Chase Mastery


By Tyler McCabe, Director of Operations, Analytics Guild

In part one of this post, I discuss the changing landscape of the analytics profession and how mastering soft skills will not only future-proof your career, but also create satisfaction and vitality within your work life. Part two focuses on beginning the journey toward soft skill mastery.

Raj Raghunathan, professor of marketing and author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?, has made it his job to explain where happiness comes from. It’s fun to get a modern expert’s take on old wisdom: full happiness wells up not when we simply exceed our basic needs (from basic shelter to a beautiful home, from financial security to financial flourishing), but from an entirely different, often parallel pursuit: achieving mastery.

Chasing signs of success, he says, can only earn you those signs: money, titles, awards. These things are factors in our lives and worth our consideration, but as most of us know, these signs are rarely tied to a deep, abiding sense of fulfillment. 

Instead, chase mastery. To feel happy, we need to feel great at something. In our case, that something is analytics: Analytics Guild was founded to help people achieve mastery in the realm of analytics, which we believe involves the marriage of hard skills like math and technological prowess, and soft skills like cognitive flexibility, logical reasoning, coordinating with others, and robust communication.

But, practically speaking, how should one begin? Soft skills are slippery, closely knitted to who we are as individuals. To build up your skills, you have to know where you’re starting—know yourself.

For that reason, I like to recommend people start by taking a free quiz I’ve walked through with many employees during their orientation, which breaks down your work personality into areas of strength and weakness in categories of communication, management, daring (or risk-tolerance), adaptability, and achievement. You’ll end up with a map like this:

A perfect map is not a possible outcome; you will have high scores in some areas and lower scores in others. These are behavioral trends you express in a professional space.

This exercise will lay a foundation for your soft skills growth. Take each “cluster” area on your map and consider the following:

“To be in contact with others, convey something to someone, generally through a form of communication (written or oral).”

Communicating analytics is the final mile of any project. Great data work needs expression, and your colleagues need to be persuaded of the insights you’re providing through your evidence.

Weak here? Bulk up:

  • Practice giving speeches and presentations (we have some tips here)
  • Create a regular writing habit and brush on your grammar and spelling
  • Workshop your presentations, dashboards, or memos among multiple colleagues before you approach your audience (this could be your public audience, your superiors, or your subordinates)

“To organize, manage something or someone.”

A great manager takes responsibility for everyone, bringing clarity and vision to their projects. Whatever your scope of influence, your analytics projects can’t get across the finish line before someone provides leadership.

Weak here? Bulk up:

  • Try owning one idea this week in a meeting, or try claiming one element of a larger project. Have a friend hold you accountable for following through.
  • Before you begin work, spend 10 minutes methodically planning what you’ll tackle in the next three hours. Write out the tasks and put them in order of priority. Repeat at different intervals of time until you establish a planning rhythm that aids you.
  • The next time something falls short, own it. You’ll find that it’s much easier to quickly move into the next phase: providing a solution.

“To have the courage, audacity, and boldness to do something.”

Strong individuals in analytics, especially those with confident and creative minds, provide the backbone of many ongoing projects. You won’t achieve real insight without them. Keep in mind that being a person of “daring” action is not about involving your ego in everything; rather, it’s about strong cognitive skill: analysis, judgement, cognitive flexibility, and logical reasoning.

Weak here? Bulk up:

  • If you have a hard time feeling confident, create an email folder to save your kudos. Over time, it will build and remind you that your perspective of yourself is often different from how others perceive you.
  • Creativity in analytics is often about overcoming your cognitive biases. Here’s a bit of help with that.

“The ability to modify one’s attitude, thoughts, behaviors depending on new situations, to adjust.”

Big Data projects are not known for their simplicity. In order to master them, you’ll have to deal with the stress of the work and learn to be responsive to your colleagues—both those who speak the language of analytics and those who do not.

Weak here? Bulk up:

  • Learn to make decisions within an appropriate timeframe. You can make better, more efficient decisions by following this process.
  • If you have a hard time working with supervisors, try a radical repositioning by asking them the question, “How may I be of service?” You may both be surprised at how efficient your cooperation will become.
  • If you struggle to manage stress, consider your internal “environmental factors”: hydration, exercise, diet, and sleep.

“The ability to move beyond a set guide, achieve greater performances than ones previously accomplished.”

You do not have to make your whole life about analytics work in order to master it, but you will need to understand what your personal ethic is in your approach to your professional life. Use the following questions to discover more about how to self-motivate:

  • Do you thrive in a competitive environment? If not, what other feedback or results cause you to feel accomplished?
  • What parameters could you set on your time that will allow you to work as hard as possible for as extended a period of time as possible? (Very helpful to figure this out for long projects.)
  • What kinds of difficulties collapse your sails in the middle of a project? How can you avoid these? Alternatively, how can you trigger awareness when they arise, contextualize them, and prevent them from collapsing your sails?

We’re all about helping you achieve mastery through fully developing you as a person and a professional—and we know that lasting happiness lies down that path. For more tips on analytics mastery, check out this free resource.