Change the Way You Look at Change

This post is part of a series on how the 9 Laws of Data Mining from Tom Khabaza can be applied to analytics. You can find previous posts here.

Law #9: “Law of Change”: All patterns are subject to change


Photo credit: Tedrafranklin, Shutterstock. CC0 Public Domain

All patterns change — not only because the data changes, but because our understanding of the business domain changes.  As Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” (emphasis mine)

For example, when we devise a better marketing campaign after completing a strategic plan to increase customers, we may change the customer profile so that the next time that we run the customer segmentation we may get a different result and those results may trigger other marketing changes. Even when the customer profile does not change, our understanding of competitive offers, substitute products, and other market factors can cause us to change how we decide to implement the business process.  Even when the data pattern is similar, we may have new information about the business or the economy as a whole that will affect how we understand the business and this will affect our evaluation of the model.

The job of a data miner and an analyst is never done—there is always something else to study and a new nugget of truth to learn about a market.  However, we can sometimes fall into the trap of doing things because they have always been done that way. So, how do we get ourselves out of a “rut” in analytics?  How do you repeat a process over and over again while still asking yourself about what could or should change?  The answer lies in having a “cheat sheet” of questions that forces you to think about the analysis in a different way, in other words to change the way you look at the problem. . . or in this case, to change the way we look at change.

This time of year is a great time to think about change, so while we are on the subject of “change”, let’s ask ourselves: How do we measure change? Is there a checklist of things that we should investigate when studying change?  Below are six ways to think about measuring change.

1. How Much?

The obvious and first question that we typically ask is the “how much” question.  In other words, what was the amount of change, the raw total difference from one time period to another?  But don’t stop there!  There is so much more that you can learn about change by asking more questions.

2. Rate of Change: To What Extent? What Percent?

How about calculating the percent change from one time period to another?  This helps us to understand when the change happened and what the extent of the change was. You could also analyze the rate of change over different time periods and ask yourself whether there is a pattern in the rates of change.  If you vary the time period that you are studying, you might get different patterns, like the difference between the average change over months versus quarters versus year over year.

3. What is the Average Change for Multiple Change Rates?

If you have lots of data, you could look at the average change over different time periods and then compare the change rates for one period compared to the difference from the mean or median value.

4. What is the Difference from Optimal?

In some cases, the difference from an average won’t mean much, but the difference from an optimal number or the top performer in a category will give you a lot more insight.  Creating an index is helpful in this case because it makes it easy to see how the current value differs from the optimal or desired amount.

5. Related questions: Where? Causation? Multiple Changes?

Once you have measured change, you can ask other questions that are related to the change, like “Where did the change happen?” or “Who or what factors caused the change?” or “Did multiple changes happen at the same time?”

6. Meta questions: The Nature of the Change

Don’t forget to ask meta questions like: What was the nature of the change? Is it beneficial or detrimental? Was the change an anomaly, an outlier, or part of a larger pattern of change?  And finally, you can ask: How long do you expect or predict the current trend to continue?

We all know that change is inevitable, but how we analyze and learn from change is not.  Understanding the relevance of the changing patterns, what the change means for our business, is how we translate information into insight.  Insight helps us develop a strategy and then we can focus on executing the plan with specific tactics.  However, everything starts with the decision to analyze the change and to look at change in a new way.


About Susan Zwillinger

Susan is a certified Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Professional with almost twenty (20) years of experience in the GIS industry. In her role, Susan consults and develops the scope of each project, coordinating proposal development, designing project plans, developing deliverable schedules, defining the market analytics methodologies, and managing the execution of the deliverables that ensure solid business value.

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