The ultimate skill in Analytics has nothing to do with data. No matter how many tools you can list on your resume, and no matter how well-defined your analysis approach is, none of that matters if people don’t understand what you’re talking about.

After seeing analysts present data and presenting it, myself, I believe that the minute you start talking about metrics, is the same minute most people’s brains will shut down.

That’s because metrics are the territory of analysts, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. These disciplines all serve a purpose beyond their places. And just as you wouldn’t expect to learn materials science terms to know which pavers to buy for your patio, our clients and other interested audiences should not have to learn the language of analytics in order to get an answer.

Enter the metaphor. A good metaphor will get your audience to understand halfway…and a great metaphor will get your audience to understand all the way.

For the past several years, I’ve had the delight and the responsibility of being a boss. My team are some of the smartest, hardest-working, patient, and creative people I have ever met. It’s my responsibility to make sure that they have the skills that they need to navigate their careers powerfully.

I teach that technical skills are critical, of course. And curiosity is a must-have. But you really know you’ve hit your stride as an analytics professional when you’ve mastered the metaphor.

A perfect metaphor is like perfect triangle. One side is the idea you want to communicate, one side is the audience and their day-to-day lives and context, one side is the non-similar, but equally true idea that has nothing to do with your idea, but which comes from the audience’s day-to-day context.

In a metaphor, these three “sides” are bound together and will not separate. They are the basic laws of your problem. And in this moment, even though you may call yourself an analyst, you’re not working with a data problem or a math problem — you’re working with a communications problem.

Another way my team and I also use metaphors to understand tough concepts as we explore the nuances of certain markets. Metaphors can work like mathematical notation in that way.

So, if you’re stuck — or if your clients are stuck — find that metaphor.

And if you can’t find it, then you probably don’t understand what you’re talking about. 🙂

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