Hello. I’m a Radical Analytics Pragmatist
I was reading a post last week by one of the Big Names in web analytics…and it royally pissed me off. I started to comment and then thought, “Why pick a fight?” We’ve had more than enough of those for our little industry over the past few years. So I let it go.
Except I didn’t let it go.
I was still fuming about it later that day.
And the next day.
And now…almost a week later. Still fuming.
I went back to the post to see if any of the commenters had called out the blather for what it was (I’d initially read the post shortly after it was published, so there were no comments at the time). Several dozen comments…and they were all fawning over the content: “This is brilliant! I’m totally going to start doing what this recommends.”
Here’s the issue: what the post recommended, in my mind, was wrong. And, thus…
I am radical
There it is — in all of it digital pixel clarity from Merriam-by-gawd-Webster:
If a Big Name writes a post that I read as some of the worst possible advice ever gets glowingly praised by his acolytes (many of whom are my industry peers)…am I radical or an idiot? Is a radical just an idiot with delusions of grandeur (see Act Three from this recently rebroadcast This American Life episode)?
Sometimes, certainly. But, as I get older, spend more and more time in the analytics profession (I passed the decade mark several years ago), and continue to work with client after client that has approached their analytics work by trying to apply clichés that have been (mis)interpreted as best practices, I’m becoming increasingly entrenched in my belief that, while I may have some radical and contrarian views…these views are right.*
Some of my favorites (most hated) of these clichés:
- “Good dashboards don’t just show what happened. They show why it happened.” Wrong!
- “Dashboards are only useful if they include insights and recommendations.” Poppycock!!!
- “Good analysts dig into the data after a campaign and find insights from that data.” I hate this one because it’s insidious — good analysts do do exactly this, but, when an analyst or marketer makes this statement, they’re generally making it as a way to ignore what needs to happen before the analyst digs in in order to make this an efficient reality.
- “Google Analytics Intelligence Events and Adobe Analytics Anomaly Detection are the wave of the future — ‘the technology’ is finally telling analysts where they should start their analysis!” For the love of all things dimensional and metrical, please remove your tool-centric cranium from your rectum. NO!!!
- “If the marketer hasn’t articulated what questions they want to answer, the analyst should know the business well enough to come up with those questions — hypotheses — on their own and should dig into the data and answer them.” This is another insidious one — analysts wayyyy too willing to ignore the marketer’s experience and brain as a critical part of the team.
- “Designers shy away from analytics. They know it will stunt their ability to be creative.” I’m not a violent man, but I’ve wanted to punch more than one analyst in the face when I’ve heard this “statement of fact.”
Occasionally, I’ve taken some of these clichés head-on and ripped out a blog post, like this one about why I don’t include text-based commentary on dashboards. In other cases, I’ve bitten my tongue (I have permanent teethmarks on it to prove it. I’ve had to bite pretty hard).
But, these supposed truisms get my goat every time I come across them in a post or in my work. Just because a lot of people have said something, and it seems to make sense and be easy to comprehend, doesn’t make it true.
So, I’ll give myself the radical label — it’s easier to spell than contrarian.
That’s the easy part. What is the internet if not a forum for individuals to criticize and complain? (Well, it’s a place for people to post and view cat videos…but criticizing and complaining is easily in the Top 5.) That brings me to…
I am a pragmatist
I am a firm believer in the maxim:
“If you aren’t trying to change it, don’t complain about it.”
I can document that, in one way or another, I’ve spent well over half of my career trying to “change it.” I’ve tried out different approaches when I’ve seen “truisms” not work. I’ve refined how I approach different situations, and I’ve spent countless hours (well, in theory, they’re countable…but I haven’t always tracked my time at that level — poor data capture, I guess) developing and refining different ways to counter these industry myths.
At the core of that work is one word: pragmatism. I’ve never proposed an approach that isn’t workable in practice:
- I’ve distilled each “radical” approach to its essence — to the point where I’m terrified that what I’m stating is so clear and obvious that my audience won’t realize that it’s a radical departure from how they have actually been operating. I tried to summarize the essence of these ideas as aphorisms in a post last year (not a complete list, but a start).
- I’ve built tools and templates that take these pragmatic concepts and make them directly applicable. Many of those tools are posted here, but I also regularly post downloadable templates in individual blog posts.
And I still fail. But I’m working on it. It’s why I’m now a consultant — I want to spend as much time with as many different analysts and marketers who realize “something isn’t working with this analytics stuff” at as many companies as possible to try to “change it.”
* I am an analyst to the core and am wired with the fairly common trait therein of rampant insecurity. I’ve spent most of my professional life assuming that everyone else knows a lot more than me, and it’s only a matter of time until I’m found out and revealed as an utter fraud. It takes a lot for me to make the bold statement: “I am right.”
Photo credit: Flickr / Adrian Tombu