Looking at Trees to Understand the Forest

March 19, 2010

David Simon (of The Wire fame) has sucked me into another brilliant television series with Generation Kill. It is the story of a Marine recon unit at the beginning of the Iraq war. At the heart of all the action, the seven-part miniseries offers an intimate and honest profiles of individual Marines.

The characters don’t so much displace stereotypes as reveal texture and insight about the unique qualities of individual Marines.

The series got me thinking once again about different ways to analyze data. Almost four years ago, I posted a couple blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2) making a case for analyzing and visualizing data at a granular level to uncover patterns and behaviors. Generation Kill is a case study in looking closely at the individual trees to understand the forest.

Analytics is a journey of exploration–a continuous series of iterations with the goal of deeper understanding based on better questions and more targeted analyses. Einstein said:

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

How to arrive at new questions?

In the previous