Sideswipes: Data, The Way You Know It, Is Dead

What if data wasn't about numbers, but instead we made it about the people the numbers represent? This idea has appealed to me since starting in the industry. When I started I couldn't understand why people were called "consumers" and then we couldn't figure out why our campaigns weren't human enough. It seemed pretty obvious to me we couldn't ever build a human 
campaign using that kind of language as the foundation of our thinking.

Data the way we've known it is about constructing consumers out of numbers, which has led to our disembodied approach to the people we reach. Rather than mothers or sisters, lovers or friends, we talk about these people as segments that overindex. This way of doing data is not only making the work less human, but the future of data is heading the opposite direction.

At the 4As Data Summit last week in NYC the most refreshing speaker I've heard in years -- Jonathan Nelson of Omnicom Digital -- made the way we know data dead in its tracks. He talked about hiring analysts that have a balance of right and left-brain thinking who can read data and draw insights about people out of those numbers.



This new kind of thinker will sideswipe the current approach to data by turning the numbers, audiences, and segments into people again. People who understand people are the new data, because eventually everyone will have data tools. But who will have the thinkers that can pull out the actionable human insights? If it's not your company -- it will be your competitor.

The way we know data is dead against this new kind of thinker is because a thinker that understands people will stop letting us get away with work that is designed for an audience defined by an index, and begin forcing us to create work about why people index in particular ways. Why is the missing question in the work right now -- the future of data is tied to finding thinkers that can tell us why the data looks that way.

When data transforms into work about those stories, rather than numbers, segments, and audiences, we will emerge into an industry about people again. And from people we can begin to talk about mothers, friends, lovers, students, refugees, children, prisoners even. We can begin to talk about the whys that we all share somewhere and sometime in our lives, which unite us.

Suddenly, a larger why connects us, and becomes the way to reach us when data stops being about the numbers. Let's let the way we know data die, in order to find the whys that make us people again.

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