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Don’t let us confuse you.

We talk a lot at Actionable Insights about data, information and insights. We know the subject so deeply that sometimes we forget that we’re not explaining ourselves very well to those outside the geek circle. And it might seem we’re promising too much, because to be honest, not all insights are actionable.

There: we’re doing it again, aren’t we? Losing you with technical words. Let’s try again, in English.

First: Data, information and insights are not synonyms.  That’s important. Picture a “hierarchy pyramid,” with data at the foundation, information in the middle and insights at the very top. Data is the raw and unprocessed facts that are usually in the form of numbers and text. It primarily exists in computer-friendly formats and mostly lives in databases and spreadsheets. 

Information is prepared data that has been processed, gathered, and organized into a more human-friendly format for delivery, often in the form of data visualizations, reports and dashboards. 

Insights are arrived at by analyzing information and drawing conclusions. Our data and information have set the stage for the discovery of insights that can then influence decisions and drive change.

Here’s an example: your Fitbit watch gives you all kinds of activity data: steps, heart beats per minute, miles, calories, and so on.  Let’s say that right now, your watch says you’ve taken 7,440 steps today toward the American Heart Association’s recommended number of 10,000 steps. But this single fact is useless without more context.  Let’s say your Fitbit app includes data tables and information that allows you to see how many steps I completed each day. Anayzing this trended information shows you that your current trajectory is ahead of what you accomplished the past few days — with just little extra effort each day you can reach your daily target (insight: you only need 2,560 more steps by the end of the day).

That’s an insight that’s actionable. You can act on it by changing your own behavior to reach that goal.

Not all insights are actionable. You may not know what to do with some insights and thus choose to ignore them. For example, let’s say you notice that your Fitbit data table shows you were very active last Friday (you took an amazing 18,000 steps!). You should  just replicate that all the time, right? But you were on vacation that day, and you can’t spend every day hiking the Appalachian trail – that’s not realistic or actionable.

What can you do? Walk around the block on your lunch hour. Take the dog for a walk after work. Carry the laundry downstairs (or upstairs).

Insights that drive action are typically more valuable than those that simply answer a question. These are the treasures derived from all the work that goes into collecting, preparing and analyzing your data.

Maximizing the actionable insights you receive from your analytics investments is important to your data-driven success, and we’ll talk further on this page about what makes an insight truly actionable.