Developing a Mind for Data

Developing a Mind for Data

The last two weeks I’ve had the fortune of being invited to talk data with a wide array of people interested in data and analytics, from undergraduate students at the Kelley School of Business to data leaders at the IBM Chief Data Officer Strategy Summit in Boston.

Across these seemingly disparate audiences of students about to launch their careers in marketing to those in the C-suite of large regulated organizations charged with mining and analyzing data, three common areas of discussion emerged:

1. Telling a Narrative

The idea of bringing storytelling into business, especially presentations, has gained traction through seminal books on the subject by leaders such as Nancy Duarte and Steven Denning. The general consensus is that we as data and analytics leaders within our companies need to continue finding ways to report relevant, actionable intelligence in a way that non-data people can act on. That means more infographics, narratives and presentations that engage the human side of the audience around the opportunities and threats. As I shared in one panel, my professional goal one day is to make a data presentation in a format mirroring a children’s book where it follows a simple plot of heroes, villains and the ways to win the day.

2. Beyond “Navel Gazing”

The propensity for not looking beyond one’s own organization to benchmark performance or shape strategies is always a bit mystifying for me. Recently, I talked with the direct marketing team of a Fortune 1000 company that had a dizzying array of data around when a consumer interacted with the brand, whether through phone, online or even in-person. Yet this same organization hadn’t fully considered looking at external data sources around areas such as weather (one of my favorite predictive data sources) to what their competitors were doing online. It was a good reminder that the true impact of a campaign or internal analysis needs to have an outward facing element as well so that we can confidently answer the question “is this good?”

3. Tools v. Humans

Arguably the most animated conversations with each group occurred around the idea that machine learning and AI just might take each of our jobs one day. In one instance at the IBM event, a discussion of the increasing availability of tools such as Watson and the aggressive move by many organizations to use predictive analysis led to a thoughtful debate about the larger societal issues with replacing jobs with machines. This looks like an area likely to keep both the undergrads and C-suite awake as we grapple with this complex question across industries and use cases ranging from self-driving taxis to copywriting. Ultimately, it will come down to value – both for us “humans” as well as the technology – to see how we move forward.

Three very timely topics all top-of-mind with the future and present leaders of data and analytics that show opportunities for smart and adaptable thinkers across industries.

So what’s the takeaway?

You’re not alone if any of these, much less all three, topics are keeping you up at night as our industry moves quickly to show what’s possible in a real-time environment where the customer expects your organization to know as much about them as their significant other.

Article written by Jeff Bodzewski
Image credit by Getty Images, Stone, Anthony Harvie
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