As first-timer at SXSW, I had some expectations about the speaker line-up and vibe of the entire conference. As soon as I landed in Austin, I was blown away by how large the event was. The festival is expected to get 70,000 attendees over the next week or so. I was in for a treat!
The digital footprint that we leave in this day and age it is beyond comprehension. Just think about it in a SXSW context. We booked our tickets online, previewed all of the sessions in the app in advance, and then picked the ones which we are interested in the most. All those data points could be tied to an individual and with a little bit of analysis, we can come up with an insight or identify a behavioral pattern. Quite powerful. Now, in theory this all sounds exciting, but the real question is, how good are we at interpreting data?
M. Pell, an ‘Envisioneer’, had an interesting way of answering this question. He stated, “data feels static, but it should be visually integrated”. This is because humans are visual beings. We can look at spreadsheets and databases all day long, but once we have a visual representation, then the numbers start to make sense and we can create sophisticated connections that bring incremental value to our data. This is the reason why data visualization products like Tableau, Power BI and Data Studio have empowered the non-data scientists amongst us, to tell stories with data.
In addition, the execution model for creating responsive data solutions M. Pell shared was also quite extraordinary. There are three core pieces that will allow us to solve any data challenge, if followed correctly:
- Data – How do you source your data? Does the collection of this specific type of data make sense?
- Representation – What visual should I use to tell the most compelling story?
- Action – How can I use the insights and learnings which I have just generated to drive immediate action?
Switching topical gears slightly, but still considering how we consume and interpret data, Alex Gibney, a documentary film director and producer, talked about the psychology of fraud. An unusual topic, but an important one that demonstrates how our brains function and why sometimes we are led by intuition, not data. Alex Gibney’s documentary “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” follows the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, once the world’s youngest billionaire, thought to be the next Steven Jobs in medical care. She had an incredible vision to disrupt the blood testing industry and bring a solution that does not require vials of blood for testing, but a single drop of blood. In a nutshell, the documentary shows us that a vision cannot exist on its own in the long-run, especially in the science world.
All claims and value propositions need to be validated by data, which solidifies the fact that data and vision are interdependent.