The Citizen Analyst Manifesto, Part 4: Speak humbly, but with insight

In this series, we explore what it means to be a citizen analyst, what values you stand for, and what qualities in the world you adamantly must oppose.

Speak humbly, but with insight.

We live in a world of informational recklessness. Data is twisted and perverted to serve specific purposes. Unsubstantiated claims are the norm. How do we combat this? Do we simply shout louder? No.

Insights are a tricky thing. Insights are not out in the open, waiting to be stumbled upon. Unearthing insights takes time, effort, and humility. To have true insight, we need to set ego aside–because it is only when we are without ego, without preconceived notions, that we can truly hear the questions our data asks. In the hierarchy of analytics, data is the stuff, the raw materials. Data is what’s stored in your database, crammed into your spreadsheets, cluttering up your hard drive.

Analysis comes from the Greek word analein, to loosen up. We analyze to explain what happened, to condense our data, to give it a clearer, easier to parse form.

Insight is to look within, to understand. To unlock insights is to discover why something happened. It is our most vital, most valued skill, a quality every citizen analyst should develop, and is the most vital skill you, the citizen analyst, can develop.

A citizen analyst is more than his data, more than her tools. Anyone can regurgitate data. It’s easy to look up facts, drum up figures, even plug values into Excel and turn out a reasonably pretty chart. And tools can give us the major points in our story, a rundown of what’s happened.

But they are not insightful.

Citizen analysts create insight.

Our role is not to explain what happened, as tools like IBM’s Watson Analytics can do that quite capably. Our role is to develop insights and provide them to our stakeholders.

Here’s a simple example of the differences among data, analysis, and insight. If you were to go to the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, California, you’d notice the hotel has around 25 floors.

This is the data:


When we analyze this data, we see two anomalies. The 13th floor is missing, but so is the 4th floor. We know what’s happened: two floors are missing. A machine can make the same determination from the data, but a machine can’t explain why this is the case.

As citizen analysts, we must determine why. The 13th floor is missing because of superstition in Western cultures; triskadekaphobia is the fear of the number 13 and the belief that it’s bad luck.

Why is the number 4 missing? Hotel Nikko is a Japanese hotel brand. As 13 is in Western cultures, in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cultures, the number 4 is bad luck. Shi (四), 4, is pronounced the same as shi (死), death. No one wants to stay on the death floor.

So now we have insight. What do we do with it? Do we shout at other interpretations of the data? Do we cut down our peers and accuse them of poor analysis? Do we browbeat journalists and publishers with our findings?


We speak humbly. We set our egos aside and let our data, our analysis, our insights, speak for us. We avoid bombastic claims and absolute statements of fact except when our data supports it. And when I say support, I mean a clear indication of absolute circumstances, such as an r value of 1 with a p value of 0.000001.

Your true value as a citizen analyst is the insight you develop. You can explain why something happened, why the data tells this particular story. When you speak humbly, you leave enough space, enough quiet for more insights to emerge. You listen well enough to hear better questions so you can continually improve your insights.


Speak humbly, but with insight.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Disclosure: IBM Watson Analytics is a trademark of IBM. Used with permission.


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