Debbie King - Nov 3, 2017

What Data Analytics and the Mona Lisa Have in Common

Surge 2017 Virtual Conference: Embracing the Right Mindset to Take Data Analytics to the Next Level

With so much data available at our fingertips, deciding how to actually use it can easily become overwhelming. While there’s no one secret to leveraging data analytics, those who do embrace an analytical mindset in their association will be able to make evidence-based decisions quickly and confidently.

I sat down with Wayne Eckerson, author of Secrets of Analytical Leaders, to discuss how association leaders can adopt an analytical mindset and leverage big data to make powerful decisions.

Our full discussion will be presented at the Surge 2017 Virtual Summit on Wednesday, November 8, at 12:00 EST. This is a great opportunity to pick up some practical steps for how to be a role model for effective decision-making in your organization.

Here are three sneak peek secrets from our interview…

Data analytics for associations | Wayne Eckerson

1. “Purple People” Are Best Suited for Today’s Associations

Eckerson introduced the concept of “purple people” in the first chapter of his book, and it’s an idea that has resonated widely.

Think of it this way: the classic persona who is most interested in data analytics are the IT professionals—those who are responsible for measuring data, running reports, and setting up dashboards. Let’s call them “red people.”

Then the “blue people” are those who are business-minded. They have an understanding of business objectives and priorities.

“So you can't be just red in IT or blue in business,” Eckerson says. “You have to be a blend of both. Of course, when you blend red and blue you get purple. So, a lot of the folks that we traditionally address really like that phrase because, in their own experience, that's really what the level of success for them was—to be able to understand the business at a deep level, translate that into technical requirements, and then give them back what they needed as they wanted it.

“We see things coming together and that need for a purple person is just as strong as ever. That purple person can come from the business, can come from IT, but there's gotta be a meeting in the middle.”

2. Now Is the Best Time to Dig into Data

Now is the opportunity for associations to take advantage of the things that are happening with data so that they can make decisions with confidence.

One of the problems is that if we don't know what to expect, a lot of times we use instinct, politics, and tradition. That's dangerous when the pace of change is increasing. We now no longer can just rely on our wisdom and our experience.

We need to combine our wisdom and experience with data so that we can make what I like to call “data-guided” decisions. And there’s never been a better time to do this.

3. Big Data and the Mona Lisa Have Something in Common

We’ve all heard the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but a picture is also worth a thousand numbers because you can present data visually. A lot of dense data can be presented quickly visually. But even the best data visualizations that we've developed are still only half of the solution. We need to have this ability to tell the story about what the data means.

So, when we use data visualization and we can combine a story that explains what it means, it becomes a much more compelling case for business leaders to make decisions quickly. This is a fabulous opportunity and time in the history for association leaders to advance their careers by being able to understand and explain the story and the data.


Our discussion at the Surge 2017 Virtual Summit contains an in-depth analysis of big data and adopting the analytical mindset. Register for the Summit to access the full session, including:

  • The difference between power users and casual users
  • The best way for an association or nonprofit to get started on a business intelligence journey
  • How to measure the success of an effective analytics program
  • How to determine the ROI for a data analytics project

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Written by Debbie King