Just as some people define they’re identity by what they buy, some people define themselves by the tools that they use.
There’s a certain cache about using the ACH. Or being an OCP. Or knowing enough to choose select instead of forward regression. Or the use of Bayesian methods. Coremetrics against Omniture. Google Analytics over Webtrends. R over SPSS. Graffle over Visio. And so on.
There’s a large degree of tool centricity in three communities: web analytics, data mining, and marketing science. The irrational judgements about people in each of those communities, based on the degree of sophistication of tools, is dangerous. Worse – it’s detrimental.
It’s detrimental because it narrows your view.
For one, different tools are right for different lines of inquiry. Sometimes the solution is to use a form of Bayes. Sometimes the solution is to use a genetic algorithm. Sometimes the solution, to be driven down into a scalable algorithm, has to be possible in SPSS or in SAS. Sometimes simpler is better. Sometimes complex problems need to be addressed with complexity.
Having been through all three communities, I can say that Marketing Scientists are by far more statistically sophisticated than data miners. By several orders of magnitude. Marketing Scientists at this last INFORMS conference were working on problems, using complex methods, in efforts to clean up rounding errors in some of the most well researched areas, long hollowed out by the last cohort (auctions and competitive game theory come to mind!).
Data miners, on the other hand, use methods that are several orders of magnitude more complex than web analysts.
And yet, certain web analysts, examining log file data with their own commercial tools, using their methods, have far more understanding of how a complex system like a web site performs, than certain marketing scientists.
I’m not advocating aloofness.
I abhor the aloofness that goes with the generalist mindset. If you know just a little about anything, you really don’t know much about something. You need to have a very strong base to be able to come out and engage others. You have to have something to contribute to other disciplines.
In 2011, I’m really going to try to think outside of toolsets. I won’t let tools define who I am.
Tricky. We’ll see how that goes.