Most people think of data analytics as focusing strictly on the facts and bereft of nuance and subtlety. Once you’ve shared the data, there’s no room for dialogue or debate. It’s the conversation stopper. It’s graphs, charts, numbers, and the single source of truth.
Thinking of data in such black and white terms, however, fails to recognize its profound ability for demystifying incredibly complex and often highly emotional issues. Yes, that’s right: we said emotional issues. That’s because data analytics isn’t just charts, graphs, and “black and white.” Rather, data analytics is one of the best tools we have for navigating some of the world’s most complicated and human-centric issues. In fact, in our increasingly polarized world, data analytics might be the key to restoring trust and helping society dialogue on even the thorniest of issues.
“I think we need more data…to shine a light on things that may be unpleasant.” says revered theoretical physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku. “We have to throw the light on even areas that are embarrassing because the truth will set us free.”
Dr. Kaku, a best-selling author and professor at the City College of New York, spoke with us recently about how data analytics can not only be used to drive efficient and powerful business outcomes, but can also be used — even more importantly, to drive positive and impactful change in the world. Whether it’s using data to alleviate global poverty, build a more sustainable planet, or diversify our workplaces, Dr.
Kaku points to data analytics as the driving force for creating real societal change.
“Imagine in your mind, a mountain of dry, boring statistics and spreadsheets. That’s what you think about when you think about data,” Dr. Kaku says. “Now, I want you to change your mind. I want you to have a new mental image from now on when you hear the word data, think of a gold mine: a gold mine, where nuggets of pure gold are just waiting to be picked.”
Some of these golden nuggets include humanizing conversations around global warming into more relatable and personalized data, so more people can truly understand the impact sea-level rise and increased global temperatures will have on their children and grandchildren. Or not overlooking the golden opportunities that “bad data,” sometimes holds, such as data that illustrates how diversified or how not diversified your workforce is. Even when the data is embarrassing, Dr. Kaku says it’s critical that we not shy away from it, and in some cases, we might want more of it.
“Can you imagine trying to solve the problems of racism and poverty if you’re blind to all of these things?” Dr. Kaku asks. “That’s why I say we need more diversified data from all sectors of society.”
While data has always been used to guide us to single sources of truth and provide an endless list of insights and trends, data is also a powerful catalyst for tackling controversial conversations. Data can help spearhead the kind of thoughtful debate to those topics and societal issues that are often fraught with big emotions and bring awareness to murky topics that could benefit from deeper, analytical examination. Even though going into those dark spaces isn’t always the most comfortable or easy thing to do.
“That’s the hard part. The hard part is not extolling the virtues of data or the virtues of a human-centric society. The hard part is synergy. The synergistic relationship between how data can help human values and how human values can help to enrich our interpretation of data,” Dr. Kaku says. “That’s where we should work toward creating a better understanding, because both will benefit the people who push. The people who push human centric values, they can both learn from each other to create a much more comprehensive understanding of what the problem is.”
Catch Dr. Kaku’s full session, and the entire Alter.Next virtual summit replay.