The Automation of Curiosity

By Naira Musallam

Every other week I come across yet another article that addresses how to obtain “data insights.” It is as if these insights are an enigma that all companies are on a quest to understand. What if I told you there is no magic recipe? That all it takes is a simple principle that is often overlooked: being curious.

Before I explain further, let me share some background about me which is relevant to the bigger story here. I have been in the data analysis space for over fifteen years, long before it became a sexy buzzword.

I have worked in the corporate sector, with governments and NGOs, and taught research at the university level. Throughout my career I have had some big wins, like preventing a major lawsuit for a large corporation, finding “gems” in data that enabled companies to solve consumer challenges they weren’t aware of, helping organizations figure out how to successfully scale initiatives through data-driven decision making, and everything in between.

Those wins weren’t because of some special skillset within my technical abilities. I knew people who were a lot smarter than me, better trained, and with more experience. But I had one advantage that gave me the upper hand, an innate curiosity and an addiction to the journey of exploration.

What that meant for the datasets that I dealt with is that I left no stone unturned. I conducted a surgical level type of analysis. I segmented the data in every way possible, and then segmented the segments. I controlled for every variable available and then saw how my outcome variables were influenced, through regression models, correlations, or significant testing. I reduced the analysis to the most meaningful unit.  If it meant that I needed to run 100 regression models controlling for all levels in variables to see if geographic location in the United States was a predictor of consumer behavior, that’s what was done.

Why 100 and not 50? Because if there were two variables for gender for example, male and female, and 50 U.S. states, in order to know for sure whether gender had an influence on consumer behavior in each state, controlling for other variables 100 it was. And that was only the beginning. Now imagine if you had a variable for race, or job type, the number of permutations grows into the thousands. To the extent time allowed, before a presentation to a board of directors or a client representative, I conducted as many analyses as possible because I was genuinely curious to find out how the results changed or didn’t.

Sound impractical? It was. But guess what happened in this process? I found treasures that companies were desperate to have and needed to grow their businesses. Findings were presented that changed the direction of lawsuits against Fortune500 companies, major strategy decisions were made, and people started to take notice.

That same gift of curiosity also became a curse, especially as the demand of my time increased. The workload felt unbearable at times. There were many sleepless nights before I started to think of ways to make my life easier. This wasn’t sustainable, there had to be a way to automate this.

Fast forward to a few years ago when I left the corporate world behind. With the help of a co-founder and ironically, more sleepless nights, we set out to build a platform for my old self. A research platform able to not only conduct combinations of thousands of advanced analyses in fractions of a second, but more importantly generate a report able to help make sense of it all. Bringing the most important and relevant insights to the forefront for our clients allows not only us, but them to sleep more too. FOMO is a thing of the past when trying to understand your consumers. For the longest time I thought we were in the business of automating analysis, until it hit me, we are automating curiosity, because only with curiosity we can move the needle towards meaningful insights.

Time is the only commodity we never get back in life. Being able to give time back to our users so they can focus on growing their businesses with data based decisions to benefit their clients is our success metric. For my fellow researchers, my message is let’s wage a war on mediocrity. If we have the gift of conducting research and analysis, let’s use it wisely.

By Naira Musallam, PhD, Co-Founder, Frontier7