10 truths about data

1. Data is difficult.

It has to be. There are no short-cuts, no omniscient tools, no out-of-the-box solutions that give you perpetual satisfaction. The entire life cycle of a single data point, from collection to reports, requires knowledge and expertise to manage. Turning arbitrary numbers into actionable insights is not, and never will be, a walk in the park.

2. Data is a process.

Just like any other process in an organization, data requires nurturing and optimization. Your organization is creating absurd amounts of data with every passing second, and it’s very difficult to adapt to the fluctuations without an agile, process-driven mindset.

3. Data is passive.

Data is a passive medium, which requires an active agent (an analyst) to formulate hypotheses and interpretations. Data itself doesn’t “show” or “tell” anything; the analyst breathes life into data, and harnesses its power for growth.

4. Data is subjective.

Data quality isn’t fixed. Depending on the hypothesis, a single data set can shift from useless to incredibly insightful without a single datum changing shape, size, form, or function.

5. Data is boundless.

It’s impossible to have all the data. An arbitrary line must be drawn at data collection, and it’s important to understand the limits of the data set before any conclusions can be reliably explored.

6. Data abhors silos.

Data is the lifeblood of the organization. It flows through all departments, across job titles, permeating the very fabric of the organization, reinforcing its foundations for growth. It cannot and should not be contained in one vector (a dedicated analyst) alone.

7. Data does not obstruct creativity.

Data vs. creativity is a fabricated polarization. Data does not obstruct; it validates creativity. Data can be a powerful incubator for new ideas, providing valuable feedback at each fork in the design path.

8. Data can be ignored.

Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to trust intuition and opinion without using any data to back you up. The wildest ideas can be the most profitable ones, and if they are completely new, it might be difficult to adopt a data-driven mindset. However, the sooner you can test the innovations with data the better.

9. Data is more than numbers.

A single, valid, relevant, verified, qualitative response can destroy millions of rows of numbers and metrics. Quantitative data is trend-based and normalized, and radical diversions are often automatically dismissed. Having a qualitative dimension in your analysis can prove very powerful, as it provides a human component to the metrics and dimensions you work with.

10. Data is singular.

Language changes, change with it. Data is originally the Latin plural form of the singular datum. Today, it’s used as a mass noun, and appears most often with a singular verb, just like agenda. You wouldn’t use the phrase “The agenda for this meeting are…”, would you?

Simo holds the position of Senior Data Advocate at Reaktor. He will be speaking on the main stage of the Reaktor Breakpoint conference on September 24, 2015. His talk is designed to inspire a more critical and creative approach to how organizations use data for growth. Get your tickets to Reaktor Breakpoint while they’re still available!

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