How can you make better data? How can you share stories and have an impact in people with what you’re doing? This is the question that Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the authors behind the series Freakonomics, tried to answer during the Microsoft Summit.
Stephen Dubner is an award-winning author, journalist, and radio and TV personality. Steven Levitt is a tenured professor at the University of Chicago's economics department and was the 2003 recipient of the American Economic Association’s prestigious John Bates Clark Medal, given to the country's best economist under 40.
They are best known for the Freakonomics series, including Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics, Think Like a Freak and When to Rob a Bank. They have sold more than seven million copies in more than 40 countries. Dubner is also the host of the Freakonomics Radio podcast, which gets five million downloads a month.
The best-selling authors gave the closing Keynote at the Summit explaining how they’ve been creating a data culture all their own, showing the world how to make smarter, savvier decisions with data.
What is their main advice to, in other words, think like a Freak?
1. Don’t look for talent but for topics
Sometimes, people focus too much on developing a talent and being unique with that talent. But the Freaks recommend to tackle and investigate topics that are being overseen by people or that none one else wants to tackle. Talent can be developed by anyone, but tackling interesting and different data or stories is key to success.
2. Make data useful
One of the biggest mistakes data scientist or journalist make is giving people data they don’t understand or they can’t use in their daily life. If you want your information to have an impact, people needs to understand it and you need to make it extra simple for them. EXTRA SIMPLE. Don’t show off!
3. Build knowledge together
Sometimes, teams tend to rely on just one person who knows how to do it all. This is not good. To avoid this, the Freaks recommend to build knowledge together and to make sure this knowledge is stored in a document that everybody can access and where anybody can pour new knowledge.
4. Let people interpret data
Telling people exactly what a number means gets them mad. Especially when they feel you don’t know the whole story behind that, or that you’re framing the information. So instead of interpreting data for them, give it to them. Explain it to them and guide them through your analysis, but let them make the choices or the conclusions.
5. Use data to highlight problems
People tend to say there are issues and support their views with opinions, not data. Don’t do that! Highlight problems by doing data analysis and explain the issue with data, not opinions. Then, find solutions through opinions and examples.
6. Stories are more important than data
Nothing sells better than when people can feel related to what you want them to see. This is why stories are incredibly important to sell the data. People can’t relate to numbers or statistics, they relate to stories. So find a story that allows them to navigate your data and engage with what you’re proposing.