Three Vital Truths about Successful Analytics Projects from Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage. His humor is as dry as the barren sands of the Sahara, his delivery is more piercingly intense than an angry honey badger that hasn’t eaten in a week, and he may just be the only actor that can express 157 different emotions with one single stoic facial expression.
And, he has a lot to say about successful data science projects.
If you’ve never seen the movie Next, you have yet to partake in Cage’s deep wisdom about analytics.
Lucky for you, you don’t have to go and watch the entire movie. We’re going to break it down right here. Three critical lessons from Nic.
1. Nicolas Cage Can See Two Minutes Into His Future
In the movie, Cage plays a man endowed with a strangely precise mutant superpower of being able to see into his future for exactly two minutes. No more, and no less.
He tries to go unnoticed, using his ability to do a small time magic show and win at casinos, until the casino security realizes there’s something odd about him. They decide to track him down, and that’s when the insanity begins.
But before everything in the movie catches on fire Nic Cage style, he makes a deep, metaphysically profound, philosophical comment about his magical future-seeing ability in verbiage that is truly all Cage. Queue a slow, thoughtful, musky voice.
“Here’s the thing about the future. Every time you look at it, it changes. Because you looked at it. And that changes everything else.”
Unknowingly (probably), Cage has uncovered one of the deepest problems in data science and analytics today. The action part.
There are four critical steps in any data project, as seen below.
Where most people get tripped up is the third step. The analysis and information is not presented in a way the induces people to take action, and so the insights are unused and worthless.
The disconnect often comes because the mindset you need to help someone take action is fundamentally different from the mindset you need to collect and process the data. It isn’t about algorithms, mathematics, or logarithmic loss. It’s about people.
Understand what motivates the people you are trying to help with the analysis, and make it personal to them. Then, something will get done.
Advice from the Cage
- Cage can only see his own future, no one else’s. But because of that, he’s very prone to take action on what he sees. Help people see their own future in your analysis. Show them what the data means for them, what’s going to happen, and what the consequences are for them personally. If it’s not personal, it’s not going to move anyone to action.
2. Nicolas Cage Takes Tactical Action
Casino security is on to his tricks, and they send out a team to capture him.
But of course, he can see two minutes into the future. So he knows they’re coming.
He also knows what they are going to do, where they are going to be, and the direction they’ll be looking. Using this information, he carefully weaves through their team, evading them at every turn, and calmly walks out of the casino to make his escape.
A perfectly executed escape plan. Nicolas Cage pays attention to the tactics.
When we design predictive models, machine learning systems, or visualization dashboards, pay attention to the tactics. Make specific recommendations that can be taken in order to achieve a desired outcome.
Many analysts shy away from this, because it forces them to have an opinion and take a stand on an issue. But as the person doing the analysis, with full access to the data and information, if you aren’t taking a stand, you are doing your company a disservice. They need your insight, and they need to know the right actions to take.
Gear you analysis toward tactical actions that people can actually execute against that will lead them to their ultimate goal, just like Cage used his predictive abilities to figure out specific steps he could take to escape the casino.
Advice From the Cage
- Have an opinion. Be decisive and make recommendations based on the data. If Cage hadn’t taken specific actions, he would have been caught.
- Don’t recommend actions that are out of reach. Suggest actions people can actually accomplish. Cage didn’t do anything major or extraordinary to escape, he just took simple, targeted actions based on the predictive information he had.
3. Nicolas Cage Knows the Future Is Sometimes Painful
He escapes the casino. Has a run in with the FBI. Evades pursuers in a death-defying car chase. All on par with a Nic Cage movie.
Eventually, he ends up in a cafe trying to figure out how he can start a conversation with Liz. He doesn’t know her, but he feels she is important to his future based on his predictive senses.
Liz’s previous hot-headed boyfriend shows up, and after a heated exchange, Cage steps in. His first approach, however, does not end well.
Here we see Cage being strategic. He knows there is a way to avoid getting hit in the face (short-term goal), but he also knows that this course of action eventually makes it so he does not achieve his real goal of being able to talk to Liz.
So, he opts to get hit in the face.
Sometimes the analysis you do will show things that people don’t want to see. It will show that a department is in the red, that a product isn’t going to be profitable, or that the company is on the wrong course.
People will fight you. They will not believe you. They will ask you to re-run the analysis until you get different results.
If you are the analyst, do everything you can to convince them that making the painful choice is actually the right one.
If you are in management, don’t turn a blind eye to these numbers. They might just save your job.
Advice From the Cage
- Don’t torture the data to get the results you want. Get an accurate result, and take the actions necessary (even if they are painful) to get to your strategic goal.
- Make data personal for people so they will want to take action.
- Have an opinion and make recommendations on specific actions they should take.
- Don’t shy away from painful analysis results. Keep your long-term strategy in mind, and do what it takes to achieve it.
If you need more analytical firepower in your organization to get real value from your data, analytics-as-a-service will help you achieve your goals.
Or if you just need some advice on a project you’re working on, grab a few minutes on my calendar.
May the Cage be with you.