What Is Data? Part 2 : A is for ‘Articulate’

–another way of looking at data

Because without clear articulation, then we are indeed lost.


What Is Data? Part 1 : D is for ‘Dangerous’

I have previously referenced Hugh Macleod’s work in the form of @gapingvoid. And I do not hesitate to do so again. Consider the classic graphic.

How I describe what is going on.

We start with data

We color that data with context for information

We connect that information to improve our knowledge

We seek knowledge edge cases that connect for insights

We take the journey between those insights to grow our wisdom

Putting it another way; data is not information, knowledge, nor insight and certainly not wisdom. Rather, data provides some kind of basic building block from which we try to build a picture. An understanding.

For us to correctly build that picture from that data, we need at the very least, to have rules. And as I showed you in part one of this series, we are pretty lax on rules even around something as simple as a date.

A Parable

This series is about data and I am not a theologian, scientist, philosopher or data scientist … I’m just a guy, so bear with me. What follows is a light-hearted review of the story of discovery. It also happens to be very relevant to this series.

In The Beginning

… well at least by the third verse of the book of Genesis, there was Light and by the sixth, we had Water, with Air (Sky) occurring around about verse eight.

I think it is safe to conclude that the concepts of ‘Earth, Air, Fire, and Water’ were well ingrained in the Western psyche long before that 1971 album!

No surprise then that the Greeks latched onto them as the 4 core building blocks – elements of the physical world.

Interestingly, the Greeks, (originally considered by Plato and further developed by Aristotle) had a fifth element … aether. Yup – the Greeks were already thinking about that 2,500 years ago.)

It soon became clear that we needed a little more, let’s call it, ‘granularity’. And over time we got increasingly precise about what the actual building blocks of nature were and are.

First, we nailed the elements.

Then we started to investigate atoms and molecules.

‘Finally’ moving onto electrons, protons, neutrons … quarks … and what next?

The fact is that we continue to learn and get more precise about what actually constitute the building blocks of nature. Because it’s important … right?

Let’s Take Water For Example

Water, one of the original 4 elements of the Greeks was discovered by Henry Cavendish in 1783 to comprise of  ‘molecules’. In 1811 the Italian, Amadeo Avogadro,  found that each molecule was made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms.

Sometime later we learned that those two atoms are held together by ‘strong covalent bonds’. What that means is that the oxygen and hydrogen atoms essentially share an electron. An electron? Well, we didn’t even discover electrons for another ninety years or so. Protons followed around ten years later and Neutrons some twenty years after that.

Science and understanding unfolds. In this case, properly understanding water, (defined as an element 2,500 years ago), took over 150 years to understand, but we had to wait 2,000 years to even start that exploration – and we still aren’t completely on top of it.

Is water a liquid? You wouldn’t be wrong to answer yes. Or no. Because it depends on the temperature. Below 100 degrees centigrade that water is solid. We call it ice. Above 100 degrees centigrade that water is a gas. We call it steam.

Context is always important.

This property alone makes it unique on planet earth. Let alone the property of ‘anomalous expansion’ which explains why when lakes freeze over, fish don’t die. The freezing property comes down to those electrons. The energy of water.


John Philpin
John Philpin
JOHN'S career spans 30 years, 2 continents, and organizations as diverse as Oracle, Citibank and GE. A Mathematics graduate, John moved to California in 1990. He helps technology companies create, develop and deliver their story for fund raising, market development and influencer programs. He also works with businesses to ensure they understand, and are ready, for the ever accelerating changes that technology is bringing to their industry. John is a co-founder of Expert Alumni and gleXnet and long before futurists and industry watchers were writing about the impending challenges that industries were going to be facing, they predicted a perfect storm of issues like skills gap, declining work forces, the gig economy, people trained to do work no longer needed, demographic shifts, economic and social change, market upheaval and rapidly changing ways of doing work. From the beginning they have promoted the idea that massive change was coming to how organizations should think about their workforce, with a singular focus on simplifying the interface between people and their work. Understanding the challenges ahead of the curve, the solution was built to arrive at a better understanding of the greatest restraint to business operations - competence, not capital. gleXnet provides unparalleled insights into an organizations people and operations by flipping the problem from the perspective of people, not the business.

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