Why Your Data Will Not Tell You Everything

And Why Your Job As A Data Professional Matters More Today

Ever since I started wearing a Fitbit Surge, my morning routine now includes checking how many hours I slept the night before and whether or not I have met my daily exercise goals. In the past, my peers laughed at me when I tell them that I need an average of 7.5 hours of sleep (the technology industry is known for burning the midnight oil and stressful environments.) And I have nothing to prove my claims. With the Fitbit dashboard, I can easily show them that I had an average of 7.5 hours of sleep last week and the month before. The sample data might not be a good example given the 1.5 hours of sleep tracked. But I do take short naps whenever I can.

Most data professionals swear by their data. I use data to tell customers that they have a performance problem that needs to be fixed. Financial analysts use data to tell an organization if it is safe to invest in a specific market. NetFlix uses data to analyze viewer habits and make recommendations.

But let me break it to you: your data (and the other data you collect from different sources) will not tell you everything.

This is something I realized as I start dealing with more and more data.

  • Having more data does not guarantee that you’ll make better decisions
  • Having better analytics does not guarantee better business operations
  • Having more data does not guarantee change

There’s a reason a book written by somebody without a formal education in statistics has sold more than any statistical-related ones. Because it really isn’t about the data. It’s about the individual processing, interpreting and, eventually, sharing the data.

Knowledge versus Wisdom

Knowledge is having a lot of information at your disposal. Wisdom is knowing what to do with that information. How we use that information is influenced by our experiences, our culture and our mindset. And the reality is that every decision we make based on the available data will depend on those factors.

Knowing that I managed to sleep an average of 7.5 hours last week does not tell me that I am healthy. But from experience, I know that I function way better when I do so. And because I come from a culture that places a high value in families, I can easily decide to skip watching the latest episode of Jessica Jones in favor of getting a good night’s sleep. I want to make sure that my time with my family is not one spent every minute yawning or accidentally sleeping. I’m done with ending up sleeping in a move theater while the rest of my family enjoys the show.

How does this apply to you as a data professional? As a DBA, just because your database files are experiencing a high number of reads and writes doesn’t mean you’ll go ahead and buy those fancy SSD drives to move them there. As a BI professional, just because a particular product is selling really well doesn’t mean you need to focus on just that product.

The one thing that is missing in all of the available data for us to consume is this: our INTUITION. No amount of data can tell you what only your intuition can. That peaceful feeling when you make that decision even though the numbers and the data don’t make sense. That confidence when you go against what every one else say because you know that it is the right thing to do. That is you making the decision regardless of what the data says.

So, the next time you look at some data that you need to make a decision, stop for a moment and reflect. What does your experience tell you? What does your culture say about it? And is your mindset prepared to look at the data positively? Listen to what your intuition is telling you. And when you have done that, you’ll realize that you can make a better decision than what your data is telling you.

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