Data Perspectives: “Orbiting The Giant Hairball”

This may sound weird, but one sure way to not have perspective about the business in an innovative and constantly changing industry is to bury yourself within regular work. This is the meaning of the title – which comes from a book of the same name.

By regular work, I mean work in which you execute tasks with a view to minimize variability and have standard results. This is as opposed to innovative work, which, as Bob Sutton explains in his lectures, is characterised by an increase of variability to the point of failure. Failure and validated learning are essential aspects of the learning experience in any job, to extend a metaphor from Eric Reis’ book The Lean Startup.

Data science and data engineering are the truly cross-functional and cross-industry work areas within the analytics revolution that is under way right now. There are a number of business perspectives that are relevant in one industry, which can also be applied to another. Indeed, work in some industries can anticipate very closely the needs of another.

Data scientists should keep one eye on the business, or to be true to the metaphor here, should occasionally “dive into the hairball” of business and routine work, to get a glimpse of what’s happening in the world of work. The data perspectives that they bring to that conversation will then become as important, as the perspectives they develop due to such experiences. Seasoned professionals and consultants in the data analytics industry may have unconsciously or consciously developed their cross-functional and cross-industry experience over years. But it probably is fitting for younger data professionals – and there are many of them out there – to occasionally “dive into the hairball from orbit” and understand the challenges of data for those in various walks of business.

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