Big Data Analysis: An Art and Science – Nate Silver Named Most Creative in Business

Creative was certainly not the adjective I would have used to describe my undergraduate introductory course in statistical methods. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention in class, as data analysis and interpretation have since taken on creative new forms.

Every year, Fast Company puts out a list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business. This year at the top of the list is statistician, author, political pundit, and election-predictor, Nate Silver. For those not familiar with Silver, he is widely known for his incredibly accurate predictions of the last two presidential elections, political blog the New York Times called FiveThirtyEight, and best-selling book, The Signal to the Noise.

Silver’s position at the top spot is striking, yet not surprising given the recent media and industry fever surrounding big data. His accomplishments highlight the astonishing possibilities of data science to predict human behaviors, social patterns, business metrics and various other important outcomes. His expertise also draws attention to a particular type of creativity, what he calls “a problem-solving type of creativity.”

The work of statisticians and data scientists, like Silver, has transformed the perceived mundane tools in statistical modeling and data analysis into methods of vibrant innovation. Big data technology and analytics is the key to unlocking this kind of innovation, but Silver emphasizes two important caveats to balancing the power of data with human use:

  • An increasingly huge data supply presents more “noise,” or useless information.
  • The key to effectively utilizing data is uncovering its truth, or “signal.”

The usefulness gained through data is determined by human action in governing, positioning and interpreting the data. In the Fast Company article, Silver states, “People blame the data when they should be asking better questions.” Thus, simply having data and technology will not automatically generate solutions. People are the real mechanisms for establishing processes to use data in innovative ways.

Creative problem solving in big data requires that people and agencies first closely examine and articulate their data needs. Asking the right questions is essential to then developing techniques, socializing lessons learned and adapting programs accordingly. Silver’s “guarded optimism” regarding the big data movement shows the importance that folks develop the acumen necessary in turning big data’s hype into substance.

In government, the creative process of utilizing data in for public good is already underway. A few agencies are adapting data utilization and data governance processes, leading the charge in implementing big data initiatives. GovLoop’s latest guide on big data spotlights government insights from the City of Philadelphia and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RATB) as well as advice from industry experts. Hopefully, the guide to sparks your agency’s creativity in the, often overwhelming, task of utilizing big data.

Do you think creativity and big data go hand-in-hand?

Read Fast Company’s article on Nate Silver here and download the GovLoop Big Data Guide.

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

Great post, Kim. I’m thinking that the visualization of big data is where we need creative folks most. To the degree that organizations are able to paint pictures (paint-by-number, anyone?) that tell stories from the data the more they will be able to develop creative, innovative solutions in response to the patterns that emerge.

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Profile Photo Kim Truong

Yes, great point, Andy. Findings from big data are not meaningful if they don’t reach people, and visualization is an important, creative opportunity for broad story-telling. Things like infographics also enable viewers to come up with their own [creative] interpretations to the data presented.

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