An Art and Science Approach to Data

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April 3, 2017 | Yuval Dvir | HCI

With the right context, visuals and analysis, data is your best friend when trying to make a point and convey a message – a powerful ally in the workplace.

For that reason, as well as for the fun of learning new insights, I love data.

The love for data can be shared by others because data tends to provide its users with confidence and assurance in an otherwise uncertain world. For people who don’t like surprises, data can help avoid the unexpected.

In a world embroiled with uncertainty, data can limit the risk of unknowns, but it has yet to mitigate the increasing presence of doubt.

Aside from 2016’s unforgettable Brexit coverage and election race, among other headlines, it was also a year when artificial intelligence and machine learning really hit the stage.

With these powerful forces coming from opposite sides at the same time, how do we balance the science of data with life’s increasing uncertainty?

Data played its part, but it was up to us to balance it with the less scientific parts. We failed to do so and got surprised twice on a global scale.

As for all the predictability that data can provide, humans represent a more sophisticated and capricious being. When faced with difficulty, thought and behavior are frequently tied up in the trunk and emotion is at the wheel.

What does that mean?

Data in itself is essential, but not sufficient to understand the full state of a situation. Emotion-driven behaviors need to be considered and empathy should be applied wherever possible. Egos, pride, and politics are a few examples that are commonly part of all decision making.

My entire career revolved around data as I was actively seeking and advocating stats. Data was used while building BI functions, developing regression, and streamlining the entire data infrastructure at one of the world's biggest datasets at the time, Skype.

As much as data transformation at Skype set the stage for the next level of insights at the company, without the culture change we pushed for, it would all be in vain.

For every technology solution we developed, internally or externally, the moment we pivoted too strongly on data and technology we immediately lost adoption, engagement, and performance.

By 2020, estimates predict that 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created each second for every person on Earth. With all this data coming in, how will businesses keep themselves from being overwhelmed?

The answer is balance. Like shutting the digital screen and putting down the phone, we should consider doing the same with data in order to trigger the basic human sensors that have helped us survive for thousands of years.

Augmenting our advanced analytics with context, empathy, and emotion-driven indicators can help all of us see the big picture.