My employer released some social listening data around the COVID-19 pandemic and it got me thinking about the ways we put data on a pedestal.
- “Data will help us decide whether to do A or B.”
- “Data shows us what our customers and competitors are doing.”
- “Benchmark data demonstrates [to my boss] whether or not we’re doing a good job.”
So many times, we open a dashboard or report hoping data will guide us to the promised land. Some magical, self-assuring place with gentle hands that pat us on the back, saying, “you done good, kid. Data says so.”
The truth is, data is only good as the questions it’s helping us answer. Data can only lead you when you know where you’re going. Data needs us as much as we need Data.
But the relationship doesn’t stop there. Data without context is nothing more than a number. And it has to be real context, not the type of crap that baseball statisticians conjure up to make their data look good (e.g. “He’s batting .465 on Tuesdays after having pizza the night before”).
You’re the one who brings the context:
- Don’t look at data in a vacuum (especially timeline data). Pair it with known events and use the data to back up & quantify the impact of that event on your data set.
- Instead of “tell me what I need to know,” use data to “tell me if I’m right about X and if there’s something about Y that I’m not thinking about.”
Latest posts by Stephan Hovnanian (see all)
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- Data can lead, but only if you know where you’re going - April 14, 2020