Why is the sky blue?


One of my beloved children is a six year old boy that has more questions than a crack investigative reporter. I decided long ago, when he asks a question, I’ll give him the straight answer, even if he can’t fully (or even partly) understand it.

When he asked why a glass of water is clear and the water in the ocean is blue, I explained how white light is made up of all the colors of a rainbow and how each color has its own wave length and how the shorter wavelengths are filtered out by the water and the longer ones can travel through the water longer. Since blue light is of a longer wave length, it is what we tend to see in the water. When he asked why the sky was blue, he got a similar answer. Usually he just nods and takes it in – I know most of it goes in one ear and out the other.

It wasn’t long ago, that we were driving down the road towards some large bluffs and he was asking me why everything felt sticky. I explained humidity to him as there being a lot of water in the air. He answered back by asking me if that was why the hills looked blue.

I tell this story to relate to what I call the pyramid of understanding. We hear a lot about data warehousing, reporting and analytics. When I talk to others about warehousing and reporting, they often don’t think past the static reports of old. So I thought I’d take a few minutes and try to expand the horizons a bit.

We are collecting data at an ever increasing rate and building this into massive data repositories known as a warehouse. This is pretty well understood. That data in raw form is just information, facts about various things at various times. By itself, each data element has very little meaning.

When we take that information and relate it to other information through trending and do some analysis with it, we gain knowledge. That knowledge allows business to be understood and decisions to be made. This is where traditional reporting got us too. In many cases, this is where we still are in HR. Sure, we have some fancy new reporting tools that allow us to click and drill into the data which is nice, but is it really giving us more value or a perspective that we weren’t able to get to before?

The next step on the pyramid is understanding. This is what my son got too when he was able to relate that the hills were blue because of the water in the air. As practitioners, we know that if we look at performance data and see that employees of a certain manager are consistently getting poor reviews and if we then look at employee satisfaction surveys we can expect low satisfaction scores. The relationship is obvious, but why is it there? Is it because the manager is a bad manager or is it because of an underlying problem?

Understanding is when we can see a trend and notice that low performance might be because poorly motivated employees don’t feel they are getting the reward of ‘team lunches’ as like other teams do.  Another might be the number of canceled projects they have worked on. These are simple things, the data is there, but are we tapping into the true power of our warehouse yet?

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