Every leader has their “how I got here” story

Opportunity to share your data stories with Brett Goldstein and Q. Ethan McCallum

On Goldstein, McCallum, and their upcoming book, Making Analytics Work: Case by Case
By Alex Howard

Alex Howard

Alex Howard

People have been crunching numbers to understand government since the first time an official used an abacus to compare one season’s grain harvest against another. Tracking and comparing data is part of how we’ve been understanding our world for millennia. In the 21st century, organizations in all sectors are transitioning from paper records to massive databases. Instead of inscribing tablets, we’re browsing real-time data dashboards on them. Using modern data analytics to make sense of all of those numbers is now the task of scientists, journalists and, intriguingly, public officials. That’s the context in which I first encountered Brett Goldstein, when I talked with him about his work as Chicago’s chief data officer. Goldstein has been a key part of Chicago’s data­-driven approach to open government since Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected in February 2011. He and Chicago CTO John Tolva have been breaking new ground in an emerging global discussion around how cities understand, govern and regulate themselves.

I saw Goldstein share his ideas for data analytics in person at last year’s Strata Conference in New York City, where he and Q Ethan McCallum, the author of the Bad Data Handbook, talked about text mining and civic engagement. Their thinking on big data in the public sector is helping to inform other cities that want to follow in Chicago’s footsteps. Urban predictive analytics are making sense of what residents are doing, where and when — and what they want from their governments. Both men have steadily built and earned excellent reputations as a public servant and a trusted authority in in the field.

Now, McCallum and Goldstein are interested in learning more about what other people are discovering and learning. If you’ve applied data analytics in your work and succeeded — or tried and failed — please let them know. They’re building a series of case studies that will help inform other practitioners around the world, work that will in turn improve how other cities and states serve their citizens. That’s work worth doing.

Lets help each other solve problems and share our data stories
By Q. Ethan McCallum and Brett Goldstein

Every leader has their “how I got here” story. Some involve hard work and a little luck, while others involve hard lessons learned from mistakes. Learning from your own mistakes is good. (Learning from others’ mistakes is even better.) The stories are often entertaining, but better than that, they make for sage career advice.

The problem with these stories is that they’re usually confined to shop talk and informal gatherings. Few people hear them, so the field suffers as a whole because so many practitioners have to learn from scratch. This holds especially true in the analytics space. By “analytics,” we mean any kind of data analysis, ranging from the old school Business Intelligence to modern Data Science and Big Data.

In recent years, a wide range of industries has adopted some sort of analytics strategy. There are plenty of newcomers to the field, and a growing volume of guidance for the hands-on practitioner, but there’s a dearth of practical advice for company leadership. If you’re tasked with building the analytics wing of your company, where do you begin? How do you cut through the marketing message to get to what you really need to know?

That’s where we come in.

We’re writing a book about building an internal analytics practice. This will be a guidebook for managers, CxOs, and analytics team leads. It will provide that higher-level, strategic guidance you’ll need to make informed decisions about building (or correcting) your analytics implementation. The working title is, Making Analytics Work: Case by Case.

We need you and your stories

To educate analytics practitioners in particular, and improve the field as a whole, we need to show people what works. That’s where you come in: we need your stories.

Not sure we really mean you? If you run a data-driven company, talk to us. If you’ve grown your internal analytics team from one person to five, or even fifty, we want to hear from you. If you’re a hands-on data scientist who has learned when the popular tools and techniques lose their sheen, let us know. Startup or Fortune 100 firm. Private or public sector. Founder, CxO, or team lead.

In other words: if you’ve had a hand in building out an analytics practice, or running a data-driven company, we want to hear from you.

If you still are not sure, just reach out. It’s always nice to say hello.

We need bad news as well as good

We’re especially interested in the bits that didn’t work out the first time, or didn’t work out at all. If the analytics field is going to move forward, we need to stop making the same mistakes. That means we need to bring those mistakes into the open.

If companies don’t share their horror stories, the problems will persist. They will move from one company to another, until the entire analytics industry is afflicted with the same problems (and lack of solutions). That genius you hired away from your competitor? He’ll run into the same problems (perhaps even create the same problems) that he saw at his last job. But this time he’ll implement those worst practices on your turf, on your dime. Do you want that? Of course not.

So, please, share your stories. If not for our sake, then for your own.

Let us Know

Would you like to contribute to our book? Please, tell us what you’ve learned building your analytics practice.

Contact us at ideas@makinganalyticswork.com to get started.

-Q Ethan McCallum and Brett Goldstein authors, Making Analytics Work: Case by Case

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