Why Data Scientists might need to understand Social Science.

I’ve had some really interesting conversations with heads of insights and data lately about the type of data scientists they are looking to hire for their insight and foresight teams. Many of my clients have told me they have no trouble finding data scientists with great skills in computer science (and in the analysis and modeling of data of course). What they are struggling to find, however, is data scientists who understand at least some of the vast body of knowledge that the social sciences has developed in the last 100 years about human behavior and human motivation.

To paraphrase what one of my friends in the industry recently said to me in an email, “how could someone model data and build machine learning algorithms if they do not understand how the irrational human mind works?”

I think people somehow mentally put ‘data science’ and ‘social science’ in separate areas in their mind. But they shouldn’t be. I know first hand the power of leveraging social science before data science. In fact, it is the philosophy that created our technology – MotivBase.

It’s powerful because it puts ‘the why’ before ‘the what’.

Let’s think about it this way…

If you’re in a data science role and your job is to analyze and model data to predict human behavior, I would consider it absolutely critical that you understand the underlying motivations and drivers of human behavior. You do not need to be an expert in the social sciences, but you do need to understand some of the most critical models that are already incredibly powerful and readily available. Otherwise, every time you need to solve problem, you’ll approach it solely through the method of logic and ignore more than a century of critical findings in the fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Because logic never works and it never has when it comes to predicting human beings.

If it did, we’d all lead happy and content lives.

There would be no war.

And we’d all get along.

Can we please stop using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

There a better way for us to understand human behavior and incorporate it into our strategic plan in a visual and easily comprehendible manner.

For the record, I absolutely hate seeing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs show up in strategy documents. Here’s why: [these are just two of a handful of reasons]

Is there a better way?

There sure is…

It’s a framework that we call the motivational DNA.

It is made up of four layers that are fundamental to understanding human beings and the way they make decisions – motivations, attitudes, values, and perhaps most importantly fears.

The obvious first step in being able to use this framework is to first uncover the intrinsic motivations, fears, value systems and attitudes that govern the consumer’s decision making process within the context of your business or the cultural space you operate within.

The second step is to understand how the consumer might be currently solving for these motivations, fears, values, and attitudes within the context of your business. Through this process you will innately identify the gaps that exist in the mind of the consumer. These are the gaps where you can offer solutions either literally through product and service, or emotionally through brand and messaging.

A key benefit of the motivational DNA framework is that it constantly keeps you in a consumer centric mindset, and prevents you from assigning priority to one part of the framework versus the other. Because the way human decision-making works is that it is not linear or lateral in approach. It is haphazardly and it is the result of a mishmash of certain fears and motivations and value systems shaping a particular moment in time when a decision is made. If you are solving for this framework then your solutions will occupy greater symbolic value in the mind of the consumer in those moments and will lead in the consideration set.

Here’s a simplified version of how this DNA plays out when used in the context of a beverage brand.

Let’s imagine that Brand X is building its strategic vision for the next 5 years and wants to leverage all the insight and foresight it has gathered to shape this vision in the beverage category. Here’s a simplistic version of how the DNA will be utilized in this scenario.

The most important part in this process is figuring out the product’s DNA through the lens of the consumer’s motivation. This is where decoding meaning and identifying needs that carry high amounts of symbolic value in the mind of the consumer become absolutely critical.

Ultimately, this model will keep you grounded to the consumer’s reality in ways that Maslow could never do. So the next time you see Maslow in one of your strategy documents… you’ll know what to do.

What do you want to research today?