Be a strategist, not a “geek”

Dear Datadoodle: My title is “strategist analyst,” but I’ve become just “the data geek.” As soon as I get into the fine points of my data, they roll their eyes. In meetings, they make little jokes to each other, or they just stare out the window. Please help. I’ve got loads of great data but managers have no time for me anymore. The Data Geek

The Data Geek has lots of company, says Christine Muser, longtime data analyst, founder of CyCom Solutions, and writer of CyCom’s weblog Pharma-BI. She’s seen data analysts stumble over this problem. She had to deal with it herself.

“I love data,” she says, “so in my younger days I used to just barrel right ahead into the details.” Too often, though, she’d see only glazed looks in her audience.

It was even worse for one man she once worked with. He actually became useless as a strategist. He spent so much time pulling together data, manipulating it in Excel, and poring over results that he kept managers waiting for results. After a while, those who relied on him got tired of waiting — and tired of his overly detailed explanations about dimensions, data sources, and methods.

Now, Christine analyzes more than the data. “It pays to know your audience. If you know they’re very familiar with the underlying data, you can give more details,” she says. If they’re not familiar with the data, “You can say, ‘here’s what we’ve observed’ and ‘here’s the impact,’ then be quiet and see if you get puzzled looks.”

The essential lesson she learned: “Understanding what is meaningful is a really big deal.” A strategist understands what’s significant, and doesn’t bother with the small stuff.

For example, say you’re analyzing a pharmaceuticals market. Your company makes a drug that treats only one symptom, while some competing companies make drugs that treat that symptom plus several others. That difference makes a straight comparison — pill for pill or dollar for dollar — useless. So you have to adjust the data to allow for that difference. But managers usually don’t want to hear how you did it, only that you did take care of it.

A strategist also knows when to ignore buzzwords. A manager who liked to stay current once asked Christine, “Can you do neural networks?” Perhaps, but dare go into what that would take and you risk running out your clock.


  1. Yes, techno-babble provides empty calories: it may satisfy the moment without offering real nutrition.

    Things get interesting when someone in the audience knows enough about the data to ask a detailed question that ends up confusing the rest of the group. Knowing which words to choose and how much detail to provide in this situation can make or break a presentation.

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