“Working with data means understanding how the business works, simplifying technical notions and making sure they can be meaningfully understood — skills that have utility for anyone,” explains Vikram Somaya, PepsiCo Chief Data and Analytics Officer.
Vikram taps into that range of expertise in many ways through his work, from processing consumer feedback with marketing to collaborating with R&D to strategize which ingredients have untapped potential. Data is something he infuses into daily life too, regularly poring over cycling stats for his rides from Manhattan to Bear Mountain. “I use data to drive something I love and see it actually apply in the real world,” he says.
Here, Vikram shares how to channel what he’s learned to drive success in any role.
START BY BUILDING TRUST
In the world of data, it is essential to ensure your information is accurate, first and foremost. “If you don't trust the data, you're never going to truly rely on it to help you make decisions,” Vikram says. It’s an idea that extends far beyond the data world: No matter what project you take on, take care to confirm all the facts, so any foundation you’re building on is solid and you can establish trust from the start.
STRENGTHEN YOUR STORYTELLING SKILLS
Vikram admits that data can be difficult to translate for people who aren’t engineers or analysts. But he still must make sure he gets his message across to a wide range of audiences. Being able to relate to diverse groups of people is an essential communication skill anyone should hone. “Storytelling is the most human way to build connections between different worlds,” he says. In the name of translating complex ideas, he’s used Shakespeare to illustrate programmatic advertising and acted out a scene from Julius Caesar to humanize data. The goal is to find a narrative that brings your point to life.
BE READY WITH AN ACTION PLAN
Reporting on the status quo is only half of your story. Vikram says one of the most crucial skills he’s developed is to have a “future-thinking mindset.” That means considering the implications of the information he uncovers and how it can be used in meaningful ways. “We have to keep thinking what is next and what sits after that.” It’s essential to think about potential ways to use available information, and to make suggestions about moving forward with your findings.
SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY
“When working with data, I am like a sculptor,” Vikram explains. “I take blocks of information and carve them into understandable and useful insights for the company.” Any time you can find a way to take a complex concept and convey it in clear, simple terms, you can make your point that much more compelling.
REMOVE BARRIERS FROM YOUR THINKING
Science fiction is a source of inspiration for Vikram because so many of the ideas once dreamed up in futuristic worlds have now come to be. “Science fiction opens you up to a set of thinking of what you could accomplish without any parameters,” he says. Approaching your work can become much more productive if “you don’t put a lot of blockers on your thinking,” Vikram suggests. “That leads to so many more opportunities.”