How Data Literacy Saved My Family

Life lessons about diversity and inclusion and the importance of getting different perspectives, both in life and in your data

How Data Literacy Saved My Family

Growing up I used to hear similar sayings all the time that I did not really believe and just thought were cliché, like “don’t judge a book by its cover”, or “there are two sides to every story”. At that point I honestly thought I knew everything there was to know but in reality, I knew very little about anything.

As I grew older, I studied math and statistics in school and was taught there is only one answer to a given problem. Whether it is a calculation, a true statement for a theorem, or something else, there was always only one right answer. Everything was black and white.

Then as I got older and had a family, I was presented a challenge. My oldest son is autistic. Without going into much detail, it can be very frustrating because the way he looks at the world and perceives things is very different than how I perceive things or how other kids perceive things. To him, the world is just like we are taught in math and statistics: black or white, right or wrong, true or false. There is no room for interpretation and there are not multiple sides to every story.

Then I started diving more into data literacy and had a realization. A data point, a piece of evidence, or an observation. They all actually have many sides and are all parts of a puzzle. There is a story there waiting to be unlocked. It is true the value of a point of data may be the number 2 or the color yellow, but what does that really mean and what can we do with that information? This ties to the concept we have been talking about a lot with data-informed decision making. A single piece of data, or a single observation or piece of evidence is 1 dimensional. When you start to combine data together you are starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Then when you add in your experiences and beliefs to it, it starts to come to life and tell you a story. That can give you great wisdom and insights. This is one reason why decision making should celebrate diversity and inclusion and be a team sport, as you are able to see multiple sides of the data and what its story is.

With that realization and gained wisdom, I started to apply this thinking to my son. I stopped looking at his attitudes and behaviors as wrong. Just like with data, there is a story there and a puzzle that was waiting to be put together. I just needed to put aside my bias and try to understand his side of the story based off his experiences and beliefs.

My goal now is to always educate him on different perspectives, so he hopefully will be well rounded and cultured one day and see that the world is not black and white. While this has not been a total success yet, the tenets in data literacy are the same ones I now apply to him. I am always curious why he believes what he believes and why he does what he does. I challenge him often and I ask him sometimes to think through his thought process so I can hear his perspective. In many cases, I have left the conversation realizing it was I who had tunnel vision and bias, not him. It has opened up an entire new world of collaboration between us and I have a ton more of wisdom than I did before as a result.

Going back to data for a second. In business, we should not think like we did back in school that there is only one right answer when it comes to data and analytics. Your experiences, combined with experiences from others will allow you to turn that data into insights and wisdom that will continue to help businesses, help society, and help our planet. Continue to be curious about the data and challenge it. Try to find ways to disprove it rather than looking to justify it. And just like I now celebrate the diversity and different perspective from my son, I also preach that businesses should do the same when they are making decisions., it will help you understand the different sides and stories data can tell, and it truly can change the world by making more informed decisions.

What does the saying don’t judge a book by its cover have to do with data? Our own Kevin Hanegan explains.

 

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