Are we all analysts? Maybe we don’t think of ourselves that way because we don’t identify ourselves with the term “analyst.” We usually identify ourselves with things that we feel we dominate when it comes to knowledge, or that we simply do all the time when it comes to activities. So we consider ourselves a basketball player if we play basketball all the time, and maybe an expert in fantasy literature if we have read a huge amount of fantasy books. We would still not think of ourselves as “analysts” in those fields, but looking at the term from a certain angle, we might be great analysts on these fields we love.
The key is naturally to point out the areas in which we are analysts. There will always be many areas that each of us somehow dominates and will be able to generate insightful analyses from. As obvious as this is, the point of this article is to help us identify and transpose our natural analyst skills to any other area we want to work with but are not fully familiar with yet.
What it means to be an analyst?
Classic start: googled the word “analyst” and found out that the dictionary is maybe procrastinating when it comes to giving us a decent meaning, this is what came up:
From the image above, it really sounds like the ‘Dictionary’ did not finish its work.
THEN, I saw the link for Wikipedia below that, and yes, prepare for a “bomb” of results:
The Wikipedia page for ANALYSIS, then gave me the first glimpse of a core part of what we are doing as analysts, it is not the entire job in most cases, but it is a big part of the job:
And to finish this quick research, I must point out that Dictionary came back into the game with the word “analysis” as well:
There is a lot missing from these definitions. To start, the definitions are not exploring the addition of external elements into an analysis. They are also not taking into account a possible greater goal involved with the analysis (beyond a pure examination of elements). But dictionary definitions are very rarely complete anyway, the point here is to explore why so many people have a hard time identifying themselves with the term. From the definitions we found, we can start to understand why many of us don’t wear the analyst hat unless someone puts it on our head in ways of a job description or task given by a boss. Well, I guess I am here to put that hat on everyone’s head with this article.
1. The analyst mindset
If we are all analysts, it is because we all have an analyst mindset. Let’s take a very simple example to illustrate what this means:
Think of something you really like or even love: _ _ _ _ _
Let’s pretend you thought of “Pizza.”
If you enjoy pizza, as I do, it is likely you have eaten many slices during your life. You have tried many flavors, and even different ways to cook the ‘noble pie.’
If we start a conversation about pizza, would you feel that you could have interesting input to give? and what about comparing pizza experiences? do you think you could enter a discussion about “the best pizza ever”? wouldn’t you have enough elements to build a solid case to defend why certain pizza qualifies as “the best pizza ever” ?
Yes, you would likely be a fierce debater on all things pizza. Because you love it, and you pay attention to your experience, you make them memorable to yourself, and it is then easy to share with others what you know.
Of course some discussions can come down to personal opinion in the end, which is probably the case when discussing Pizza, so the idea here is really just to be able to grasp what the analyst mindset is.
The analyst mindset is a lot about simply paying attention to detail. From there we then connect all the details to build somewhat of a “story” around the composition, meaning and purpose of what we are studying.
A great example of someone who does that comes from the detective field. Mr. Holmes never fails to observe fine details and build connections between them:
2. A method for analysis
Another great point once we understand the mindset is to understand that there will always be a method involved with research, analysis and presentation of the analysis. Sticking to the first part of the work (gathering information and putting everything together), as we move into research and analysis we will find out that the methodology is actually there to help us, and not to hold us back.
It is somewhat instinctive to try to avoid methodology and assume it is a waste of time. Experience will likely show that having a good method in place, and optimizing the method to really fit our workflow and our purpose will save a huge amount of time in the end. If we are creating an ongoing process of improvement, then such methods will be even more important, giving us time and space to work with more strategic points of the process.
If we are talking about business intelligence and analytics, part of the method will include the way we handle our tools and software platforms. Everything from the composition of our metrics to the layout of our dashboards will somehow impact our process of analysis.
I explore more details on that in this book: https://amzn.to/2AChRo0 but the main point here is only to consider that there will be always a method and workflow in place.
Relating to our “instinctive analyst” point of view that we brought up early in this article, it is possible that without knowing we have a certain method in place already. Picking the example of the basketball player, we could be following social profiles to watch and learn techniques, we could be talking to the older players in our street court and learning from their tricks, we can be practicing and experimenting shots and moves in our free time. All of that would fall into our method as we apply the analyst mindset to it and start being more conscious of the details around the topics.
3. Presenting the analysis and applying insights
As a very brief final point, another expertise that comes into play is the way we present an analysis and later implement insights to improve processes.
Instinctively we might be very good at presenting on the subjects we love. Maybe we can motivate someone to watch a basketball game after we tell them what is so interesting about the game – even when they don’t ever watch or play basketball. This passion on speaking of what we love delivers a “strong punch” to the audience and really helps to build interest even if it is a subject foreign to whoever is listening.
We can pay attention to what we are doing (or others are doing) when delivering an “analysis” of their most loved subjects. We will likely find a series of points that we can then use to build presentations with a more formal and structured process.
Presentation of an analysis can make or break a process of improvement. There will be steps to implement insights into improving processes, but to capture the interest of the audience and deliver a clear and insightful presentation is a great start.