Could Beethoven have implemented business analytics?


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Could the great classical music composer Ludwig Beethoven successfully implement business analytics in an organization?

I was educated as an industrial engineer, and I do not view myself as a scholar of the performing arts, literature, or classical music. However I have always been a careful observer and listener of what I see and hear. As I continuously witness the success and failure of attempts to implement business analytics, I compare them with Beethoven. Why?

During Beethoven’s “middle period” of music composition he was attracted to heroes and heroic efforts. This was the time period around 1810 that he composed some of his most popularly recognized pieces such as Eroica (his Third Symphony), Egmont (from Goethe, and his Op. 84), and Emperor (piano concerto no. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73). What is common about Beethoven’s interest in heroics and champion-like project managers who take on the challenge to implement business analytics? It is these three heroic phases: crisis, struggle, and triumph.

(1) Crisis

The initiation of a business analytics project, such as credit scoring of individuals for bank loans, may not result from a crisis. But you could associate a quickly emerging organizational interest and eventual need in such a methodology to being a crisis situation. The spark typically occurs when an executive (or a champion or coalition of concerned managers) realizes disturbing deficiencies.

An example of these crisis sparks is when managers realize they have little understanding of their customers’ profiles, preferences, and potential sales and profitability. Another example is when employees have little or no clue as to what the executive team’s strategy is. Another example is when an unexpected and damaging risk occurs that analytics would have detected. There are other similar types of deficiencies I could describe, but the point here is the crisis moment emerges when some motivated managers start asking, “How long do we want to perpetuate operating this way and making decisions with no or flawed and misleading information, measures, and financial reporting?”

This is when, in my opinion, Beethoven is at his best. It begins with the first of his four orchestral movements. The music starts with a single note or a few brief chords or with a melodramatic song giving the feel of a thunderstorm or being lost in a blinding snow storm.

(2) Struggle

The next stage of heroics in Beethoven’s works is the struggle. How do we get started? What is the road map? How do we get buy-in, both from executives at the top and co-workers and employees at the bottom? How do we get funding? How do we select a problem or opportunity to apply business analytics to? How do we select the correct key performance indicators (KPIs) that have correlation and explanatory value? Where do we get all the input data to feed our systems? Do we even have the data? If we have the data, are there quality and integrity problems with it? Is the data scattered about in disconnected and disparate data sources?

Life and work can be a struggle.

How did Beethoven compose his music to deal with this phase in his second and third movements? He did it by being sometimes moody and sometimes sad.

(3) Triumph

Not everyone wins. It is so tragic to me discuss with an organization that initiated and even completed a business analytics project, like for demand forecasting; and then discover they abandoned it. An executive pulled the plug on it. It may have been overly complicated. They may have concluded it is not worth the administrative effort to collect, calculate, and report the information. Alternatively the methodology may be something a new executive does not understand.

But you can triumph and win.

Beethoven provides us with the thrill of triumph in his fourth and last movement. The decibels grow louder. The chords are crisper. At this point you want to march with your feet to his music.

What are critical success factors to implement business analytics?

What does it take to triumph in successfully implementing business analytics? A few tips. Do not over-plan and under-execute. Analysis paralysis or brain-freeze. Just get going. Make mistakes early and often, to learn from, and not later when it is costly to make changes. Also, organizations often under-estimate the magnitude of peoples’ resistance to change. They need to master behavioral change management despite not being trained as a sociologist or psychologist.

So, how successful would Beethoven have been implementing business analytics? Read my article, Beethoven’s Eroica Effect on Analytics-based Enterprise Performance Management, and you will know my answer.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Gary Cokins, CPIM
Gary Cokins (Cornell University BS IE/OR, 1971; Northwestern University Kellogg MBA 1974) is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in advanced cost management and enterprise performance and risk management (EPM/ERM) systems. He is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC, an advisory firm located in Cary, North Carolina at Gary is the Executive in Residence of the Institute of Management Accountants (


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