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The Data Way

The Data Way

The Data WayThe world has become a world of data. According to Domo, the majority of the data (roughly 90% of it) that exists today has been created within the last two years. That’s a lot of data. Actually…that’s a LOT of data. And it’s your job to use that data to make better decisions and guide your organization / team to a brighter future.

Whether you’re in marketing, IT, HR, Finance, Sales or any other function within an organization, you have data and you need to figure out how to use that data – but where do you begin?

Many people grab data, throw it into excel and start throwing pivot tables and vlookups at it. If that’s what you do – then more power to you. Personally, I can’t stand vlookups. Truth be told – they don’t like me and subsequently I hate them. Don’t get me wrong – pivot tables and vlookups (and the other useful spreadsheet functionality) can deliver very good insight into your data but only if you know what you’re looking for.

Of course – you have a question or questions you want answered to and that’s what you’re digging into your data. You might want to know what your material costs are going to be for next year. Maybe you want to forecast your sales revenue for the coming quarter. Or, perhaps you want to better understand the differences between pay scales between the different groups of people within your organization.

That’s all well and good but what about all the other questions you don’t know you have? You’ll never find the answers to those questions sticking with pivot tables and vlookups to answer the ‘original’ question because you didn’t know you were supposed to be asking any additional questions.

When I say this in conversation, I tend to get a lot of questioning looks and responses like ‘that makes no sense’ or ‘I can’t ask questions I don’t know I’m supposed to ask’. Fair enough. I usually respond with the example of the creation of the Post-it Note by Art Fry at 3M. Nobody at 3M was looking to develop little sticky pieces of paper to be used as notes. They were just trying to create better adhesives when an idea struck Mr. Fry. He needed a bookmark and page marker that wouldn’t fall out. After some trial and error, the Post-it Note was born and now these little notes are part of a multi-billion dollar industry for 3M.

3M and its engineers had no idea they needed/wanted to invent the Post-it note but they were open to exploring new ideas and questions as they arose.

This is the same mindset you need to have with data. Don’t just ‘answer the question’ but keep digging and keep playing.  It can be tough to do that in Excel when stuck in pivot table and vlookup hell, but it can be done. Just keep your curiosity levels high and keep looking for those questions you didn’t know you had.

That’s the data way.


About Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a data scientist, technology consultant and entrepreneur with an interest in using data and technology to solve problems. When not building cool things, Eric can be found outside with his camera(s) taking photographs of landscapes, nature and wildlife.
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