At the gym last week, I saw someone wearing a company-branded t-shirt proclaiming “Data is cool”.
I had a lot of reactions to that statement, not the least of which was the subject-verb disagreement (since every Latin major knows “data” is plural, but let’s get past that). This might sound strange coming from an analytics professional, but no, in my opinion, data are not cool.
To many people entering the domain of data science, data might be novel and mysterious, but really, by itself, data are the measurement of a process. Measurement is only academic unless it’s informing a decision, so by itself, data is not actually cool.
What is cool? Our ability to capture data at ever-greater frequency, latency, and accuracy, and how it allows us to make decisions faster, more efficiently, and at a more fine-grained level—which produces stronger outcomes. When those decisions allocate resources towards strategies that maximize our chances to produce wins… that’s pretty cool.
It’s fundamentally the role of leaders to make decisions that allocate resources towards winning strategies. That role as the decision-maker is hard, risky, requires persistence and faith, and is the domain of courage and enduring values. When people make decisions about allocating resources towards those outcomes producing the best results, for as many people as possible, and reducing the pain of loss as much as possible, while still being efficient and utility-maximizing… now that’s more than cool, it’s sexy.
So there really ought to be a t-shirt that proclaims the core truth: “Data might be cool. But decisions are sexy!”