Beginner’s Mind and the Data-driven Approach to Data Analytics
In Zen Buddhism there is the concept of beginner’s mind, the idea that once we transcend the sophistication in thinking that we are accustomed to as adults, we can reach this state of innocence in our thinking that resembles the way a beginner thinks. This is particularly applicable in martial arts, where this freshness in thinking is essential.
However, even though this new-found mindset is equipped with enthusiasm and creativity, it also incorporates the experience we have gathered along the way. If as the great Reconnaissance master said “wisdom is the daughter of experience” then it is possible that we reach this state somewhat wiser than we were before, even if we are not always keen to make that known.
The beginner’s mind is a very powerful way of thinking since it doesn’t rely on models of thinking but rather directly on experience and perhaps intuition too, at least to some extent. The beginner’s mind is therefore a very practical and beneficial way of tackling challenges that require a certain amount of forethought before employing the tactical thinking that usually precedes action. As a result, one can argue that someone having this mindset is more prepared to act in a strategic and therefore more long-term manner, ensuring a better quality of results.
What does all this have to do with data analytics though? Isn’t Buddhism a religion or something? Well, yes, it is something but it’s more akin to philosophy than anything else. I’m not trying to convert anyone here. After all, I’m not a Buddhist myself. However, as a scientist I find that every philosophy (or system of thought in general) has something to offer to one’s thinking, on one’s way to the state of the beginner’s mind. That’s my way of the scientist anyway. As I am a scientist delving into the way of dealing with data in an effort to turn it into insights and actionable information (a process known as data science), I prefer to avoid limiting myself to textbooks and conventional know-how, since the broader one’s perspective the better the chances of coming up with an innovative approach to analyzing and solving a data-related problem. So, what’s the nexus of the beginner’s mind and data analytics then?
For starters, data analytics can be done in various ways, once the data is cleaned, formatted, and generally made ready to use in a data model. The latter is a mapping between the data and what we try to predict. This mapping is not always related to some neat mathematical formula as the advocates of Stats would have us believe. Without disregarding the invaluable contribution of Stats to data analytics, once one delves into the various possibilities for modelling the data, it becomes clear that a different, more data-driven approach may be equally effective, if not better, for various problems.
The data-driven approach to data analytics makes use of the data without any assumptions about the shape and form of its variables. The latter is model-based analysis. Data-driven analysis, however, figures everything out from scratch, much like a beginner would, since (s)he doesn’t know any Stats distributions or models to use for this purpose. Interestingly, such an approach has quite promising results, particularly in cases where there is a lot of data available.
So, perhaps the ancient idea of a beginner’s mind which was meant for people on their path to self-realization is still applicable today, even in places like data analytics. After all, the latter doesn’t have to be a dry discipline, divorced from one’s own inner evolution. Besides, why can’t data analytics be a discipline of inner growth too, transcending the level of technique? Someone with a beginner’s mind would probably think so.
If you are interested in reading more of my data science related articles, I invite you to check out my DS/AI blog, as well as some of my other buzzes here on beBee. Cheers!
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