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Are analysts primitive Homo Analyticus?

Gary CokinsBy Gary Cokins

I enjoy maturity and evolution models of all kinds, especially for business. As the name implies, maturity models for information technologies or management accounting practices, for example, have stages of development that provide confidence that regardless of the model’s current stage – low or high – there is always a next step up that can be attained in an evolutionary way.

In biology, the evolution of humans has gone through several stages, starting with Australopithecus, then Homo erectus, Neanderthals and now Homo sapiens. Examples of important evolutionary changes include brain size, hand grip and a larynx for speaking.

Homo Analyticus

Just to have some fun, I will take the position that some statisticians and analysts are primitive Homo Analyticus. Just as with the evolution of humankind, periods of analytical evolution overlap during which primitive statisticians co-exist with more sophisticated ones with more capabilities and skills. This implies they have evolutionary steps in their future. A stereotype of a statistician is they are geeks with pen pocket protectors who rarely stray from their cubicle. These are the Homo Analyticus. In the evolutionary ladder they can become decision-makers and executives. They can add value beyond just analyzing data to assisting their organization to gain insights and make better decisions.

I am obviously not suggesting that analysts are prehistoric humans with beards wielding clubs and appear like Flintstone cartoon characters wearing animal clothing (although fashionable clothes may not be in their wardrobes). I am suggesting that some analysts have yet to evolve to fulfill their potential to be truly creative and imaginative. For example, when examining a population of event data, don’t just calculate an average. Ever hear the joke about an average? My feet are in the hot oven and my head is in the refrigerator, but on average I feel OK. A basic step is to calculate a median and beyond that investigate the data distribution, which in many cases does not follow the bell-shaped “standard normal distribution” where random variables cluster symmetrically on each side of a peak mean.

The Evolving Analyst Species

Consider the Affordable Care Act and healthcare debate in the United States. Critics of the legislation suggest that introducing consumerism with its marketplace pricing can reduce healthcare costs. Perhaps. However, research by the Commonwealth Fund reports that 10 percent of the population accounts for 60 percent of health outlays, implying the 10 percent are very sick and not in a position to make cost-conscious choices about treatments and surgeries. I choose this example not to create debate about healthcare but rather to illustrate that analysts who reveal something not commonly understood can shift thinking to consider more options.

Gaining insights from data gets to the heart of what differentiates the advanced analytics species from the primitive ones. It is not having bigger brains. The advanced analysts have a mission. They want others to see things that have not been seen before. They want to reveal clues – in many cases unarguably supported with facts – that can solve problems and surface unknown opportunities. They want to help their colleagues make better decisions.

What motivates analysts? The primitive Homo Analyticus has basic needs not too dissimilar from food, warmth and shelter. They want to earn a living by solving problems. The author Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” stimulated me to think that the advanced analyst species has greater motivational elements. They want autonomy to be self-directed to explore and investigate. They seek mastery of their craft, which can be painful like exercise. They want purpose to pursue causes that are larger than themselves. Higher forms of the analyst species possess these special traits.

What kinds of analysts in your organization are producing studies and reports for users to gain insights and make better decisions? Are they Homo Analyticus? How far along the evolutionary continuum are they?

Gary Cokins (gary.cokins@sas.com) is an internationally recognized expert, speaker and author in advanced cost management and enterprise performance and risk management systems. He is a principal in business consulting involved with analytics-based enterprise performance management solutions with SAS. He blogs at http://blogs.sas.com/content/cokins.

 

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