Naira Musallam, Phd

Apr 5, 2021

Discussing the Data-Driven Future



Episode Summary

Is technology our friend, enemy, or both? How do we make data analysis and visualization more effective? And how do you differentiate yourself from other companies on the market? Naira Musallam is here to answer these questions for us.

In this episode of the Through Your Looking Glass podcast, host Patrick Comer discusses the importance of technology, data analysis, and visualization with the co-founder and the co-CEO of SightX, Naira Musallam.

They explore common misconceptions about technology, and Naira answers some burning questions such as “Will machines take over our lives?” She shares her point of view by providing professional insight and explaining the power of data-driven analytics. Naira believes that tech progress is our future, but the question is: how do we use data in our favor? How do we boost our own business performance by automating data analysis and visualization? Tune in to this episode to find out more.


Name: Naira Musallam, Phd

What she does: Naira is the co-founder and the co-CEO of SightX, an automated insights platform aiming to help us make data-driven decisions and make it accessible and easy for insights teams to use. Prior to SightX, Naira held several professorship positions at Columbia University and NYU, where she taught graduate-level courses in statistics and research.

Company: SightX

Key Quote: “Tech progress is inevitable. It is our collective responsibility to make it human-centric and in the service of people, growth, and societal contribution.”

Key Insights

  • There is a common misconception about technology that Naira wants to change. People seem to think robots will replace them, steal their jobs and take over their lives. Naira admits technology can indeed be our friend or enemy, but it’s up to us to choose. We are much better off if we consider technology as our powerful friend. “I would like to try and be part of the movement that shifts the discourse to say it’s a tool for the service of people and not to replace people.”
  • Employees tend to spend the vast majority of their time performing data collection tasks, making it harder for them to focus on the one thing machines can’t do: relevance and meaning. Instead of wasting human potential, we need to automate data analysis and visualization. Naira says that leaders would prefer their smart people to focus on analytics rather than formatting and cleaning tasks.
  • To differentiate yourself from your competitors, you have to be data-driven, especially in today’s world, where everything changes by the minute. If you want to stay relevant, you have to focus on data analysis, visualization, and ResTech.

Would you rather, as a leader in ResTech, in insights, have the smart people that you’ve hired to be battling through formatting, restructuring, cleaning, or to spend it more on the analytics and the meaning and the compelling visualization?”

Episode Highlights

How the Idea For SightX Was Born

When asked how she got into the field of technology and what motivated her to switch from academia, Naira shares her story and explains she always wanted to have one foot in academia, one foot in the public sector. According to her, technology has failed humans by not allowing them to analyze data faster. Talented employees spend 70% of their time collecting data instead of focusing on actually understanding the data, its meaning, and relevance.

“And then I met my precious co-founder and co-CEO, Tim Lawton, who was seeing the problem from a different angle. And we basically said, ‘We think we can add a contribution.’ So that was a pivotal moment that led both of us to say, We’re giving up our salaries in the private sector and giving up on academia and jumping into the world of tech to solve a problem we thought was worth solving.”

Focusing On The One Thing That Machines Are Terrible At

Instead of wasting time and potential on tasks that could be easily automated, we need to prioritize the thing that machines are terrible at, and that is relevance and meaning. Naira explains that they cannot tell compelling stories and give sense to the data and analytics. We’ll always need humans for that. That’s why we should start looking at technology as a powerful friend. It could help employees excel in their roles, not replace them.

“The one thing that nobody gives us back in life is time. And I think the vast majority of us want to spend it on things we like and enjoy and give us meaning.”

Differentiation is the Key in a Competitive Market

Since SightX is operating in a competitive industry, it’s challenging for them to stay relevant, especially with the big niche players like Survey Monkey.

When asked how they stay on top of their game, Naira explains: “I think that the differentiation starts with our mission, and we exist to automate curiosity. Our tagline is to accelerate curiosity. And what do we mean by that? So we wake up every day thinking about what type of functionalities on the analysis and visualizations, what type of tools do we need to release to accelerate curiosity? We think that it genuinely moves the world. Curiosity drives innovations, solves problems, delights people. Now, if you want to create the framework to enable people to be curious, you have to give them the space to be able to think. How does that then translate to our differentiation? By thinking about the process from beginning to end.”

The Resistance in Building Technology

It’s safe to say building technology and improving its performance requires a lot of change. There seems to be a lot of concern among the employees about it, though, especially statisticians. Naira explains the reason why they tend to resist: “Because it threatens the notion of expertise. We spend a lot of time doing something, and that’s our expertise, that’s what we do. And the idea that this will transform and evolve, where there is going to be a shift in our role, and what we do is a change that many don’t find easy.”

The Importance of Being Data and Science-Driven

Looking back at her previous work experiences, Naira remembers one pivotal moment that has stuck with her throughout her career. “We were tasked to try and help traumatized children who grew up in a war zone, and there was a big debate around whether we should help them with sports or art? I remember being super junior. I didn’t know much beyond my math classes. I asked, ‘Do we know what works better for who?’ And everybody looked at me a little bit surprised by the question, but then saying, ‘Oh, this is actually a relevant question.’

I think that was a transformative moment for me in the sense that I just realized the danger of ideology when it’s not supported by data and science. And I full-heartedly believe human-centric values being driven by data and science would lead to a better and smarter world.”



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