analyst needs
March 17, 2021

The subpersonalities an analyst needs, part 2: technical steps

By Paul Laughlin

This post continues our series exploring the subpersonalities an analyst needs to make a difference in their organisation. We continue our journey around the Laughlin Consultancy model of Softer Skills. But, instead of focussing on skills or knowledge, we personify subpersonalities that are helpful to adopt.

As I explained in part 1, a subpersonality is a personality mode (or mindset) that we activate to help us cope with certain circumstances. In this series, I am personifying (through different familiar roles) the subpersonalities that can help at different steps in that model. Bringing to life that analysts not only need a range of technical & softer skills, but also the ability to flex their mindset or personality.

So, let’s dive back in, to explore the ‘messy middle‘ of analysis. Where the technical work is done or the product is developed. Plenty of online content advises analysts on the range of technical skills they need today. But, what about their attitude, mindset or personality. What helps?

Subpersonality 4: The Curator

Whether you think in terms of Museum, Art or Music Curators, such personas put us in mind of a personality type that helps us with Data. Step 4 in the Softer Skills model is all about appropriate sourcing & use of data. As well as applying a range of technical skills an analyst needs to be concerned with ethics, regulation, relevance & usability.

Akin to the attitude a Curator needs to adopt when seeking, verifying, displaying & maintaining potential exhibits, analysts need to take care. Rather than the carefree attitude of indiscriminate ‘new oil‘ drilling or treating analytics like a factory to process abundant raw materials, greater care is needed.

With the mindset or persona of a Curator, an analyst should have an eye to meaning, people group implications, appropriate usage & the practical aspects of public engagement. Always remember data is not just numbers it represents the real world & real people. As Tim Harford cautioned us, also be alert to misunderstanding, gaps & a variety of biases. Curate with care, together with an understanding of provenance, meaning & usage.

Subpersonality 5: The Scientist

It is perhaps unfortunate that the term Data Scientist has been appropriated for a particular type of work. Especially when one considers the relevance of the scientific method to wider analytical work. Prof Spiegelhalter reminded us of the importance of the PPDAC workflow & a recent podcast guest reminded me that Data Science was first coined as a better name for the modern work of statisticians.

However, I will brave the divide & suggest that beyond any technical skills or knowledge, the subpersonality appropriate to step 6 is that of a Scientist. Step 5 covers the skills needed to analyse data & discover relevant patterns, trends, issues or potential insights. To achieve that requires a particular amalgam of attitude & worldview.

The reason I personify this subpersonality as The Scientist is because of the need for a mindset that is equally curious & methodical. Holding hypotheses or assumptions lightly & always being open to discovering new evidence. Coupled with the rigour & repeatability that can avoid outliers or reacting to statistically insignificant results. Great scientists have role modelled the persistence & restless curiosity that powers this stage.

Subpersonality 6: The Psychologist

Once an analyst has completed their analytics work, too many will rush straight to presenting their findings. Customer analysts should pause & recognise the need to think more deeply & ask why? Step 6 is all about using a range of (mainly collaborative) techniques to generate deeper insights. Ideally a potential insight into why customers are acting as they are and what would prompt them to change their behaviour.

Given the need to explore many aspects of the human condition at this stage, I hope the BPS will forgive me for copying the name of their journal. I personify the subpersonality or mindset needed at this stage as The Psychologist. A person motivated to understand peoples’ attitudes, thinking & behaviour.

Rather than being satisfied with numerical results or models based on past behaviour. This attitude pushes us to understand why? A quest for internal mental models, assumptions, emotions and mindsets that prompt the behaviour seen. The goal of such a quest, converging all available evidence is to discover a relevant commercial insight. Like a Psychologist seeking an insight that will help a client, the analyst seeks an insight to help the organisation take action.

Are these what an analyst needs to role model?

How are you finding this series so far? I hope it is prompting your own thinking & self-reflection. I am keen to hear about your experience. Have you seen the importance of considering attitude/mindset or subpersonality? Have you seen the power of the above personas or got others you would suggest?

If you have practical experience to share, please do comment in the boxes below. I would love to hear more from analysts or leaders as to the mindsets or personas that you recognise have helped you at any stage.