts a phony Canadian film project as a ruse to successfully smuggle the Americans out. This demonstrates how companies can use teamwork to outsmart competitors not by taking them head-on but rather framing the problem with out-of-the-box thinking.


    • Les Miserables – In this film based on the novel by Victor Hugo during post-revolutionary France prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean, played brilliantly by actor Hugh Jackman, is released from prison. He breaks parole to create a new life for himself while evading the grip of the persistent inspector Javert. There is an enterprise performance management (EPM) lesson here involving analytics. Competition requires constant adjustment of strategy and its successful execution. A strategy map, from which balanced scorecard KPIs are derived, is a commonly accepted method for this and correlation analysis can validate the explanatory value of KPIs on the KPIs they influence. Many organizations guess at what KPIs to measure and monitor.


    • Lincoln – In this film that takes place in 1985 as the American Civil War winds down toward conclusion USA president Abraham Lincoln experiences a race against time to muster enough votes to pass the landmark constitutional amendment to ban slavery. He sacrifices many lives of soldiers to pass the amendment before peace would arrive and southern states would block its passage. The business analytics message here is that executives need to first gather a strong team, as Lincoln assembled, and then consider the long-term planning horizon even if they may disappoint short-term financial performance expectations of the Wall Street investment community.


    • Silver Linings Playbook – In this film after a stint in a mental institution for a bipolar disorder former teacher Pat Solitano, played excellently by actor Bradley Cooper, moves back in with his parents. He is determined to get his life back on track and also tries to reconcile with his ex-wife against a myriad of distractions including meeting Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who becomes his new love. The business analytics message here is that when strong discipline, although sometimes elusive, is combined with creativity, any challenge can be overcome.


Implementing, embracing, and leveraging business analytics is a challenge that requires teamwork. The most motivating Oscar acceptance speeches for me are not self-serving but rather are speeches that humbly acknowledge that the collective effort of a team makes the difference.