This iconic scene from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy can teach you a lot about data analysis

3 lessons data analysts and companies can learn from the question about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of my favourite films ever and in my job as a Data Analyst I frequently think about this scene:

So, essentially, this is what happened:

  • A race of hyperintelligent beings dwells on the meaning of life.
  • They commission their best people to build a supercomputer to calculate it.
  • They ask for the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything and they want a simple answer.
  • The computer asks them to return in 7.5 million years, after which time, a huge event takes place for the answer reveal.
  • The computer finally reveals the answer to life, the universe, and everything: 42. And everyone is very disappointed.
  • The computer says: “it would have been simpler to have known what the actual question was”.
  • They go on to design a computer to find out what the question was.

Now, let’s replace some of the characters in the story:

  • the hyperintelligent beings are a stakeholder requesting an analysis of data about a particular topic;
  • the computer is a team of Data Analysts;
  • the ultimate question is a very vague and open brief.

Feels familiar? Unfortunately, Data Analysts find themselves in this situation more often than they’d like. So, here are 3 lessons that we can learn from the supercomputer and the question about life, the universe, and everything.

1. An actionable analysis starts with a directional and thorough brief.

Photo by Jamie Templeton on Unsplash

In the scene, the creators of the supercomputer ask a very generic question about something…

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