Book Review: I'm Not A Numbers Person by Dr Selena Fisk

I confess that it took me a while to get started on this book. I’m a words person, you see, not a numbers person, and a whole book about numbers was a bit intimidating. Luckily, Selena eases her readers into the scary numbers part gradually, starting by pointing out how pervasive data is in our everyday lives. It’s literally everywhere and isn’t going away any time soon.

She also makes the point that data is much more than numbers: ‘while numbers are often easier to measure, track and visualise, the additional qualitative evidence and data types that sit alongside the numbers provide rich context and detail about their meaning’. It’s that meaning part that’s important – Selena believes most organisations have enough data, but it’s knowing what to do with it that can be the problem.

There are effectively three components to being a numbers person – data literacy (understanding the numbers); data visualisation (putting numbers into graphs); and data storytelling (establishing what the data is telling you and responding to it).

As someone who rebels against the idea of reducing decisions to ‘what the numbers say’, it was reassuring to read Selena’s distinction between being ‘data-informed’ and being ‘data-driven’; she argues that the former is what we should all be striving for.

I would have liked some more information on the various ways of visually presenting data, especially the most appropriate uses of different types of graphs. That said, I now finally understand box plots, so the content is definitely well-explained!

I loved the discussion on the biases that may affect how we view or interpret data, consciously and unconsciously. It’s such an important part of the storytelling aspect. Selena’s commentary on recognising data manipulation was excellent and I could have read a whole book on just this – is it too soon to request another book?

For those like me who crave more information on, well, everything, Selena has included a comprehensive reference list that I’ll be digging into over the next little while.

I may never be a ‘numbers person’, but this book was a great step along the path to understanding not just the numbers, but understanding why understanding the numbers is so important in this day and age.

Review by Amanda Dickerson, copywriter and editor

I'm Not A Numbers Person by Dr Selena Fisk is out now

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