Love Your Data. Can I have some context with that?

You know what is sexy? Presentations where the data and algorithms presented by researchers come with a healthy does of real life context. [Also, other researchers who read applied statistics textbooks in coffee shops early in the morning. I have been doing this a lot recently and just made friends with someone who was reading a different book by the same statistician I was reading.]

I constantly complain that we lose a lot of information when we work with big data analytics. Part of it is that many researchers are encouraged to work with data from their desks in offices tucked away inside of universities or office buildings in major cities, far away from the ecosystems they are trying to describe through numbers and algorithms.

Nate Silver spends a lot of time talking about the weakness of prediction models in his book The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predictions fail — but some don’t. He points out that economists have trouble identifying relevant variables to make predictions. This is fair… economies are constantly changing in structure and dynamic. It would be really hard to collect appropriate data on the formal economy as it shifts, and even harder to keep track of informal economic activity in a way that would lend itself well to predicting output for the future.

I’ve found the only way that I truly understand the pulse of an economic ecosystem is by living and breathing the structure and community of it. After all, economies depend on communities and trust for transactions to take place at all. But this is for another post.

But I did find someone trying to add context to big data!

I watched this talk by Anna Rosling Rönnland from TEDxStockholm yesterday, and while the introduction is a little confusing, the center of the talk is important. The best way to watch this talk, in my opinion, is to consider the implications of using photographs to describe the spread of the distribution.

In non-jargon speak, this means, consider how your perspective on wealth disparity changes when you see how people in the richest 25% versus the middle versus the lowest 25% brush their teeth. This hits home a lot harder than quoting per capita numbers at someone would, because it also takes into account differences in pricing/living costs within the country. We can see where wages fall short and what that means in the day to day life of workers around the world. We gain perspective on data. And that’s sexy.


TEDActive Takes Barbara Corcoran’s Entrepreneur IQ Test

TEDActive attendees are a creative bunch — we come together once a year to celebrate ideas and get to know a larger community of thinkers from around the world. We are designers, teachers, organizers, business owners, students, and more.

Yesterday, Barbara Corcoran offered TEDActive attendees a chance to measure the “entrepreneurial strength” of this community.

Barbara gave a talk at TEDYou describing six personality traits she looks for when she invests in start ups, through her own personal investments and as a judge on Shark Tank. These traits included resilience (the ability to bounce back from failure), street smarts (ability to think quickly and react), big picture thinking, charisma, competitive drive, and people smarts.

Barbara has developed a short Entrepreneur IQ survey that she uses to draw attention to some of the strengths and weaknesses of potential entrepreneurs. The survey has 10 questions, designed to measure how an individual makes decisions, how they interact with their co-workers and potential clients, how they adjust to failure, and how they develop their ideas or find new opportunities. Scores on this survey can range from 0-10.

The survey was offered on Thursday morning, after TEDYou, and closed around 4pm. During this time, we were able to survey 15% of our total attendees and staff list.

Some of the questions were: Think about your best ideas. Where do they come from? How do you set goals for yourself? Think about your busiest times (when people said “you can never do all that”). How did you get it all done?

TEDActive Attendees did very well on this survey! We found that 56% of our attendees scored within the range that Barbara Corcoran denotes as “strong candidates.” The average score for our attendees was 7.5. [Strong Candidates are individuals who scored 8-10 on their survey]

Distribution of Scores from TEDActive Entrepreneur IQ survey
Distribution of Scores from TEDActive Entrepreneur IQ survey

TEDActive Attendees are risk takers — 92% of respondents said that they would make moves to pursue new opportunities, even when friends and family told them it was “risky.”

A similar 92% of our respondents agreed that new teammates and partners should be selected based on fit rather than result/qualifications or a pre-determined set of metrics for personality/resume.

The biggest differences in the community came from the questions addressing how people manage resources. Questions 7 and 8 discuss recovering from failures/setbacks and managing time during particularly busy projects. Question 9 tried to gauge how people identify and pursue new opportunities as they appear. The question on failure, in particular, received a wider range of answers than many of the other questions regarding resource allocation, team building and decision making.

The quiz offered multiple choice answers to each of the ten questions and is written in Barbara’s voice. This adds to the fun!  We share these results as part of the fun of this particular experiment.

We hope that you all had fun with it!


I wrote the original post for TEDActive 2015, and it was published on the TEDActive Blog.

I am hoping to continue working with Barbara and her team on refining the surveys and producing a larger scale study of what she values in the entrepreneurs that she invests in. I think this has potential to spark some really interesting conversations… more soon.