Our roots in stories

In sport, we are awash with data. A fundamental challenge for us is how we deal with these data in our everyday practice. We are trying to make sense of exabytes of data to provide a service.

I think an answer may lie in our roots as story receivers and tellers. In analytics, our relationships with coaches, players and other support staff requires us to share stories about performance. Neil Lanham (2013) points out “stories, in their natural setting, are vitally important to human understanding because they are the tools of wisdom”. He adds that the “naturally formed mindset is acutely observational, it sees metaphoric story in almost every happening, and has the language to form and relate it” (2013: 152).

Neil is an analyst and an oral historian. The combination of both domains has enabled him to think carefully about how we share and record messages. Like Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson (2015), Neil has looked carefully at individuals at work and “to see how work connects with other aspects of their lives”.

Our roots in stories enable us to connect with others and establishes trust. Through our story abilities, we are able to connect practice with the innovation and transformation that is going on in the world of sport.

With experience we build our stories with thick description. In doing so, we engage in ethnographic, qualitative activities in which stories unfold. This enables us to make more permanent our analysis and allows us to discuss how we do share and the impact we have as analysts.

Clifford Geertz sees this thick description as an interpretive act in search of meaning. His approach resonates strongly with Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s view that reality is socially constructed and that the sociology of knowledge must analyse the process in which this occurs (link).

I see this qualitative dimension as vital as we seek to employ more and more Insights scientists (link). Particularly when we encourage them to produce compelling, insightful reports that can and might be triggered by data visualisations. This is where ‘science’ meets story telling and the impact we have is defined by the ways in which we share.

It is a time when we as analysts become autoethnographers and we are able to link our biographies with the insights we are sharing. As John Tetnowski and Jack Damisco (2014) (link) suggest, it is a methodology “that gets at the inner feelings and interpretations of someone involved in the phenomenon being studied”.

It enables us to transform our practice by celebrating our qualitative roots in stories.

Photo Credit

Appears Backward (Brian Talbot, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Hill and slope (Marco Forno, Unspash)


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