I say analytics! You say exciting! My straw poll suggests perhaps not. While some reading this will work in the data industry, or share my passion for the subject, many will not. Despite this, I am convinced that you should care, and champion your respective organisations’ analytics capabilities. Why is that?

Many of the greatest trials humanity has faced have been caused not by natural disasters, but by faulty decisions. Humans rarely set out to do harm, but are frequently prone to bad judgement. As Hanlon’s razor states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Harsh, but true if you replace stupidity with “someone making the wrong decision.”

It was either this or a photo of a man staring pensively at a map. Photo by Kurt Bauschardt.

Humans have many talents after all, but flawless decision making is not one of them. For a few examples, see The Evolutionary Roots of Human Decision Making, List of Cognitive Biases, or The Neuroscience Behind Bad Decisions. Through analytics, we can mitigate many these and at the same time, greatly enhance our ability to do so at scale and at a faster pace. This is particularly important as our organisations and societies increase in size and complexity. If we care about “doing the right thing,” we should use any help we can get.

Analytics is the art of using data to improve decisions.

“But Ryan,” I hear you say, “analytics is just not my thing!” I doubt that. Every decision you make involves analysing data. Remember comparing different price plans when choosing your new phone? Figuring out how much you need to save up for your next holiday? Perhaps you were planning to run errands in town without having to backtrack? All of these involve analytics, and if you managed the latter, congratulations, you solved the Travelling Salesman Problem, an example of combinatorial optimisation. Or is that not your thing?

There is a similar puzzle involving seven bridges. Not these ones though. Photo by Stephen D. Strowes.
Analytics is like mindfulness in that it encourages us to reflect on our cognitive processes.

As the world grows more challenging, we owe it to ourselves and each other to manage this complexity as best we can. The power of analytics and artificial intelligence lies not in replacing humans, but in allowing us to become the best versions of ourselves. As Ernest Hemingway observed: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Sounds to me like he would have made a fine data scientist.

— Ryan