Full disclosure: I studied English literature in college. Once, I took a seminar where we read everything Jane Austen ever wrote. Everything. I avoided math and quantitative classes in general because—eew numbers. I was sure that data had no place in my future, whatever it was.
Now, I blog about data, analyze it for a living, and use it to power insights and infographics. While my path from Austen to analytics might be atypical, it underscores a fundamental shift taking place across our culture: Data matters. You might not be a “numbers person” but data is going to find you if it hasn’t already. And here’s why:
We Can Quantify Anything
Recent strides in technology have brought data analytics to almost every field. Algorithms and machine learning have helped make the previously unquantifiable into just another set of data points.
Data science can even be overlaid onto English literature—a recent study analyzed 3,592 works of literature by looking for word patterns and thematic elements and then created associations between different books based on these similarities. Powered entirely by a machine, the study arrived at the same conclusion as my Jane Austen seminar: Pride and Prejudice was a big deal and affected other authors.
Our Activities and Habits are Becoming Data Points
Fitbits, apps, and connected devices that are part of the new “internet of things” make life easier and more productive by helping everyone track their movements, outputs, and activities. These apps and devices encourage people to quantify their daily lives and to examine the data they generate.
Most of these devices also let people view aggregate data in addition to their own personal statistics. This embedded analytics overlay allows users to slice and dice the data to see where they stack up against the wider world. This consumerization of data lets anyone explore and manipulate large data sets with only a few clicks.
Decision-Making is Based on Data
Data-based decisions are becoming prevalent across industries and professions that traditionally relied on words and creativity—not numbers—to find success. These days, the English major who works as your association’s social media manager tracks more than a dozen metrics on follower growth, reach, influence, click rates and more! Future social media strategy is guided by past performance—all of which can be quantified by the social networks themselves or by free and paid social listening tools. Forget Austen, your social media manager also conducts A/B testing on Facebook advertising campaigns to determine the optimal messaging funnel for click-throughs.
This new emphasis on data-based decision making can also be seen across organizations as previously-acceptable “hunches” and anecdotal data are less likely to drive strategy and decision-making. This type of evidence is being supplemented or superseded by more comprehensive data.
Like it or not, data is coming for you. Instead of cowering under your bed, you can meet it head-on if you are willing to engage in a little bit of exploration and learning. And it’s getting easier—as more and more programs and applications build in dashboards and their own analytic engines, the barriers to engaging with and manipulating data are disappearing.
Even a small foray into data analysis can be empowering: It can motivate you to take the stairs, it can impress your colleagues and supervisors, and it can even prove the brilliance of Jane Austen.