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Passion For ... Data

I get pinged with a lot of opinions about data and information from entrenched personalities who have been around our business a long time. I also hear from newer voices with newer ideas. Most all of them are very smart. Some are engaging, a few are eccentric and still others are inexplicably defensive even as they ask for a meeting. But pretty much all of them are passionate about data.
We need all these people because data isn't a riveting subject to your average man on the street. Only certain persons see adventure where most see ones, zeros, flat files and drudgery. And we could all use some inspiration to raise it up a notch and hope another generation will follow these footsteps rather than the latest round of pop culture. 

So with no apologies to Lady Gaga or reality TV, I was happy to get the assignment to write the cover story for our latest magazine profiling Suzanne Yoakum-Stover. I hope you will read this story because it might inspire you like it inspires me.  

Suzanne is a trained scientist who deals with ultra-large scale data in the field of military intelligence. Catchy subject, yes, but also a place where you can find a person smart enough to challenge precepts of data with science and theory in ways it has not been tested before. You don't have to agree with her to tie into what her story says inspirationally about a career or an intellectual pursuit.

Suzanne's story is oddly enough a bookend to a conversation I had with Chris Anderson at Wired magazine a couple of years ago. Chris is a much more famous author who claimed at the time that data no longer needs scientific theory because it could speak for itself and that was all that mattered! He advocated a rubber bracelet stamped "WWGD" as in "What Would Google Do" an odd concession to faith for such a modern intellectual.

I disagreed with some of what Chris said, but I felt his passion. And despite his contrary view, I see something eerily similar in the way Chris and Suzanne talk about data and how it plays out in our future, maybe sooner than we think. Both are leaders, not camp followers or new product drones, which makes it all much more fun. 

I grew up watching movies in which a young Tom Edison or Marie Curie argued their findings before skeptical scientific societies who harrumphed outrage at every bit of new thinking. We triumphed with them when the astounded crowd finally saw they were right. I admit it was hopelessly quaint, but by contrast, change now comes so fast that we take big evolutions for granted with no time to reset precedents or review with our peers, and to me, that's kind of sad.

That's the second reason I am excited about data at this moment because we're setting up our own "irregular gathering of very interesting people" to talk about ideas surrounding information -- with no one's endorsement necessary.

Our first event will happen in New York December 9, and is open only by invitation to our select list of 25 Top Information managers and their peers in the working world. Suzanne will give a keynote and we'll have panels on the future of job skills, regulations, the distributed workplace and how we'll manage and lead such a place.

I'd like to find ways to open this idea up soon to a broader community, and your suggestions are welcome. In the meantime we'll have a taste of this in a DM Radio Special Edition broadcast next Monday you might want to tune into that will feature some of the same people. The idea is to challenge convention, lead instead of follow, but mostly get down to meeting people with interesting ideas about data.

That's how you get back to passion -- for data or anything else -- and I wish it for you and me and all of us. I hope you'll consider suspending your disbelief and jump in, just for the fun of it.

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