Every Angle Matters

Mar 30, 2017

BY JIM SAWYER – CHIEF SCIENTIST

We have a saying here at Elicit: Live where you want; work where we do. We have the freedom to work anywhere we want—as long as it makes the work better, and as long as it makes the work more brilliant for our customers. That means we fly: to where our clients live, to where our teammates are, to where our work can be most impactful. And if you’re flying that much, you start to pay attention to the experience within the airports you fly through.

For example, let’s take my home base, the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), the busiest airport in the world. Since there are so many flights coming through our airport, I can never predict which terminals or gates my flights will depart from—I need to be flexible with my routine upon arrival at the airport. In recent years, I’ve taken to avoiding the Plane Train[1]Yes, the tram that takes you between terminals has a cutesy name.—assuming time permits—and instead, walk through the airport between concourses.[2]I begrudgingly admit that I do classify this walk under the category of “exercise.” Don’t judge me.

ATL has done a fantastic job at paying attention to the experience of customers like me who choose to take this stroll. Along its corridors, the airport showcases a variety of works of art on the walls: regional Southern art embodied in colorful tapestries, panoramas of our amazing city’s dramatic history, and exemplars of still shot creativity by local photographers to name a few.

What I walk by most frequently is an art exhibit featuring magnificent, beautiful sculptures by Zimbabwean artists, permanently installed in the corridor between the A and T terminals. I’m typically moving fast because I’m on a mission: I either want to get to my gate, or I want to get home[3]I’m also a really, really fast walker. Try to keep up.. Such is the journey of a frequent flyer.

A couple of weeks ago, as I habitually rushed my way through the airport corridors to an Uber hookup, I realized something.

A limitation of perspective.

In my perpetual hurry, I’m only really allowing myself to experience these incredible works of art from two directions. One, outbound, in a rush, gotta get to your flight, to get to the client site before you miss whatever it is that can’t possibly be missed. One, inbound, in a rush, gotta get home before you miss whatever it is that can’t possibly be missed.

Two directions. Two experiences. Two limited perspectives.

But that’s not how sculptures work. The artist didn’t stand first on one side, then the other. She didn’t design the sculpture under a false dichotomy of “front” vs. “back” or “outbound” vs. “inbound.” No, she carefully curated the viewing experience to account for all sides, all angles.

The same thing goes in the world of data science. How will your work of art (and science) be perceived by the key client stakeholder? How will it resonate with the other stakeholders—all of them? How will its beauty (and quality) be evaluated by your colleagues at Elicit, or by your peers in the data science community? How will its story (and meaning) be interpreted long after you have moved on to another project, another client? How will it be enshrined in a way that makes its magnificence permanent, approachable, and compelling?

It’s not enough to produce analytically rigorous, well-articulated, business-relevant work product. Yes, that’s necessary, and important. It’s absolutely critical to the work we do and the value we provide. But it’s not sufficient.

We also need to be artists, curators, storytellers. Every angle matters.

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