In his recent blog post about Big Data, one of the points made by Rob Armstrong was the important distinction between “looking at things” versus “looking for things” when it comes using data analysis to derive business insight.
And in his recent blog post about the importance of data context, Om Malik quoted Brad Feld: “Recently, I’ve noticed a Cambrian explosion of data among several of the companies I work with. When you walk into their office, there are screens full of graphs. These graphs are pretty, the numbers are dynamic, and there are often blinking lights to go along as a bonus. As I systematically looked at each of the graphs, I realized very few of them mattered much, nor where they particularly helpful in understanding what was going on in the business.”
These two blog posts brought two acronyms to mind: WYSIWYG and WYSIATI.
What You See Is . . .
WYSIWYG is an acronym for “what you see is what you get” that, in user interface design, provides users with the ability to visualize data, either for presentation (when the user is creating information or preparing a report), or analysis (when the user is referencing a report or examining raw data).
WYSIATI is an acronym for “what you see is all there is” that was coined by Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. “Jumping to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence is important to an understanding of intuitive thinking,” Kahneman explained. Although intuition (one aspect of thinking fast) is valuable under many circumstances, we are often “radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of the information that gives rise to impressions and intuitions.”
“Don’t confuse lots of data with good data,” Armstrong wrote in his blog post. “Anyone who has ever worked with databases, application programming, or analytics can tell you that while having lots of data is good, having good data is lots better.”
Or as Rich Murnane recently blogged, bigger isn’t better, better is better.
What Are You Looking For?
But often times, we are looking for a good story, not good data. “It is the consistency of the information,” Kahneman explained, “that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.”
“WYSIATI facilitates the achievement of coherence and cognitive ease that causes us to accept a statement as true. It explains why we can think fast, and how we are able to make sense of partial information in a complex world. Most of the time, the coherent story we put together is close enough to reality to support reasonable action.”
What Do You See?
When you are using data to support reasonable business action, what you are looking at can greatly influence what you are looking for (and vice versa). So, be sure to consider if what you see is what you wanted to get, especially if you wanted data that tells you a good story, which could cause you to jump to the comforting, but false, conclusion that what you see is all there is.
On Kahneman and Data Quality