What the Highest Performers Have Always Known about Data

flickr photo shared by Alan Turkus under a CC (BY) license

flickr photo shared by Alan Turkus under a CC (BY) license

For a firefighter in her first months on the job, her more skilled and experienced peers will be her best teachers. The same holds true for early-career chefs, videographers, and designers.

To reach a certain level of performance, we may find it easy to connect with the experts we need. But to achieve even higher levels of skill, particularly in some of the most difficult or less common areas of work or leisure, we may fail to unearth any experts, let alone connect with them.

I believe that scarcity of expertise, coupled with expectations of ever-higher levels of performance, is what’s made data analytics so attractive (and so helpful). While tech innovations certainly play a role, I think our attraction to data analytics is driven more by the vacuum it fills in access to expertise than anything else

The documentary, Bobby Fischer Against the World, first got me thinking about this. As Fischer advanced in his chess skills, he had fewer peers to learn from. To improve, he had to ask questions about his own play, gather data on his performance, analyze that data, and then incorporate what he learned into his play. He had no other options.

Fischer, along with a slew of other high performers then and now, replaced non-existent social learning with data analytics. And they were able to do that because data analytics, when done well, provides what philosopher Michael Crawford believes makes social learning so effective: the triangulation of critiques of the novice’s experience, of the expert’s own performance, and of the conclusions they both derive from those shared, ever-changing interpretations of their progress.

Let’s face it. Finding experts to critique our performance just when we need it can be difficult. Finding experts willing to critique their own performance with us can be harder still. But thoughtful, well-crafted data analytics can do that for us – in fact, it’s already done that for many. It is the ultimate substitute for those expert peers we may never find when we need them. And it’s the reason data analytics is so compelling for learning.