Brad Grossman: Making Data Collection Creative

Founder of creatively-minded think tank, and publisher of the Zeitgeist Guide, discusses the information we have access and how to take it to the next level.

How do you make the parts into a cohesive whole? Brad Grossman, of ‘cultural think-tank’ Grossman and Partners, shares a few ideas with PSFK featured in their publication The Zeitguide. In the first of a series of posts, we look at the role of data in everyday society.

We’ve arrived at a place in our culture where information is at our fingertips: tweets and texts, news alerts and status updates. We love the immediacy and the constant stimulation.

But how do we connect those dots (and hashtags) into something larger and more meaningful? Turning information into insight is certainly part of what we do for the Zeitguide, Grossman & Partners’ annual almanac outlining what people are thinking and talking about in 11 segments of the culture.

But it turns out that digesting raw data into actionable information is a huge growth field. By 2018, “the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills,” according to McKinsey & Co.

A big-brain statistician we know laughed when he heard that the Harvard Business Review had called his job—data scientist—“the sexiest job of the 21st century.” But if by “sexy” HBR meant “highly desirable,” there’s little room to disagree.

Rushing to meet the need for sexy scientists are new programs that take “information science” to new levels, notably Columbia University’s Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering and the “beta” version of Cornell NYC Tech. Yes, math will be required.

But don’t worry: There’s still an important role for those of us with creative bones.

One of Forbes’ most powerful data scientists, DJ Patil, said when he was posting the first-ever “data scientists” job openings for LinkedIn, he didn’t just want mad coding skills; he wanted people with tremendous curiosity. “A great data scientist picks up everyone around them and invigorates them through data,” Patil told the Zeitguide this year at GE’s CMO Summit. “What is most important are raw curiosity, passion, and storytelling. The best data scientist in the world knows how to create narrative and make data come alive.”

Speaking of sexy job descriptions, Fast Company recently wrote about how instilling job titles with a sense of purpose is a good way to attract and retain young, tech-savvy millennials. Without changing the work, making the “customer service representative” a “customer relations specialist” or “customer happiness consultant” can do the trick.

Still, even customer happiness consultants better be computer savvy. Of the 20 jobs with the biggest projected growth, only a handful (child day care, truck driver, and construction, for example) might escape a complete overhaul by a new wave of information technology in the coming years. But health care? Management? Education? Prepare for change. According to the Brookings Institution, already the most openings advertised are for jobs in computers.

Netscape-founder-turned-venture-capitalist Marc Andreessen takes this further, suggesting a social schism is in the works: “The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories,” he told USA Today. “People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.”

Brad Grossman is the founder of Grossman & Partners, a think-tank do-tank that explores cutting-edge ideas and produces custom content designed to stimulate curiosity, innovation and growth. To learn more about the Zeitguide, go to Zeitguide.com for a digital sampler of three chapters from the 2013 Zeitguide. Access to the whole thing—including a print editionis also on sale on the site.

Images designed exclusively for the Zeitguide.

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