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Want to Be a Better Data Scientist?
Increase Your Fluid Intelligence


The data scientist’s biggest superpower is the ability to extract meaningful insights from raw information. How do they do this on a regular basis? The secret mainly lies with levels of fluid intelligence, or “the ability to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge,” says Uma Gupta, professor of business at the State University of New York at Buffalo State. “It involves identifying patterns and relationships that underpin novel problems and extrapolating these findings using logic.”

A simple way to activate fluid intelligence is to read something outside your discipline, or listen to music from a different genre. According to Gupta, “This strains your brain, makes it think and observe things it normally would not, and that comprehension is what leads to insight in your field.” Fortunately, the brain is your ally when it comes to increasing fluid intelligence; every day, it actively searches for opportunities to do things differently. When presented with an unfamiliar problem, the brain has to fasten the different pieces together, which stretches its capabilities.  “When you travel and have to take the subway, you’re being challenged, because this subway system could be very different from yours,” Gupta says. “If your head hurts and you’re feeling burned out, that’s actually a very good sign. You want to tax your brain on a regular basis, as this triggers connections in brain cells.”

"If your head hurts and you’re feeling burned out, that’s actually a very good sign."

Uma Gupta, Professor of Business, State University of New York at Buffalo State

Challenging your brain by looking at things through a different lens leads to strong insights. “This is the reason fluid intelligence plays such an important role in data science,” Gupta says. “The reason companies hire data scientists is to generate insights that can help them gain a competitive advantage in their field. You cannot generate insights by simply looking at the world the same way you always have, which is why companies frequently hire consultants from different industries to help solve their problems.”

Continually training your brain by switching things up will increase your fluid intelligence, allowing you to harness the power of insight. “If you do the same thing every day, the brain pathways become jaded and dull,” Gupta says. “Challenge yourself to do something in a new way, whether it’s taking a new route to work or wearing your watch on a different wrist.” You never know what might spark your next insight.