Book by: Thomas H. Davenport and Jinho Kim
Review by: Audrey E. Cox
Academic Advising Center
University of Washington Tacoma
“Data isn’t the point, numbers aren’t the point, it’s about the idea,” (p. 109) so said David Schmitt of Performance Strategy and Planning, as quoted in Keeping Up with the Quants by Thomas H. Davenport and Jinho Kim. Schmitt illustrated the real impetus for statistical analysis. Statistical analysis should never be done simply for its own sake. Decision makers employ statistical analysis, because doing so can lead to more informed processes, increased strategy effectiveness, and new discoveries: in short, better ideas.
Davenport and Kim referred to those who, like themselves, are sometimes called quantitative analysts, as quants. Professionals who are averse to statistical analysis, who sometimes describe themselves as math-phobic, are referred to as non-quants. Davenport and Kim have accomplished the seemingly impossible. They have written a book on quantitative analysis that non-quants would value reading. They effectively explained why non-quants who are charged with making critical decisions, and those who assist them, must begin to embrace the discipline from which they have traditionally steered clear. Every industry—including institutions of higher education—employs vast amounts of data to make decisions about the high impact practices they will provide; academic advisors must become skilled at being able to understand statistical analysis and even initiate projects that rely on quantitative data.
In their search for “the better idea,” advisors may find it easy to identify the types of questions that data-driven research will help them answer. How can advisors develop an advising activity that focuses on the personal strengths of first-generation college students? How can advisors increase the resiliency of single parent students enrolled in a STEM program? How can advisors best support returning disabled veteran students in their academic efforts? What is not so easy, perhaps, is collecting the data needed to begin answering these questions. Often this data collection, even the collection method and process, is left in the hands of the data experts, the quants. While these experts are a necessary and vital piece of the puzzle, non-quant decision makers and team members are needed as well, for they keep the project focused on the initial purpose of the data collection.
Keeping Up with the Quants provided examples, resources, and strategies to assist in the endeavor to combat innumeracy. Davenport and Kim, however, did not suggest that non-quants become data experts. On the contrary, professionals who are not data experts are encouraged to continue to focus on the question that inspired the research, to bring creativity and intuitive thinking to the gathering of quantitative data.
Since both quants and non-quants are needed to effectively compile research data and then implement strategic practices, it is critical for statistical analysts to embrace the vision and mission of the institutions for which they work. Conversely, it is just as important for non-quants to adopt a mindset open to statistical analysis. Advisors who may have avoided statistical analysis in the past should make efforts to become familiar with the language of data collection and research. If advisors and advising administration are to employ high impact practices, becoming comfortable with statistical and research methods is a must. Davenport and Kim provided a step-by-step, easily understood, practical guide for doing so.
Keeping Up with the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding and Using Analytics. (2013). Book by Thomas H. Davenport and Jinho Kim. Review by Audrey E. Cox. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press. 240 pp., $30.00 (Hardback), ISBN 978-1-4221-8725-8.