The Most Important Thing …

is to not stop questioning – Albert Einstein.

Few minds have elevated our collective intelligence as much as Albert Einstein. Last month gravitational waves, a phenomena predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, were detected. As with science, Einstein’s views on intelligence, creativity, and humanity were well ahead of his time. So much so that we believe his views are as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago.

Today is an exciting time to be alive. We are witnessing a shift towards a more quantified, more algorithmic, and – dare I say it – more uncertain future. Much of this shift is being driven by the rapid advancement of sophisticated machine learning algorithms and unprecedented volume and access to high quality data about anything, anywhere, and at any time. We are engineering a modern day renaissance with data and algorithms.

Historically the world has experienced many such periods wherein ideas, having gestated for decades in the minds of forward-thinking women and men, seem to spring forth and take on a life of their own. Einstein’s time was no different: the world witnessed major advances in nuclear physics as well as its industrialization and weaponization. Perhaps this is why Einstein’s quotes resonate with me, right now, right here?

So when Quandl.com, a company which truly exemplifies our shift towards a more quantified world, approached me and asked me to capture my thoughts on what it means to be a great analyst in this brave new world I was immediately reminded of Einstein’s quote; “... the important thing is to not stop questioning”. At NMRQL we believe that curiosity is the mark of every great analyst ... but being curious isn’t easy and curious analysts face many challenges.

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” - Albert Einstein
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” - Albert Einstein

Curiosity leads us to an understanding of something but in order to move beyond that understanding we need imagination. Imagination allows us to look at the way something is done now, reject it, and develop ideas for how it may be done better in the future. Whether we are trying to organize information better or trying to forecast the market more accurately (like we are doing at NMRQL) doesn’t really matter; the key ingredient is still imagination.

Luckily for us, imagination, like many other human traits can be cultivated and honed. We can improve our creativity and imagination by exposing our minds to new ideas therein developing new neural circuitry. This can be done by reading books and partaking in activities outside of our comfort zones. One of my favourite ways to stimulate new ideas is to watch TED Talks on topics as diverse as business, medicine and even poetry.

“Knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be.” - Albert Einstein
”Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” - Albert Einstein

Having accepted that there may be a better way to do something a great analyst faces their second challenge: it takes courage to pursue ideas. It takes courage because being contrarian is risky. We may fail, we may be fired, we may be ridiculed, and there is one constant – we will be opposed. A great analyst is one who can be convict in his or her view whilst simultaneously taking into consideration the counsel and criticism of others.

Striking a balance between the opposing forces of conviction in oneself and ones ideas and heeding the counsel and criticism of others is essential. Not all ideas are good and most criticism has merit regardless of whether it is constructive. A great analyst is one who allows his or her ideas to evolve over time and, as painful as it may be, die if they no longer make sense. It was Aristotle who said that "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it".

“If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein

The third challenge is the one we all struggle with – eloquence, or rather, the refinement of ones thinking to that point where complex ideas can be communicated simply and understood by others. Many great ideas die not because they are infeasible or because the analyst lacks courage, but rather because the analyst cannot communicate their idea well enough that it is accepted, implemented, and adopted by others. No man is an island so learning how to communicate is paramount.

“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” - Albert Einstein
“Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours ...” - Albert Einstein

Last, but not least, every great analyst should recognize their position as a contributing member of humanity and strive in their own way to improve the world. Albert Einstein was a deeply religious man and he attributed a great deal of his success in science to his faith not just in his religious beliefs, but in the limitless ability of mankind to elevate itself and improve. All I am saying here is that in this new world shaped by data and algorithms, we mustn’t misplace our humanity.

So, in conclusion, a great analyst is curious. They use their curiosity to develop an understanding of the world around them and then use their imagination to think beyond that to a better future. They have courage to pursue their dreams and courage to consider the counsel of others. They refine their thinking to the point where their ideas can be communicated simply so that they may be understood and accepted and they possess a strong enough character to retain their humanity.

That's what we are looking for in our analysts at NMRQL but the most important thing is to just never stop questioning.

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