I recently spoke at an event, at a University here in Singapore, as part of a team of speakers organised by Tableau - the data visualisation tool we work with at Elaura. What struck me was that there were students from just about every school and faculty, attending an evening on data visualisation.
You see, once upon a time, a very specific segment of students would have attended very specific sessions on computing. The engineers would have attended sessions on CAD/CAM and mathematical modelling. The humanities students would have attended sessions on desktop publishing. The finance and accounting students would have attended a session on accounting packages. The economists would have attended a session on economic modelling and econometrics; and the social scientists and statisticians would have attended a session on statistics.
But now - everybody attends a session on telling visual stories, with data.
Why is this? In simple terms, we have learnt to encapsulate everything as data. Our world is filling up with data sensors, meaning we now collect more data points in a second than our great grandparents would have seen in a decade. As a consequence, sense-making around data is a key skill in the modern world.
(For the best description I have seen of where this is headed next, listen to Peter Levine of Andreessen Horowitz.)
However - if I simply take this opportunity to tell you that, regardless of your course or currently preferred Career Path, you should be learning how to visualise data, then both you and I will have missed the point.
I will have missed the point that, looking at my hoozyu data, I am a born engineer - albeit with a very creative slant - and that therefore, I am of course always going to be super engaged by opportunities to innovate and be creative using technology and data. And you will have missed the real point, which is that some of the skills required to pursue your passions may be non-obvious.
I am going to use the Interest Colours to make this easier to digest - if I break it down to specific Interests we’ll be here all day!
So, to start, look at the Interests on your hoozyu One Page Summary. Is there a clear colour coming out on top?
Maybe all three Blues are in your top four, or both Yellows are at number one and two for you… If so, you should also see the asterisk on the Grid in that same colour. If two colours are strongly represented, the Asterisk will be nearer the boundary between them; and if you have “a random assortment” of colours, then your Asterisk will probably be nearer the centre of the Grid.
If one colour stands out, that’s simple: focus on that colour. If you have a real mix, then you may need to take a little from each of two, three or four of these colours.
But the advice is still going to be the same, whoever you are: first understand what matters to you (from your Interests) and then understand the world we find ourselves in enough to see what skills will allow you to pursue those Interests. Here’s what I mean, broken down by colour:
Red - if your Interests are predominantly Red, then yes, technology skills are likely to be very important to you in your career. But step back a little, and realise that Red is fundamentally about getting stuff done.
In the 21st Century, that does mean you need to at least understand what the technology can do, and how. But don’t miss the obvious: if you want to get stuff done, you need to be able to at least manage, and preferably lead, others. A narrow focus on technology doesn’t get things done; that takes getting people working together.
So yes, acquire the technical and data skills you need, but take every opportunity to learn how to lead. It isn’t something you can just learn from a book: you have to do it. So look for opportunities to serve in uniformed groups, the hiking club, team sports - whatever. And recognise that many of those you work with, will not share your pure Red motivation, so learning to understand and speak the language of the other three basic perspectives - systems, interaction and innovation - will make all the difference.
Yellow - if your interests are predominantly Yellow, we might as well say, “hello data”. In other words, we would expect you to find some aspect of storing or analysing data pretty energising. But step back and see that Yellow is fundamentally about order, and understanding the importance of systems.
So while gaining skills in some aspect of data and its analysis (accounting, databases, query languages, business systems), you probably want to develop your skills in explaining data and systems as well. The numbers may speak to you: but how are you going to speak to others?
In other words, if you want the greatest career opportunities, be the person who can summarise, accurately and succinctly, the insights you find in the data, so that a CEO or a room full of colleagues can grasp its importance - and not have to swim through the detail unless they want to. Learn to speak the language of the other three colours - execution, interaction and innovation - and you’ll be able to communicate what matters to you, in a way that others can engage with too.
Green - if your interests are predominantly Green, you are going be some kind of a people person; that is, whether you love the cut and thrust of competitive debate or activity, or just thrive on making things better for others, you need to be engaging with people to feel alive. So of course you want to build interpersonal skills (could we even stop you? Probably not. But see the advice to Reds above on groups to engage with, if you need ideas).
Step back though and you will see that sustaining positive interaction and engagement with others (which is the fundamental drive in Green Interests) is going to require you to understand other people, deeply. Enthusiasm and/or empathy may come naturally to you, but they won’t take you the full nine yards; they might even get in the way.
So take up the challenge to be a People Person in a more fundamental sense. Whether it is in understanding the Psychology of individuals and organisations, or gaining a better appreciation of the nuts and bolts of every other phase of organisational life (ie. innovation, execution and systems), go deep until you have something substantial to offer to other people around their concerns.
Blue - if your interests are predominantly Blue, you are probably more of an ideas person; that is, creating, innovating, and strategising will be highly motivating to you. The first piece of advice for you is actually a very old one: “ideas are worth nothing; execution is everything”. That may seem harsh, and of course there are qualifiers to be added; but it is nonetheless an important truth, that the best idea in the world has a value of precisely zero, until someone makes it happen.
Fundamentally, you are all about building a better future - so learn to build. Even if you aren’t the person who does the execution, learn to gather and lead a team (people passionate about systems, execution, and interaction) who can. The second piece of advice would be to acquire the skills required to at least visualise or demonstrate your ideas. You don’t have to be the person who builds the production hyper-loop train, but make sure you can make - and present - some compelling Keynote slides, or wireframes, or animations on the subject; and if you can use gaffer tape, acrylic tubing and an old vaccum cleaner to build a proof of concept model, so much the better.
You will notice that my advice for every colour, includes the advice to learn the language of the other three colours. Welcome to reality. Whether you work for a global giant, or start your own business in your bedroom, communication is the one skill no-one can succeed without. No communication, no nothing.
So, to summarise again: the world is still a world of people, there are just a lot more datacentres spread around than there used to be. Your passions are still the best directional guide you have; but “think different” about what skills you may need to acquire, in order to pursue those passions.