Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Data Smog - Final Thoughts

I finished Data Smog. David Shenk proposes several antidotes (chapters 18ff) to data smog.
  • Be your own filter
  • Be your own editor
  • Simplify
  • De-Nichify
  • Don't forsake government
Other than than the last one, these are all useful advice for problem solvers.

Filtering what is coming at you is critical. When encountering a problem, you must be able to sort out what is important and what is noise. At the very least you should avoid distractions unrelated to the problem. Sometimes it is difficult to know what is important without spending some time on the problem.

Editor. Ultimately you will be called on to communicate your solution to others. Don't just spout out everything you learned but consider the audience you are presenting the problem to and what they need to know. What you communicate to fellow technical people may be different from what you tell the Marketing department. I've been starting to follow some blogs related to data visualization and the general advice given there (consider your message) applies to all your communication. Also consider what you will use to communicate (e.g. graphs, text, tables, loud shouting, arm-waving...).

Simplify. Sometimes to solve a problem you will have to simplify it first to understand the bigger issues. Then you can delve into the details. Many problem solving tools are simply addressing this issue.

De-Nichify. Sometimes the solutions to the problem are already out there, just in a different form or in a different field. If you are too focused in your own specialization, you may miss a solution. Sometimes the so-called innovators are those who are successful at putting together solutions from one arena with problems from another. If you attempt to maintain a broad perspective, you will be more likely to discover a solution.

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