As a good consultant, who helps make sound decisions and a general observer of today’s society, it is hard to escape the mountains of data that we have thrust at us or at our fingertips. How many times have I said to my kids, “Wikipedia and the internet didn’t exist when we were your age. We had to go to the library and find the information from books!” It is more than that. We are in the era of big data (10 years from now I can only image what it will be like) where Nate Silver can predict elections better than the previous experts. I am not at all an expert here, but I have been grandly affected by it and like all things on this blog it transcends all areas of life. When my kids were having a tough time sleeping in early months/years my wife and I tracked the sleeping schedules in a variety of tools. Yes, there was some analysis paralysis that two consultants can do with data when it affects your quality of life. Did the baby sleep better on days I put them to sleep? Did it depend what or when they ate? Did changes in routine have an effect? Does it correlate to the moon cycles? We tried it all and while we didn’t succeed much at the time, it did intrigue me for my contribution and use of data to find patterns and then proceed with experiments to test hypotheses.
Data is only as good as it can be consumed and interpreted. I have various methods with Excel tables, graphs, or pivotable slicers to engage with data. Tableau is another recent tool that is empowering the data laymen into realizing things in new ways and finding those valuable patterns. I also love to see what others full time in this field do and marvel at sites like:
www.informationisbeautiful.net – great visualizations and sometimes ways to interact with the data
www.dailyinfographic.com – not exclusively data but still using image to engage an end user
On a personal note, I have found many apps on my mobile phone to track things in my daily life. With my best attempts not to be one of “those” people on their smart phones at the park, I do jot down a score for the day, my exercise routine or lack of it, or track my last social interactions (outside of my kids). From this I can see how these variables come together.
I suggest when faced with mountains of data in the near future or a problem you don’t know where to start, seek comfort in the answers that data can bring. Or at least, where to start with the next experiment to try to make progress.