Data vs. Intelligence - How to approach the stunning amount of data in the world to succeed in your business or your career
We live in a world of massive amounts of data. You've likely heard the term "Big Data" many times before, but it's far beyond this and you probably don't have a full grasp of how amazing our modern and connected world (mainly the developed 1st world) is today.
In the year 248 AD, Rome celebrated its 1000th anniversary - it had been 1000 years since the founding of Rome. More data is created in one year today than was created in those 1000 years of the Roman Republic and Empire. This is an astonishing fact that should bring a sense of awe to every intelligent and curious person - humanity is creating absolutely vast amounts of all kinds of data today.
What kind of data?
Here are just a few examples of the kinds of data creation that take place every day - that takes place very second every second:
The list above is meant to be broad in order to demonstrate the broad swath of things from which data is created today. Data can be created by governments or big corporations, but data can just as easily be created by small businesses and individuals during their everyday tasks and processes.
The above list is just a tiny example - almost anything remotely automated or electronic creates some sort of data today.
A Key Question
If we have an exponentially larger amount of data today than in the past, why aren't we exponentially smarter today as a society? Sure, the size of our economy as measured by GDP or GNP is much larger than at any point in history, but we can still see that we haven't moved that far way from past societies and civilizations in terms of the things that are most important to humanity.
Going further, why aren't businesses incredibly smart if we have so many data available? So many small and medium sized businesses today still operate under the same paradigms as businesses of the past. The problem is that even though there are tremendous amounts of data (and easy ways to collect more), the data isn't being productively used. The data is just sitting there. It's easy to collect data - it's hard to use it effectively.
What you really need isn't data - it's intelligence. You don't need a data dump on your hard drive or a stream of data flowing in at many GBs a second - you need to know how to turn whatever data you do have (hopefully it's quality data) into intelligence. This is what the human mind does - it turns raw data from sensory inputs into intelligence via the brain.
To better illustrate the importance of intelligence and the inadequacy fo data alone, let's imagine a fictional scenario. Imagine giving an ancient hunter-gatherer tribe all of the data available today on a giant supercomputer. Of course, they won't be able to access that data, but let's ignore that for a second and imagine that SOMEHOW that ancient tribe could in fact access all of this vast data. Do you think that things would really change for that tribe? It is likely that the tribe would be incapable of utilizing the data in any way and creating any actionable intelligence from it - they wouldn't have either the mathematical/statistical sophistication to extract much meaning from it and they wouldn't have the background landscape required to absorb and process the data in appropriate and meaningful contexts.
The Definition of Data
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines data as follows:
1. factual information (as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation <the data is plentiful and easily available — H. A. Gleason, Jr.> <comprehensive data on economic growth have been published — N. H. Jacoby>
2. information output by a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful
3. information in numerical form that can be digitally transmitted or processed
We define data in simpler terms:
Data are discreet units of information that provide some evidence of something in the real world
Data isn't something complicated. Although we might take a technological slant in our mind when thinking about data today, data can come in many forms. Data can be written on a stone tablet, on a piece of papyrus, on a piece of paper, or by tying knots using a string to keep track of things. Data can come in magnetic form as on credit cards. Data can come from CDs and DVDs or data can be stored on a flash drive. Data isn't technological - data is just information but technology has helped us gather and store vast amounts of it.
One of the key features of data is that it gives us some sort of information about the real world. This is due to the fact that data arises from the real world. The only way data can be created is by somehow recording some aspect of the outside world in some sort of storage mechanism. That mechanism might be robust or it might be fragile, it might be high advanced or primitive, but it has to (at least for a time) store some sort of information that is somehow derived from the real world.
Data that has no basis in or relationship to the real world is utterly useless for the purposes of using it to create value and making more effective decisions. Imagine a set of data that is just made up randomly - a random list of customer data that includes totally made up random numbers for purchase amounts, transaction IDs, customer contact information, items or services purchased, customer acquisition methods, discounts applied, and satisfaction surveys. How could a business use this made up data in any meaningful and purposeful way? They couldn't. This data would be of use to no one because no amount of technical knowledge or manipulation would yield anything positive - you cannot derive anything from it. In effect, it's "garbage in, garbage out" with data.
Intelligence, in the sense we're discussing here, is the use of data in effective ways to achieve valuable (whatever that means) goals and objectives in the real world.
What sort of goals are we talking about? They can be any goal that is worthwhile:
Most worthwhile goals are achieved through a combination of effort and intelligence - effort alone is not always enough because you need to put your effort int he right direction. Of course, intelligence alone is useless without the effort to use it also - but intelligence s the seed from which our goals can be productively and effectively achieved.
Intelligence is what sets humans apart in some ways from the other beings that inhabit the world we find ourselves in. Although lots of animals are intelligent in some ways, they're not as intelligent as us. We can use complex models of the world to make decisions - this is why we are the dominant species.
Intelligence is the stuff that builds bridges, building, and apps. Intelligence is what wins battles in war and battles in the boardroom. Intelligence is what allows you to outperform in life and in business - it's what can set you apart in the battlefield of business and make that customer come through your doors or visit your website or download your app instead of your opponents'.
Data vs. Intelligence
Data and intelligence are two different but interrelated things. Data is used in order to obtain intelligence. Or, stated another way, you need data if you're going to have some sort of intelligence.
Intelligence doesn't just arise out of nowhere. The kind of intelligence that is useful (the productive kind of intelligence that helps with making effective decisions int the real world) is based on data. Therefore, intelligence and data are not two different but similar things, they are two very different things with one being required fro the other. It's like water and oxygen - you need oxygen atoms to make water, but water and oxygen are far from the same thing. Just as with oxygen and water, you need data to have intelligence, but intelligence is far more than just data - it's using data to create an understanding of the world.
Intelligence can exist in many forms. It can mean knowing your:
Intelligence can also mean knowing things there aren't specific numbers, but are more comparative in nature - things such as:
Intelligence can also be binary - it can include things like:
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