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Q&A with Kevin Hanegan: Turning data into wisdom

Kevin Hanegan, Chief Learning Officer, Qlik & Chair, Data Literacy Project Advisory Board


According to Kevin Hanegan, it’s high time we debunk some data myths.

When you think of data, do you think of complex charts and dashboards, things that are best left up to the experts to decipher? Well, according to Kevin Hanegan’s new book “How to Turn Data into Wisdom”, it’s high time we debunk that myth, and all become data literate. We spoke to him to find out more.

In conversation with Kevin Hanegan, Chief Learning Officer at Qlik and Chair of the Data Literacy Project’s Advisory Board:

  • Can you give us a summary of what your book explores?

The book’s underlying theme is how to optimize your decision-making using data.  It introduces a six-phase, 12-step process to help anyone use their knowledge, skills, and experience to make data-informed decisions. Each chapter focuses on specific phase of the process and includes tons of use cases and examples, as well as strategies for putting this into action for all types and levels of decisions, both in work and in life.

  • Why did you want to write it?

I wrote the book because I wanted to help everyone maximize their decision-making skills. We are all exposed to a ton of data every day. That gives us great potential and opportunities to turn that data into insights and wisdom. But at the same time, there are many things that can and do get in the way, leading us to make less than optimal decisions.

How many times have you made a decision, even a subconscious one, and later realized that you either jumped to an incorrect conclusion? Or you had misinformation and did not realize it? Or you made a decision that had unintended consequences that you did not think about? We all do this routinely. How many times did you say to yourself in hindsight that you did not understand the full context at the time, or you potentially saw what you wanted to see, so you did not dive deeper?

Now imagine those decisions are not just operational ones like what to eat for lunch, but they are more strategic. The hope is that the book can help people understand what gets in the way of making optimal decisions and how they can overcome those. It will help you learn strategies to connect various pieces of data and information together to make the best appropriate decision possible. This not only applies to business, but this also applies to decisions we make in our personal lives as well.

  • Why is it so important for people to understand data and make data-informed decisions?

Everything we do in life requires decisions. Those decisions are greatly influenced by the data that we have available to us. Don’t just think about data as being numbers on a spreadsheet or in a chart. Data can be any type of information you receive, like stories or information you directly observe.  This process requires both basic understandings of data and information as well as an understanding of how the brain uses data and information to make decisions. That understanding will help us use the right combination of analytics. It will also help us remember to challenge our assumptions and mental models we have, to seek potential other solutions, and to use strategies to help mitigate any unconscious bias that is altering our perspectives.

  • What are some of the key points you want readers to take away from reading it?
  1. What data literacy is and why everyone should have a basic understanding of it. It is important. It is more than just reading a chart
  2. How to properly define the right question to ask of your data, and how to use the right analytic techniques to help answer those questions
  3. There is a science to how the brain makes decisions and understanding that science will help us avoid common pitfalls
  4. How to become aware of individual and organizational bias so we can grow as people while avoiding costly mistakes
  5. How to turn data into wisdom using a clear process and methodology

Want to learn more? Kevin’s new book “Turning Data into Wisdom: How We Can Collaborate with Data to Change Ourselves, Our Organizations, and Even the World” is available here.