Analytics advocate: don't be "that" guy


Nobody wants to rub people the wrong way. We've all done it, even if word never got back to us that it happened. Having ample first-hand experience with this, I deeply appreciated the opening keynote by MIT's Michael Schrage at the 2011 Disney Analytics & Optimization Summit.

Schrage, research fellow at the MIT Sloan School's Center for Digital Business, focused on why analytics matter and how we analytics advocates sometimes get in our own way as we evangelize its promises.

He urged companies to grow their supply of "datanauts" -- people charged with bringing about "data-enriched" innovation. People who know how to twist the dials and knobs on amazing new tools to give silent, growing piles of data a voice in the board room.

He argued for innovation, experimentation, and decisions based on desired outcome. He said more and more innovation-oriented outfits use analytics to discover new ways to do business and serve customers.

What's hard, Shrage said, is getting out of our own way when trying to influence non-analytic bosses and colleagues. He shared how he failed to convince a former boss on the importance of data-driven decisions, and it had dire consequences for their shared venture.

Becoming known as the source of ideas that prove profitable doesn't happen overnight. And like most worthwhile endeavors, it's a process. Tips for higher mileage from Schrage's experience as a consultant:

  • Get good at using the latest data-visualization tools and methods. You can't excite someone you just lost in a spreadsheet.
  • Work to understand the perspective of those you seek to influence. What's a good day for them? What's a bad day? How might a small-scale analytic experiment begin to increase the number of good days?
  • Start by asking a few simple questions that start with, "What if...?" And follow them up with a series of simple iterative experiments. These may evolve into something your organization can't imagine not doing.

For example, can you imagine not getting recommendations when you shop on Amazon?


About Author

Beverly Brown

Principal Social Media Specialist

Beverly helps SAS users help themselves and one another through SAS Support Communities. In 1994, she started out in public relations roles that include managing corporate PR and assisting SAS executives with media interviews and speaking engagements. Before that, she was a reporter at North Carolina’s largest daily newspapers, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. She has a husband and son and loves to run, which enables her chocolate habit.

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