31 Essential Quotes on Analytics and Data

Who doesn’t like a good quote? We come across interesting and useful quotes all of the time in literature, news media, entertainment, and so on. A potent, succinct quote that underlines a key point or supports an important truth can be like gold. Often the value of a quote is reinforced by who stated it such as an industry expert, a well-respected figure, or a person of notoriety, but sometimes the quote may be so good that it can stand on its own even if it came from a lesser known or even unknown source.

If you’ve read my web analytics book, you’ll know that I used quotes throughout the book to emphasize several points. I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes related to analytics and data—some that made it into the book and others that didn’t (now I’m debating why I wasn’t able to squeeze them in). If you’re evangelizing web analytics or trying to nurture a data-driven mindset at your company, I hope you’ll find these 31 quotes inspiring and helpful.

Why Analytics?

At the end of the day, this quote by the late management guru, Peter Drucker, represents why most companies invest in analytics. If you’re not measuring your digital initiatives, how can you manage or optimize them? Now just because you measure something doesn’t guarantee that you will actually manage it, however, measurement is the starting point.

The price of light is less than the cost of darkness.
Arthur C. Nielsen, Market Researcher & Founder of ACNielsen

Another way to look at your analytics investment is to evaluate what it would be like to NOT have information on your digital business. I like how Arthur C. Nielsen, the founder of the global market research company, ACNielsen, framed it. Sure you need to spend some money on analytics (technology and people), but it’s going to be less than the price you’ll pay if you don’t know how your business is performing. Consider the missed revenue opportunities and potential cost savings you would be giving up.

Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the Web like deer on a freeway.
Geoffrey Moore, Author of Crossing the Chasm & Inside the Tornado

Without analytics, your company is vulnerable. However, just owning analytics tools isn’t enough. Extracting value from your analytics investment requires sufficient staff, well-defined processes, a clear business strategy, and leadership support.

In the context of analytics, I’d like to modify this quote a little by substituting “understand” for “remember.” Analytics gives you valuable insights into what is and isn’t working. If your company doesn’t understand (and remember) what mistakes it has made with its websites, campaigns, or mobile apps, it will keep on making those same errors.

War is ninety percent information.
Napoleon Bonaparte, French Military and Political Leader

The famous French general didn’t even live the information age, and yet he attributed most of his military success to having the right information. When you’re battling for a competitive advantage in business, analytics data can be equally important to your success.

Uninformed Opinions and Theories

A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.
Marshall McLuhan, Canadian Communications Professor

Rather than blindly following the most popular or loudest opinion, you should use data to question, inform, and shape your perspective. While you don’t always have to agree with the data, your understanding will be increased and enhanced by it.

This quote, which is often attributed to manufacturing guru and statistician, W. Edwards Deming, encapsulates the data-driven mindset. Unless you’re an omniscient, omnipotent being (or Chuck Norris), you’d better have data to back up your idea or approach.

I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Author of Sherlock Holmes stories

Whether you approach your data seeking enlightenment or to prove a point, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Although a common practice, twisting or massaging data to support a theory will only lead to problems down the road.

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts – for support rather than for illumination.
Andrew Lang, Scottish Writer

Some managers are only interested in the numbers when they support their decisions. Rather than dismissing bad results or covering up mistakes, more managers should embrace these trying insights for the value they can provide in helping to refine their understanding, intuition, and overall effectiveness.

Just like many other things in life, data can be ignored. It’s true we might not always like the results we see in our analytics tool, but ignoring the data isn’t going to make things any better either. Do something about the numbers, don’t ignore them.

Data Matters

Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, couldn’t form any theories or draw any conclusions until he had sufficient data. Data is the basic building block of everything we do in analytics: the reports we build, the analyses we perform, the decisions we influence, and the optimizations we derive.

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
Albert Einstein, Physicist

While data is important, the right data is essential. It’s becoming easier to feel overwhelmed by the increasing amounts of data being collected. Understanding what’s important to the business (you need clear business goals) helps analysts to evaluate what data counts or should be counted. Albert Einstein was on to something when he said we can’t always track what we want to count, but that doesn’t stop us from constantly exploring new ways to get the data we need (just remember to respect privacy policies and laws).

The Process of Analysis

In analytics, success is dependent upon asking the right questions—both of the business stakeholders and of the data in your analysis approach. Framing a business question properly is critical because if you don’t, you could go astray in your analysis or return with the wrong insights.

A person who is gifted sees the essential point and leaves the rest as surplus.
Thomas Carlyle, Scottish Writer

A successful analyst is able to remove the noise when analyzing data and isolate what matters to his or her organization. With most companies collecting large amounts of data, you need to be both talented and disciplined to pinpoint key insights that can yield value.

