Data Lessons from Your Mom


Hello readers! It’s been some time since my last LinkedIn post.

I’ve been shifting more attention to my site at, with my big goal to develop an online class based on the themes of my blog. Please — join my email list to follow along! You will get frequent stellar tips on Microsoft Excel and other analyst-savvy topics.

I’m not stopping LinkedIn entirely, though. I’d miss writing and hearing from readers too much!

Mom’s a marketer — and a data analyst!

A few months back, I volunteered at Content Marketing World, the biggest content event on earth. One of the more memorable speeches at CMI was “Does Your Content Pass the Mom Test?” by Jay Baer (transcript here).

Authenticity and passion are key in content creation. Jay argues that if your Mom — who loves you unconditionally — can’t dig your content, then nobody will!

As a business analyst who works with data all day, I’ve got a few thoughts inspired by mothers, too. Our moms may not totally understand what all those spreadsheets and dashboards are about, but these principles apply to analyst work just as it did on the playground.

Retrace your steps.

Over the past few years I’ve trained, onboarded, and otherwise guided several analysts, interns, and managers. Things usually aren’t so obvious to outsiders. “Where did this come from?” “How did you get that number?” 

If you’ve worked in a number-heavy job, you know the script.

Just like my mom when I lost something, my mantra is to tell my trainees to retrace their steps. Well-constructed data should point you back to the source easily. Things aren’t adding up? Numbers not making sense? Think what happened last and keep going back. Eventually you will find the problem spot. 

Share your things.

Mom always made sure I was sharing with my sister. It’s bad manners to hoard toys. But the work world silos data all the time! One department builds up its own models and databases outside of a well-defined or controlled process, and before you know it things get so complicated that no outsider can comprehend what’s going on. It’s even a struggle for those on the inside. It’s got to pass rigorous scrutiny before being passed on for others to use.

This is dangerous and inefficient. Data should be like a sandbox — a common place to share and play. Of course, someone needs to “own” the data to ensure quality.

But let’s leave the old “that’s MINE!” of the upset child for mom to set straight. Keep data well-defined and easily shared! 

Don’t spoil your appetite.

I see this a lot. Perhaps 80% of data work is extracting, preparing, and other “dirty work.” This is hard work, but it’s something like junk food. It’s got no substance but takes a lot of energy to process.

Unlike junk food, it doesn’t even taste good!

There’s a reason we call worthwhile work the “meat” of the situation — it’s nutritious. Unfortunately, data analysis forces you to spoil your appetite by consuming lots of junk before you can get to the meat.

Learning how to scrub and clean data is the trait of a truly outstanding analyst. Sure, you learn all the cool textbook models in school — but they are truly textbook. The working world forces you to grapple with what one book calls“guerilla data analysis.” The more time you spend on this work is the more cookies you eat before dinner. Do like mom says — keep snacking to a minimum so you’ve got an appetite for the main course! You do this by improving your data skills. If you’re interested in doing this, then check out my site or check out the aforementioned book. 

Mom cares

Maybe your mom doesn’t really understand what you do for a living. But she trained you to get there — and those platitudes that made your eyes roll as a kid can be pretty powerful when working in a data-driven market.

What Mom lessons do you apply to your job? Comment below. 

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  1. Angela Mount says:

    This gets a Mom Seal of Approval.

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