In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech which popularized the term “unknown unknowns.” As Rumsfeld explained it, these are things that “we don’t know we don’t know.” In life, and in business, we can accept some level of ignorance on certain subjects. We can’t know everything. However, the thought that something is affecting us without us even knowing it can feel downright threatening. It’s a problem that many people experience when they use analytics. They start out with insights they already have, then go a step deeper. It’s an eye-opening experience. Then, after learning almost everything they can from basic insights, they find themselves asking, “now what?” They’re aware there are insights out there for the taking, but they have no idea what to look for. For some, the feeling starts before they even use analytics in the first place. With so many possibilities, it’s hard to know where to start. Here are a few ideas…

1. Take a closer look at the metrics you already use

Every business relies on at least a few metrics, but when was the last time you really thought about them? When you look at the same reports all the time, it’s easy to take them for granted, but by taking them a step deeper, you may find a source for future insights. For example, you may look at your stock numbers every week without really thinking about them. By examining these numbers day by day, instead of week by week, you could expose a number of valuable insights.

2. Look for anomalies in your data

If something seems off in your data, it might not be an error, it could be a clue towards something bigger. If you see a trend or a datapoint you can’t quite explain, it’s worth exploring. By looking at your data in a different way, you may find that you’ve been missing something the whole time. Often, these observations will turn up nothing, but other times you’ll find a new way to analyze your business.

3. Explore what confuses you

If there’s an aspect of your organization that’s never made sense to you, there’s a good chance you’re missing something there. If you don’t have a solid understanding of the major parts of your business, it’s easy to miss key insights. Often, things are more related than you expect. Don’t be afraid to look behind the curtain either. While it’s fine to stick to the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” you have to be sure it ain’t broke first. If you find something off, it could be an opportunity to improve your business. Take this as an opportunity to be honest with yourself about the state of your organization.

4. Talk to your peers and do research

Of course, the best thing you can do to find out what you don’t know is to talk to peers in your industry and look at best practices. Chances are, your business isn’t all that unique. While there’s no “one size fits all” approach to analytics, most every business worries about things like revenue and expenses. There’s already a bunch of information on how to best analyze, visualize, and act on this sort of data. Even more complex, industry-specific metrics are already well-worn territory. The iCharts Resources Page is a good place to find information on best practices, along with industry-specific KPIs and metrics.

To learn more about how you can choose the right metrics, download our free ebook, “How to Prepare for BI and Analytics.