StrengthFinders, Groupon, and Data Scientist: It’s All About Earthworms

I recently re-visited my StrengthFinder profile. Marcus Buckingham’s seminal book from 2001 is a keeper in my mind along with the profile created for readers that take the online survey. One of my strengths is Strategic. Per the book “The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route. It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity.”

As the week draws to a close and I reflect on a variety of happenings and try to find connections, I love the farewell email from Groupon’s former CEO to his employees. His humor and candor is endearing, but Andrew Mason’s comment puzzled me, “My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers.”

I’m also reading Amy Stewart’s The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of the Earthworm. In her funny and informative book, she describes looking at a poster of an apple tree and its root system, but inverting it. A tree’s root system can be 1.5-4 times the width of the tree’s canopy. When the picture is inverted, it depicts what I think of as the ratStrengthFinders, Groupon, and Data Scientist: It’s All About Earthworms image treeStrengthFinders, Groupon, and Data Scientist: It’s All About Earthwormsio of canopy to roots. It quickly struck as a connection to Andrew Mason.

In today’s world of big data, and the technology to process every click, view, open, impression, tag, etc. how could Mr. Mason have a “lack of data” given the digital company he founded and grew so successfully? He had primary data (the root system) that was probably up to 4x his marketing universe (the tree’s canopy). Like so many companies today, the data exists but the analysis and insight to mine the apples of information that will move the business forward are often neglected. He had the data; he needed to ingest and transform the data into useable information. He needed earthworms. The earthworms, through their ingestion of particles, alter the composition of the soil, increase its capacity to absorb and hold water, and bring about an increase in nutrients and microorganisms. They have a unique ability to sift the earth. They evaluate, they experiment, they make decisions.

Mr. Mason really needed data scientists. He needed experts to evaluate the petabytes of data available to Groupon to improve the customer experience. I’m sure I’ve offended every data scientist I know, but it is truly a compliment. In the words of Darwin, the “earthworm steps forth at once as an intelligent and beneficent personage, a worker of vast geological changes, a planer down of mountainsides….a friend of man.”

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