13. Information: The Intersection of Data & Interpretation
Information, true to its name, informs all aspects of our existence. In business, it’s the lifeblood of every company, industry and economy, globally. Companies have entire teams dedicated to it with senior executives having titles like Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). While CIO’s have been around for a long time, the CISO role is newer. It was created in recognition of the competitive advantages of protecting a company’s information.
Information is power. Power in terms of control…power in terms of wealth…power in terms of influence…power in terms of innovation…power in terms of success. No wonder information is so desirable.
“With great power comes great responsibility”. Popularized by the Spider-Man comic, this quote is said to have originated in the early 1800’s in British Parliament. In the information age, the statement could be revised as follows, “The possession of information comes with the great responsibility of how to use it…wisely / safely / appropriately / for good”. On the flip side, the temptation to acquire or use information for more nefarious reasons can be powerful as well. Hence the need to manage and protect it.
To better understand information, we need to explore how it’s derived.
What is the Information Intersection?
Information is the intersection of data and interpretation (see Intersection 13 image below). Information begins its life as data. It then goes through a transformation process called interpretation and emerges as information. Whether or not information is useful is the decision every end-user faces. Should it be used, and if so, how?
The volume of data generated every second of every day is staggering. It seems that someone or some company is tracking nearly everything that happens. This continuous stream of data creation is at times meaningful, and at other times meaningless.
Crap in = crap out. This simple phrase highlights one of the challenges with using data. If the input is bad, then the output will be bad. Ideally, when a dataset is generated it will be bounced against key considerations before being released into the world for consumption. Those considerations include:
With data, you get raw-ness, usually in an unusable format, without context and of minimal value. However, with context the possibility of value in data is limitless.
Intersection 13: Information = Data + Interpretation
Interpretation is the context that makes data come to life with value. It can be as much an art as it is a science. Turning data into information can be as impressive as a musician creating music or an artist creating art.
Interpretation is what allows questions to be answered, decisions to be made and options to be defined. Interpretation is the ‘why’ and ‘how’ around data as the ‘what’.
In my experience it’s critical to filter out the non-useful data from the useful data. Noise in the world of data, can only be silenced through interpretation.
Once interpreted, information becomes metrics, statistics, KPI’s, rationale, reasons, excuses, inputs, variables, etc. Interpretation doesn’t guarantee accuracy, quality, validity and so forth. Rather, it is simply getting one step closer to usefulness or uselessness.
What Can Leaders Do?
Leaders must realize there’s a difference between data and information. They must also invest in people or tools that can accurately interpret data.
Without data there is no information. Without interpretation there is little if any use for data. Leaders use considerations, like the ones listed above, to assess and then interpret data for the benefit of their stakeholders.
The best leaders teach those on their teams to do the same.
Wrap Up & Up Next
Information is the currency of power. The value in currencies comes from a universal acknowledgement. In terms of information, this acknowledgement of value requires both the underlying data and the accompanying interpretation.
Next time we’ll examine the 14th intersection of performance, which is the Motivation Intersection.
In this series of articles, we explore The Intersections of Performance, of which there are 30. The Intersections of Performance framework is based on the experience and insights of Brett Simpson, Managing Director of Elevate Simply, over his 20+ years of leadership in large and small organizations, and as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor.