Or how often do you see something appear on social media that attracts your attention? Maybe a certain news topic, or an inspiring story, or a new political issue. But maybe, it simply misleads you and you record false or misinformation. It’s possible, it happens. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time, and certainly not the last.
The world we live in today produces so much information and we have all the means at our disposal to have direct access to this information. Today we have as much information as the President of America, through the net. But how do we find our way in here? How do you decipher everything? And not just decrypt it, but how do we absorb all this information to make smart and informed decisions? How are you, as a society, company or individual, able to process huge amounts of information in order to make better decisions?
Well, actually, it’s not that hard. There is a domain of knowledge that allows you to absorb, process, and make well-informed decisions. It allows you to decipher the information, decipher erroneous information and at the same time distinguish qualitative information from each other. This knowledge domain is called data literacy.
Today we live in the 4th Industrial Revolution. Yes, today. In other words, this means that we live in a digital world. A world in which all devices and devices are connected to the internet and are able to communicate with each other via the internet. And of course, this leaves behind data and information. I dare to put my hand in the fire, that everyone who reads this article is in possession of a pocket-sized computer. A smartphone. A device that connects and/or controls all our other devices. Every one of you who reads this article.
Ladies and gentlemen, we live in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Like any Industrial Revolution, ‘survival’ in such an era requires a special set of qualities. In order to survive and be successful in our era, we need to be able to adapt to those huge amounts of information that are coming at us exponentially every day. And not only adapt, we have to be able to process it and really understand it.
But what is data literacy? What does it mean to be ‘literate with data’? Data literacy is the ability to:
- to read,
- to work with,
- to analyze,
- and argue with, data.
Simple as that. Data literacy is based on 4 skills that can be learned by each of us. Have you noticed that I don’t use the word ‘data science’? Not everyone needs to become a data scientist, but everyone needs to feel comfortable dealing with data if you want to be successful in this 4th Industrial Revolution. So, let’s dive into these 4 skills and better understand what they mean. And to do that, you and I are going to look for a new refrigerator together. This one you’ve got now has broken down and you want a new one.
Alé hop, on y va!
Reading the data
You are looking for a new fridge and walk into a Vanden Borre store. You bump into an army of refrigerators. Infinite choices. But you don’t really have the faintest idea which one is right for you. So, the first step we’ll take is to go through the information available about the refrigerators. We’re going to read the information and try to understand it. Because that’s what reading means. You have to be able to read and understand information and data at the same time in order to make a smart decision.
Working with data
The second skill you have to master is working with data. Do you have to learn extraordinary computer skills to work with data? No, of course not. It means you have to feel comfortable to consume data when it is presented to you. When there’s a sign with information about the 50 fridges, we need to be able to grasp it in order to consume the information. We have to dare to roll up our sleeves to take the plates in our hands and be able to process the information it presents.
Then you should be able to analyze the data. Analyzing means that you can uncover the ‘why’ behind it. In the shop you might have 5 fridges out of 50 that have caught your attention. It’s up to us to observe those 5 fridges. And by observing them, and analyzing them, we can gain insights into why they might be the most suitable. Often, we want to jump from observation to insight immediately, but we can’t do this without doing the analysis first. Analyzing also means that you feel comfortable asking questions. But we do this far too little. Ask questions.
Discussing with data
The fourth quarter of the cake is discussing dates. Of course, you shouldn’t argue with the representative in the shop. Discussing over data means two things. One, questioning the information presented to you. Ask the retailer in the shop a lot of questions about the refrigerators you prefer.
Two, discuss the info you’ve heard from a position you want to take. Chances are, once we’ve gone through all the steps in the store, you and I will each prefer a different refrigerator. Then you will take a position with what you think would be the best and supplement this with facts you have discovered and insights you have provided to defend your position.
These 4 characteristics, reading, working with, analyzing and speaking with data, enables us as individuals to understand all the information there is to find and make decisions from it. The question you could ask now is, what do I have to do to get started? How do I start this, what do I have to do to learn it? What is the step-by-step plan to master this?
My advice on this is twofold. Get curious. Like, for example, children are. If you have children, you will certainly share my opinion that children are very good at why-questions. Their little brains never stop searching for connections and the underlying meaning. This is a skill that we lose as we grow older for no specific reason. Be curious again and ask questions about everything. That’s the start of powerful data literacy.
Second, creativity. There is a lot of hype and interest in the world about what AI, Quantum Computing and Machine Learning will mean to us in the future. We’re already in the 4th Industrial Revolution. We already live in a digital world. But the most powerful computer is … the human brain. The human element must never be taken away from data. It’s a combination of AI and machines, combined with the human element. And remember, these 4 characteristics contain a range of skills, but it’s creativity that allows us to open up the human brain to data. Something that may seem boring at first, but data and information means power.
The world we live in now can really improve for our society, our business and our personal lives. But to do so, we first need to improve ourselves in reading, working with, analyzing and discussing data.
If you really want to be successful in the future in this digital world, become data literate.