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You Do Have a Head for Analytics

Last week in a conversation, Paul said, “When it comes to Google Analytics, I learned about as much as I could but I’m a Communications guy. I have an English degree. I don’t have the brains for analytics.

Okay, a bit of a rant here. There is no such thing as not having the brains for analytics. You may not have had the academic background or the natural aptitude that some folks have, but for the most part, we all pretty much have the same model of brain. So you do have the brain for it.

When people say they don’t have a head for math, what they’re really saying is one of three things.

First, they’re saying they have a lack of confidence in their existing mathematical skills, perhaps even a fear of the subject because of traumatic early educational experiences. All it takes is one bad teacher somewhere along the line in childhood to put someone off a subject forever.

Second, they’re saying they have made a conscious choice not to learn more, not to make the effort to learn the subject any deeper than they already have.

Third, they’re saying their time, energy, and emotional wellness is better used towards pursuits they enjoy more.

None of these things are wrong. None of these things indicate that you’re deficient somehow as a human being or professionally as a marketer. They’re simply stated facts. If you don’t want to learn analytics, that’s fine. Hire someone who does, or work with an agency partner that does.

The most important part of analytics isn’t the analysis. The most important part of analytics is making decisions based on the analysis. You can hire or work with someone else to do the analysis, present you informed choices, and make decisions. That’s the critical part. You need access to the analytical skills – yours or someone else’s – commensurate with the decisions you need to make.

Here’s another important point. Analytical skill isn’t binary. It isn’t all or nothing. You aren’t either a dunce or a genius; no one is born knowing how to do analytics or statistics. One of the dangers of the modern marketing era is that we seem to see every skill as binary, that you’re either a beginner or an expert. That’s compounded by the number of people hawking expertise as though it were something you could achieve overnight if only you bought their course, etc., and our relentless need to compare ourselves to others.

The reality is analytics capabilities are skills, and like any skill, you will be at different points along your journey. Think about how ridiculous it sounds if you port this to a different discipline like cooking. Imagine telling someone either you can’t cook at all or you have to cook like Gordon Ramsay, that there’s no in-between. It’s absurd. Literally every competent adult has some kind of cooking skill, even if it’s just putting two slices of bread in a toaster.

There are many grades of cooking skill. There’s the beginner who is boiling water and making toast. There’s the intermediate, the person who’s cooking more complex dishes. There’s the advanced practitioner, that person who hosts the best dinners and can make complex, challenging dishes with care. And there are the legitimate experts and masters who can cook damn near anything.

You’re probably somewhere on that spectrum, and you have different skills even within there. You may be a grill expert but you couldn’t bake a cake to save your life. You may be able to create the most heavenly flaky croissants, but your rice may as well be a bowl of gravel. All skill is relative. Are there better chefs, better cooks in the world than you? Yes. Are you competing with them? Only in your own mind, unless you are literally a professional chef as your day job.

Analytics is no different. There are beginning analytics and statistics skills everyone should have, the ability to do basic computations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. There are intermediate skills like being able to interpret and create charts, graphs, and tables. There are advanced skills like being able to do regression analysis. And there are expert skills where you transition into things like data science and machine learning.

But just because you can’t write code to address the Google Analytics API or you can’t build a neural network does not mean you can’t apply analytics skills to your work, just as not being able to make the perfect truffled hollandaise sauce does not mean you can’t make a decent egg and toast breakfast.

If you want your career to develop and grow, if you want to add more value to the companies you work for and earn commensurately more value for yourself, abandon the idea that you don’t have the head for something. If you make a conscious choice not to do something, be honest with yourself. If it makes you emotionally unhappy or it’s not where you deliver the highest value, that’s totally fine. Say that, to yourself and to others as appropriate. Once you let go of that self-imposed limitation, you might find that working in analytics at a skill level appropriate to where you are in your journey might be more enjoyable than you think.


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