Sometimes you can get lucky and discover low-hanging fruit with minimal effort. However, often you’ll need to go deeper than the surface-level information to uncover the valuable insights hidden within your data. For example, nothing may standout when you first look at your conversion funnel reports, but when you start examining different key segments all of sudden lots of insights start to appear.

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.
Aaron Levenstein, Business Professor at Baruch College

When analyzing your data, you need to be careful with statistics as they can both help and hinder you. They can tease you with interesting but superficial insights. However, you can’t afford to stop your analysis prematurely at just symptoms when the root cause of a problem remains at large.

If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.
Ronald Coase, Economist

You can go too far in trying to force your data to yield up insights. You may discover you just don’t have the data you need to answer the business question at hand. While waterboarding your data may result in an answer, it won’t be very reliable. Realize when you need more data points before you can complete your analysis.

Data is frequently imperfect and incomplete. You can’t let that fact paralyze your organization or push it in the direction of flying blind. Move forward with the inadequate or imperfect data you have. Strive to improve your data quality and completeness over time, but be aware of the diminishing returns in your quest for data perfection.

The alchemists in their search for gold discovered many other things of greater value.
Arthur Schopenhauer, German Philosopher

Along your analysis journey, you may encounter unexpected insights that are unrelated to what you were originally analyzing. Exploration and discovery are why many of us enjoy performing analysis. You never know what you’ll learn about your business or customers.

Sharing Your Data and Insights

Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.
Chip & Dan Heath, Authors of Made to Stick, Switch

Authors of the excellent book, Made to Stick, Chip & Dan Heath, call this phenomenon the Curse of Knowledge. When you’re constantly immersed in the data as an analyst, it can be difficult to relate to your audience and anticipate how they will interpret and understand the insights you share. So while all of the knowledge you have as an analyst is great, it can actually trip you up in your communication approach. Because your audience hasn’t poured over all of the data and doesn’t have the same context, you need to try to put yourself in your audience’s shoes when you’re determining how to best share your insights and recommendations.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
Albert Einstein, Physicist

Regardless of the brilliance of your analysis or the importance of your insights, you need to be able to communicate your findings successfully to others. If you’re the only one who “gets it,” then you’ve failed. You need to consider how you can simplify your message so that it resonates with your audience and they know how to act on your insights.

If your analysis findings aren’t capturing your audience’s attention, you either have the wrong numbers or the wrong audience. In other words, you’ve either failed to understand what’s important to your audience or you’ve failed to identify the right audience who would care about your findings.

The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.
John Tukey, American Mathematician

Data visualization is not only important to presenting our insights but also for exploring the data for insights. While a weak or wrong visualization can bury a good insight, a strong or suitable visualization can make it stand out. Take advantage of the fact that the human brain finds it easier to process information when it is in the form of a picture rather than words or numbers.

Data are just summaries of thousands of stories – tell a few of those stories to help make the data meaningful.
Chip & Dan Heath, Authors of Made to Stick, Switch

To communicate effectively with data, you need to tell a story with it. While data relies on logic and reasoning, decisions are often made based on emotion. Merging logic and emotion can be a powerful combination to drive action from your insights.

Turn Insight into Action

The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.
Carly Fiorina, Former CEO of HP

The former CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina, highlighted some of the key steps in analytics. Reporting turns raw data into information that can be consumed by a company, and through analysis you turn information into insights. Taking her comments one important step further, I’d add you need to turn insight into action if you want to progress down the path to value with analytics.

The value of an idea lies in the using of it.
Thomas A. Edison, American Inventor

 

An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.
Arnold Glasow, American Businessman


I included three similar quotes to emphasize this important principle: No value is created by insights if they are not acted upon. If the insights aren’t being acted upon, then your analytics isn’t providing any value. Evaluate the key steps in your analytics value pipeline from end-to-end and identify where potential breakdowns might be occurring.

Never confuse motion with action.
Benjamin Franklin, American Politician/Inventor

In analytics, you can get very busy with collecting new forms of data, integrating data sets, building new reports or dashboards, and so on. However, these activities should be a means to an end. To drive value from analytics, companies need to act on the insights. If you’re not careful, you can easily waste too much time and effort in Setupland and not spend enough time in Actionland.

Analytics has the power to transform companies; however, too many organizations are more concerned with the cost of analytics than its value. While most of these firms know they need analytics to compete, they haven’t yet tasted the sweet success that can come from these tools. If you can start to string together a series of small analytics wins, you’ll be able to build momentum to the point where the scope and scale of the wins increase exponentially over time. Lock and load, action heroes!

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