Data is making headlines with increasing regularity these days. Often, those headlines seem inclined to look at how datais being misused, such as in breaches of privacy. However, without data, our world would be worse off in many ways. Acknowledging the true power of data, as well as seeing the impact that it regularly has on us, is a key part of optimizing almost any aspect of your life.
My work with data began during my formal education and continued through my professional life as I founded DataCamp, a startup that teaches data literacy through an engaging and interactive platform. We’ve served millions of learners to date, and the success of the company is inextricably linked to the ability for data to move mountains in the modern world.
So, what is data? Simply put, it’s information. It doesn’t matter what type of information you’re talking about – from a grocery list to the output of a supercomputer – where you find information, you find data. In a period that has been dubbed the “age of information,” it’s perhaps not surprising that data has become the hot commodity that it has.
One of the major ways that data is becoming even more important these days is through the advancement of artificial intelligence. We may not have sentient computers yet, but artificial intelligence is already heavily influencing our lives through applications like machine learning. In that case, systems learn from experience and work to improve their performance without the need for a programmer to actively change code.
Machine learning is probably best thought of as a system of automated data analysis and implementation. It’s regularly used by organizations in fields such as:
- health care
- internet services
In case it’s not obvious, machine learning is already touching most aspects of our daily lives. Every time you run a simple internet search, you’re tapping into a complex algorithm that constantly scours the internet for data to deliver accurate results. In fact, practically everything we do on the internet is driven by data. This influence will only become more pronounced as time goes on.
That’s data at a high level, where we’re getting machines involved to crunch complex information on a massive scale. But what about smaller, more accessible forms of data? No matter what you do, you almost certainly already use data every day to complete your work.
Farmers are constantly checking a variety of factors – like crop prices, conditions on the farm, and incoming weather – to maximize profits. HR representatives sift through stacks of resumes, each with its own unique set of information, to find a good fit. A short-order cook must check tickets, ingredients in stock, and temperatures of meat to satisfy customer demands.
While we may not be used to thinking about these more accessible forms of information as data, that is quite literally what they are. Shifting your mindset to incorporate this view helps you see just how much the world runs on the accumulation and analysis of data, no matter the application.
Why am I emphasizing all of these uses of data in the world? A lot of us are trained to think of data as an abstract and inaccessible concept. Perhaps we think of it as something used only by major companies or government organizations. Or perhaps we know that even a small organization or business uses data but only expend a minimal amount of effort in pursuing that idea further.
The problem with that kind of thinking is that it leaves a lot of potential on the table. If, for instance, you’re running a small business and not maximizing the use of data for your own benefit, you’re putting yourself at an extreme disadvantage compared to competitors. If you’re merely content to take in whatever information seems most accessible and then forgo in-depth analysis of that information, you could be doing yourself and your business a disservice.
Hopefully, that idea rings true, as it can be one of the single biggest drivers of growth for any individual or organization. The more we intelligently use data to inform our choices, the higher quality those choices tend to be. This is a powerful concept when put to good use.
Of course, it’s natural to wonder how exactly we should put these concepts to good use. That’s one of the reasons that I worked to found my startup in the first place: I wanted to empower people to make data work for them. Increasing data fluency allows you to take the mechanisms of growth and efficiency into your own hands and apply them toward your well-being.
This practice requires the mastery of a set of tools related to data analysis. Many people utilize spreadsheets, such as excel, to help them work in this area. While these tools can be effective for basic data work, often, data professionals work with more advanced toolsets, such as a programming language like R.
Whichever tools you use, the important thing is to bring your ability to reason and think critically to your work with data. Coming to data with an open mind is also important, as is a diversity of opinions throughout the analytical process. These traits will allow you to avoid any preconceived notions that you may have and truly listen to the data.
When you’re able to do that, you’ll begin tapping into a great wealth of information that can fuel life goals, business decisions, or practically anything else you want to pursue. That, at its base, is why data has become such a valuable asset in the modern world. With our increased ability to sift through information and make sense of it has come a reliable method of working to achieve that which we prioritize. Without data, we would be blind to the paths that we need to pursue. Now that’s a powerful resource.
More information about Jonathan Cornelissen and data on Crunchbase