I never could have predicted my wife would become a wave photographer. She’s always loved Hawaii, and she loves the beach. So, I guess there a few early signs. But now she spends HOURS on the beach lugging around a heavy camera and a giant lens. And, her photos are stunning. If you could use a daily dose of wave Zen, check her out on Instagram @bevsonthebeach.

My pops was a university professor (biochemistry), and my early career was with Intel, so it would be hard to overstate the reality that I always want to see the data. Everyone has an opinion, but the data exposes the truth of what’s happening. One of the most striking examples of this appears when you look at picture of a wave. Sitting on the beach and experiencing the motion, sounds and power of the waves, you can’t fully realize the patterns, shapes and beauty of a wave stopped in motion.

This is not unlike a process rippling through your organization. You can see and hear it happening. The flow, the grindings, the complaints, the escalations, even the ringing bells of sales and success. But without the data, we are pulled to focus on the loudest, squeakiest wheels rather than the ones with the biggest leverage/impact to our success.

Early in my career at Intel, I participated in a six-sigma training program. Before that, I figured six-sigma was some ninja like magic that would be like a magic wand I could use to improve my operations. The only magic about six-sigma is the realization that by using data to identify and prioritize problems – if  you follow and improve the highlighted process issue, your operations will get better.

It’s common sense. And it sounds easy. But in today’s world of instant gratification and fake news, it’s often easier to live on the surface. Getting down to the data is generally more difficult than snapping beautiful pictures. So, we latch onto AI, bots, machine learning and other magic ways to assume that a computer, something else, or someone else will roll up their sleeves and understand the process and the data. Don’t get me wrong. I’d be a fool to predict that these emerging technologies won’t help. But if you want things to get better, YOU need to understand the details and the data that’s driving the business.

My advice to students and early employees who ask me what will help them the most is to embrace the data. I realize it’s not natural for everyone. But as you grow your career, you’ve got to understand and get comfortable with data. You’ve got to look for patterns. You need to quickly see when data is being manipulated or wrong assumptions are being derived from the data. There are relationships. There’s trust. And, then there’s the data.  Data, reports and associated trends and patterns are the compass to guide your vision, your strategy, and your execution.

One of the best moments is when (generally after lots of hard work to gather and analyze) the pattern emerges in the data. The rush and power and noise of thousands of rows and columns give way to a beautiful pattern. A realization that you finally discover. Just like the click of a camera exposes the beauty of water in motion frozen. And, you know exactly what you need to do.

So, do it. Then do it again.

It’s beautiful!