For those of you who’ve watched the American TV quiz show Jeopardy the title here would strike a chord. IBM built Watson, the supercomputing brain behind the show. Unlike a normal quiz, participants aren’t asked questions, instead they’re given answers. The challenge is to figure out what question leads to the answer they’re prompted with.
Everyday analysts face similar problems. The data with all the answers is right there readily accessible with a multitude of software platforms making it near child’s play to prod and play with the data. The answer is usually just a few steps away once the right question is posed. What separates the good from the great analyst is the ability to ask the right questions.
Take Facebook for instance. They don’t have a “lack of data” problem, they have quite the opposite. With so much data staring one in the face the bigger problem is “What do I want to look for?” With advertising being their primary means of making money, the analysts will go in with a mindset of finding anything in the data that indicates a possibility of making more money. The truth is, a wealth of other answers are right in front of them, but the inability to ask the right questions isn’t helping to reveal them.
To give you an idea of what an objective analysis can reveal, David Mccandless recently scoured through Facebook user’s status updates. What he found was curious to say the least. Broken hearts apparently have a season as sure as winter and summer. For whatever reason, couples broke up far more often around March and in the month leading up to Christmas. And also, Mondays had the higher breakup rate for the week.
What use can this finding be for you? For starters, guys, if you want to keep your girl around, start working harder in February and November! A timely “out of the blue” bunch of flowers and chocolates could be just what the doctor ordered.
Recently a breakthrough in cancer understanding came from experiments carried out by Mina Bissell, an Iranian American biologist. It wasn’t so much to do with high end technology as it had to do with her dogged pursuit of a different question. She has been able to demonstrate a remission of breast cancer based on her questioning and investigating the role local context plays in cancer development. A question few other researchers have gone after with as much energy.
The examples here have quite varied levels of importance and usefulness. However, in both cases a unique question was asked. The answers revealed were quite astounding and only goes to hammer home the point: Seek and you shall find.
So a word of advice to all new and seasoned analysts: get your curiosity juices flowing. Become like that annoying kid who keeps asking you questions every other second why things are as they are. Soon enough one of those questions could change your life and a whole lot of others for the better.