Everybody understands that data is key to Google’s dominance. Companies across every industry are trying to establish themselves as the owners and users of the best data available. Watching this data gold rush, it can be easy to forget about the opportunities much closer to home. Within your company, some people are using data to create and advocate effective strategic arguments. How do you ensure that you are a Google within your company, instead of an Alta Vista?
Having access to the data is, of course, the first step. If you don’t have access to it already, establish a good relationship with somebody who does. As with all of these relationships, they need to be doing it not because you told them to, but because they believe in you and your vision. Find somebody who it is hungry and talented. If they see that you can be their champion, we will happily go the extra mile for you, even on short notice (which can be game-changing).
However, and this may be painful, I would also recommend jumping through whatever hoops are necessary to qualify for direct access to your company’s data. If that requires training, it will be well worth the money and time. If it requires demonstrating to your manager why they need to push for authorization, just make sure that you CC them the first time that you completely turn a strategic conversation on its head with a simple Excel graph drawn from the right data source. I guarantee you that having the ability to pull numbers (even very simple ones) in the time it takes you to reply to an email will have a striking impact on your effectiveness as an influencer. There’s no need to worry about being labeled a fake data scientist – as long as you’re adding value, you don’t need to be building neural networks to be proud of your skills.
There are some skills where you get almost no value until you are quite competent. Being able to land an airplane safely 70% of the time it’s probably even worse than knowing that you can’t land an airplane at all! Fortunately, even very basic data skills have an extremely high ROI. I would recommend finding an Excel tutorial the teaches filtering, sorting, and summing. That’s all you need to know to be dangerous (in a good way!)
If you want to go one level further, a little SQL it’s also a good investment. Like Excel, people do mind-blowing things with SQL, but it can be intimidating. Fortunately, there are a huge variety of tutorials available.
If you really wants to make an impact, you need to catch the reader’s eye. Learn how to use color, shapes and highlights to tell a story. There are many good guides to this as well, such as the website Flowing Data, and Tufte’s books. Just remember that people will judge your visualization within half a second of seeing it, so make it intuitive!
The true beauty of this approach is that you can take a first pass at each of the sections, and very see the value. Then, based on situation, you can where you want to invest more time to get even more value. Just like anything having to do with data, it is an iterative process, and you will have to be strategic about how to use your limited time to grow as effectively as possible. The great news is that you will quickly find yourself finishing conversation faster and making decisions that don’t need to be reverted, which will quickly offset the time that you are setting aside to grow your skills. One word of warning though – as news of your skills spread, you might start getting brought into more strategic meetings than ever!