What Data Can’t Do

Heads, Oakland’s First Friday, June 2013

I do love this NYT Op-Ed (What Data Can’t Do) from David Brooks, especially

Data struggles with context. Human decisions are not discrete events. They are embedded in sequences and contexts. The human brain has evolved to account for this reality. People are really good at telling stories that weave together multiple causes and multiple contexts. Data analysis is pretty bad at narrative and emergent thinking, and it cannot match the explanatory suppleness of even a mediocre novel.

Of course, the qualitative narrative data is still data. It’s mostly the kind of information I work with. Perhaps it’s easy to conflate data with Big Data and succumb to the notion that if the approach to Big Data is limiting, then the approach to data in general must be limiting. But data is data – it’s what we use, in whatever forms, to inform and inspire and drive decisions.

The ethnographic research community is looking at the increasing reliance on quantitative data in business and questioning their role. Rich Radka proposes a “Yes, and…” mindset in this posting, no doubt one of many we’ll be seeing, as our business culture (and culture overall) evolves.


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