Seeking intuition and creativity

Check out Alden N. Hyashi’s review of the recently published Keeping Up with the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding and Using Analytics (Harvard Business School Publishing) written by Thomas H. Davenport and Jinho Kim.  (“Thriving in a Big Data World” in the Winter 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review).  The book is written for executives who need to understand big data and its associated science and work with quantitative analysts (“the quants”) who do the actual analytical work.  Hyashi describes the book as providing a three-step framework for how to think like a “quant”:  framing the problem, solving the problem, and communicating and acting on the results.

keeping up with the quants

 

We’ve posted generally about reframing a question, such as here and here.  Davenport and Kim make the point that articulating the right question is critical to finding the data that will solve your problem, and that this takes creativity.  Or, as Hyashi so eloquently states, “An important point made in Keeping Up with the Quants is that this new era of computational prowess does not obviate the need for intuition and creativity, and that is especially true in the important first step of framing a problem.” 

Data scientists might be a helpful new variety of scientist in our world, but people who know how to ask the right questions to solve a problem are as golden as they have been since the beginning of time.

Problem-Solvers: DJ Patil

800px-Peter_Brantley,_Karen_Gifford,_DJ_Patil_and_Tim_O'Reilly

Peter Brantley, Karen Gifford, DJ Patil and Tim O’Reilly
Photo by Jōichi Itō
licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

DJ Patil was named as one of the world’s seven most powerful data scientists in Tim O’Reilly’s Forbes article of November, 2011.  He, in fact, co-coined the term “data scientist.” Most recently, he was named as a World Economic Forum 2014 Young Global Leader. What I particularly like about Dr. DJ Patil is his enthusiasm and promotion for projects that use big data to make the world a better place. In an article he published on LinkedIn today, he outlined some of the organizations other 2014 Young Global Leaders have started that capitalize on big data, including a company that harnesses the talents of data scientists to assist non-profits and a crisis text line for distressed teenagers that reaches them through their primary mode of communication. He also named government and health projects that will likely have beneficial impacts for millions.  

In a time when much of mainstream media focuses on data breaches, government spying, social media privacy issues, and use of data to target your political vote (all important topics!), it’s great to read and understand how we can use big data to help us, not just control us. There is much debate yet to be had about the acceptable uses of data, but we certainly can’t be fully informed if we only focus on the negative. DJ Patil reminds us that there are talented people who are both passionate about data and making the world a better place.