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Be a Force Multiplier

In December the Chief Data Scientist of the United States, DJ Patil, sat down with the podcasters at Partially Derivative to talk about a number of data related subjects. If you haven’t listened to the podcast yet, I highly recommend it, it’s both enjoyable and informative. While the interview covers a wide range of subjects, what stuck with me was DJ Patil’s comment about being a force multiplier.

“You [Data Scientists] should be in a role where you are ridiculously, overwhelmingly impactful. If you are not, figure out how to be ridiculously impactful or go find another place where you can be. The ability to singularly be a force multiplier…not like a 1x, a 2x, a 3x…a 10x, a 100x force multiplier on any problem has never been more true. We have easy ability to have access to technology. Data ubiquity is there. And more than anything else, the ability to have a combination of some data with domain expertise allows a different type of integration that we have just not seen in recent times.”

Brilliantly said, and it sparked within me a thought; What are the multipliers that can make us the most effective people we can be?

Optimism

As Colin Powell stated, “Perpetual Optimism is a Force Multiplier.” This is one of the tenets of his leadership. If you spend your work days in perpetual cynicism, thinking that the leadership doesn’t care or understand, that the company is profit-at-all-costs, that your co-workers are disenfranchised, that every problem is an obstacle…you will be hobbled. In such a dark world, why bother putting anything but the minimum of effort forth at all? Be one of those people who simply justify their salary. Why not?

In contradistinction, be perpetually optimistic. Find that problems are challenges. (I’m aware of how cliché that is by the way). Inspire your so-called disenfranchised co-workers to see projects and work in a more positive and challenging light. Understand the challenges that leadership faces without knowing all the details and believe your company is fundamentally a force for good.

Passion

Passion is an incredible multiplier, probably more so than any other. If you find that you are not passionate in your job, find a way to make it passionate. If you are unable, then you need to leave. Passion leads us to a state of flow that increases productivity to an incalculable level. Passion will cure cancer, passion will stop aging, passion will and has changed the world at a magnitude that is hard to quantify. Passion is Walt Whitman, Ray Kurzweil, Einstein and James Joyce. Those are daunting people against which to measure yourself…but without passion, they are abstractions akin to fictional characters.

Data Science

I’m not sure I can explain my passion for Data Science…add that passion to a passion for a subject and you have an exponential force multiplier. Data Scientists in all forms are OBLIGATED to provide a force multiplier in their fields. (The all caps was intentional). It is not about money, it is not about position…we are in a transformative period in human history. Work we do will help with identifying gene expressions that help with the cure for cancer. Work we do will help stop violence and atrocities in our cities. Work we do will reform policy at a federal and state level that make our country a better place to live. Our work helps physicists, doctors, research scientists, astronomers, economists, social scientists….the list goes on. This is the era where the developers (data scientists) and field professionals from across the aisle get up and realize they work better together than apart.

What do these force multipliers look like? I’ve given this some thought and we’ll start with what tradition says.

Skill + Experience = Value

Add the first multiplier.

(Skill + Experience) * Perpetual Optimism = Value ^ 2

Add the second multiplier.

((Skill + Experience) * Perpetual Optimism) * Passion = Value ^ 3

Finally, throw in those data science skills.

(((Skill + Experience) * Perpetual Optimism) * Passion) * Data Science = Value ^ 4

Those multipliers add up quickly, and while this may seem an exaggeration, I assure you it is not. I’ve worked on projects where passion, optimism and a splash of data science skills led to 1000X process improvements. On your jobs, remember these criteria, don’t let the urgent get in the way of the important, and remember the words of DJ Patil…” If you are not, figure out how to be ridiculously overwhelmingly impactful or go find another place where you can be.” As data scientists, you have an obligation to be “ridiculously overwhelmingly impactful.”

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