How does it feel? Excerpts From The Diary Of An Analyst
Excerpts from the diary of an analyst, somewhere in London, sometime in January:
Today is Blue Monday, the newspaper says. I always thought it was just a New Order song, but apparently it’s the most depressing day of the year. Some guy who maybe had some scientific credentials, and maybe just worked for a PR company, came up with a formula that said that on the third Monday in January, he’d calculated the factors and that was the perfect storm of misery.
I thought he was mistaken, but the elements had a certain ring of truth to them – debt, time since Christmas, low motivational levels, an underlying sense of the need for progress. All unquantifiable things. But I’ve got this huge presentation to do for tomorrow and right now, with my head buried in spreadsheets and databases, I’m starting to feel that he might have had a point.
The thing is there’s just so much noise, so much data, and I’m supposed to sift through it all and find the gems that are going to guide the whole company forward – but there’s customer data and sales data and website data and forecasts and econometric modelling. Those who came before me said big data was good, and I took them at their word. Yet I feel I’m drowning in an ocean of fluff, while looking for, you know, one of those tiny things lost in a big pile of disorganised things.
I can see my boss’s face tomorrow morning already, and I think I hear her speak:
“I know it was a lot to ask, but I was quite sure that you’d tell me, in a concise and evidence based manner, where this company needs to make changes, and I expected you to make full use of all the available data, since we spent so much money collecting it and storing it. I think the only change this company will be making from your awful work is that we’ll be saving ourselves from paying your salary.”
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Why wouldn’t we just collect everything we possibly could? More data is only a good thing, right? Big Data is the buzz, so the bigger the better! I can and shall obey!
Except, now with the day stretching ahead of me and the endless reams of numbers rolling out into the distance before me, any sense of meaning hidden beneath a million points of nothing, I think….perhaps the Blue Monday concept carries some merit. Ironically, the volume of data we need to deliver meaning from something so abstract would be the thing that weighs us down and prevents us finding any meaning at all. I find it so hard, to say what I need to say.
I resolve to find an answer. Then I resolve to sit on the floor with a bottle of scotch and have a good long weep.
I am recovered.
Some people came to my door last night, with dark suits and dark glasses. They spoke to me for a while, and I listened.
They told me that the data was nothing without interpretation. They showed me the mathematics behind the headlines, dismantled them, presented the pieces that demonstrated with clarity their inconsistencies.
Then they took the information I had accrued; the surveys, the charts, the analysis. They looked at the regression models and statistics, the graphs and correlations, spreading across the room, until every inch of the floor was filled with print outs and pie charts and scatter plots, and I cried out:
“Stop, it’s too much, I can’t see! There is no pattern, there is no proof! I need to know, but it’s never-ending!”
One of them waved their hands then, and I’m not sure exactly what happened. There was a sort of wind, a warm breeze, but I was sure the windows were closed, and then the mass of papers were gone. All except one. And when I looked, there were the answers, distilled, concise, a narrative of evidence. I had been blinded by data, and now I could see.
“It was all pseudoscientific nonsense! There is no Blue Monday, it is just a New Order song!” I said, elated. They smiled and nodded, and turned to leave. “Wait!” I shouted after them “Who are you?”
They paused and handed me a card before walking off into the night.
“We know how you feel”
Blue Monday might not be a thing, but, thanks to a little expert guidance, I calculate that the day after is going to be a good day.