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.
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.
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.