Confessions of a Data Scientist: Why I quit social media and still cut my own grass

May 5, 2018
By

(This article was first published on Scott Mutchler, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

I hate to have to read a long blog post before I get to the payoff.  So here is mine:

  • Social media fosters a short attention span by triggering a dopamine (reward) response in our brains.  Innovation in Data Science (and many other technical fields) requires deep thought.  Mindless tasks like mowing the grass allows you enter into deep thought and tap the purely creative center of your brain.  Revolutionary Data Science is as much about creativity as it is about having an analytical mind.

Over a year ago, I realized I had greatly reduced the number of technical books I was reading.  I usually read 1-2 books a month and truly enjoyed learning new analytical techniques with the driving purpose of creating something unique… something no one else had ever thought of (even if it was derivative of other work).  It’s how I’m wired I guess.

Instead of learning, I was spending 2-3 hours a day mindlessly scrolling through Facebook looking at cat videos and political hate speech.  I was also posting family pictures of our adventures and eagerly awaiting the dopamine reward of getting likes from friends and family.  My attention span was getting shorter and shorter by the day.  I was also fundamentally unhappy because I always felt that others were having more adventures than me.  I guess I wasn’t alone in this feeling.

Now I’ve been fortunate enough to have tremendous success in Data Science.  I’ve built analytical solutions for Fortune 500 companies that have driven $100M’s of incremental revenue.  I’m not bragging, I’m incredibly grateful to be one of the seemingly few data scientist that had leadership that would listen to my ideas and give me a long rope to implement them.  I’m thinking specifically of you Kevin Freeland (LinkedIn profile).

As I thought of those times, when I was happiest I realized that I spent a lot of time thinking… especially during my leisure time.  I took books on Data Mining, Oracle, etc. to the beach.  I spent hours on long drives thinking of new ways to solve business problems with analytics.  Specifically, I thought about the exact moment I came up with a new way to assort products in retail stores.  I was mowing my grass.  I had a big yard.  The mindless repetition of mowing allowed my mind to access the creative center of my brain.  Apparently it did for Joe Walsh also.  Ironically, I live not far from where he crashed a riding mower when he thought up “Rocky Mountain Way”!

Everyone is different and you should take this advice with a huge bag of rock salt but here goes:

  • Try leaving social media for 1 month
  • Take long drives
  • Mow your own grass
  • Block 2-3 hours a day to do nothing… no work, no TV, no social media, no phone.

 

Make time to

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