Learn data or be sacked

by Chris Lundberg

David Brooks just wrote a column in the NY Times discussing Big Data, presenting a couple ideas about where to place it in your pantheon. In summary of the article, he closes with this quote:

“Big data is like the offensive coordinator up in the booth at a football game who, with altitude, can see patterns others miss. But the head coach and players still need to be on the field of subjectivity.”

This misses the whole point of the data revolution that’s going on.  It’s not about using objective data to help inform subjectivity … heck, that’s called SCIENCE.  That revolution already happened.  Data analysis is not something that you hire out, get the feedback from, and continue making decisions.  This revolution screams the opposite — it screams that data can no longer be subcontracted.  It used to be easy to avoid data — to let the math and engineering geeks take care of all that stuff, and just pay them enough that you can hold on to them.

The sea change that’s going on now is that EVERYONE needs to understand data — because it’s everywhere.  It’s ubiquitous.  Data, once the exclusive domain of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, now floods every part of our lives.  We see it in the privacy argument, in the elections we hold, in the marketing that gets fed to us, and in every single page we view online.  Read a Kindle now instead of a paperback?  Smart Data is being generated that wasn’t before.

So, when a domain that was previously isolated to a small set of individuals becomes more broadly spread, what happens?  Well, in general, everyone has to learn it or be left behind.  I’m reminded of typing.  It used to be that a CEO would dictate content to a secretary pool, who would type it out.  Nowadays, a CEO that can’t type will be left behind, and quickly.  Typing went from being an isolated skill to one that everyone needed — because computers became ubiquitous.

Well, ladies and gents, get your math books out, because data is here to stay.  And no longer will it stay in the ‘booth’ — it’s on the field of play.  And you’d better learn it — lest you be sacked.