Many of my clients and contacts are extremely enthusiastic about the potential of Big Data combined with advanced analytics, and not at all interested in my reservations about things like how to decide what data to include and who or what (algorithms that only very few understand) determines the outcome of an analysis. I agree that insight can trigger good ideas, but still think that truly great ideas, the ones that create a real advantage, need the human imagination. After all, collected data predominantly describe the past and we are far worse at predicting the future than we want to believe.
In the meantime it seems to me that the prevailing mindset of “collect anything, all you can, find correlations and thus new opportunities” is spreading like a bushfire in strong wind. ( i.e. the rapidly descending cost of data storage)
My main worry is that we’re letting new technology run away with us, instead of using it cleverly to create real improvements. The fire might over shout human vision and imagination as a source for ideas. I haven’t seen to many people being motivated or inspired by a plot of a strong correlation.
Could this focus all energy on the shorter term improvements and push long term vision out of sight?
This could lead to companies trying to steer on increasingly shorter term by analyzing more and more data, thus spiraling into increasing short term stress.
But, I might not have been looking in the right places, so let’s talk to some insiders to see where we stand in real life, before I turn too cynical.
Good news! It’s very reassuring to hear a well-respected, top CIO ensure me that the key requirement for any Big Date type initiative in his organization is end-customer benefit.
Better still, he agreed strongly that technology and human vision, creativity should work hand in hand.
What’s more: after years and years of process improvements, reorganizations and cost-cutting, this relatively new field supports further improvements. The advantages achieved that were mentioned to me are largely in the area of efficiency and effectiveness.
The cost of a marketing campaign decimated while the return is much better. Improving the service experience of the customer by continuous monitoring of his or her use of the product and then pro-actively arranging maintenance. That sort of thing.
6 Sigma and Lean had introduced data analysis as improvement tool to manufacturing and other processes, the next wave is in the area of marketing , sales and service. I worked on a green belt 6 Sigma project in the field of marketing and sales while at GE in the 1990’s, and experienced how difficult it was then to get sensible data. That’s completely changed. The down side might be for the marketeers: they were already struggling to get away from behind a screen, now the chance of meeting a real customer will be even further reduced. But that’s fine: no need to talk to customers anymore, the data tells you more about their needs than the customers know themselves…..
Concluding that there are plenty of process improvement and enhancement opportunities left, means that there seems to be no need to get panicky about data analysis setting our course completely. (For a while at least.)
However, not all worries have disappeared; in several companies I met a very limited number of specialists (with illusive descriptions like econometrists) determine how and where to search and what to look for. That’s a lot of responsibility concentrated in a small place. Especially so if the entire team consists solely of bright youngsters fresh out of university.
So, some obvious questions seem to arise; are the new searchers / analysts close enough to people with fresh ideas at multiple levels of the business to create a very fruitful cooperation?
Are we growing a new profession in the form of data analysts or will these tools soon be made usable for the people running and building their business? (In other words; will these specialist be able to make themselves redundant by developing tools so the rest of us can do the magic? Would you?)
Can big data and the subsequent analytics be a strong feeder of great vision? After all the latter is what inspires people and makes great, sustainable, companies and great products. I sincerely hope that the exiting new technical possibilities don’t make us lose sight of the role of our human vision.
Many, many hours of fruitless discussion, arguments or even internal warfare can be surpassed by visualising the internal tension.
In this case the one between commerce and delivery in a fast growing organisation.
Instantly recognisable, this caused a smile on many faces, breaking the tension and opening the path to fruitful cooperation. So, what’s the value of a spot on sketch?
Inspiration is the root of innovation. Most people associate innovation with something new, and rightfully so. Fortunately the elements that make up a new solution don’t need to be all new themselves. The essence is a new combination of existing elements.
A fresh look at things, an open mind, interest to look around and try new combinations; that’s a great way to be inspired and create solutions. The building blocks can be found everywhere. Example?
Recently I rediscovered George Bernard Shaw (1854 – 1950). General consultant to mankind.
His perspective is still fresh and his views inspire me.
Let me share some that I think are very useful for the issues we face:
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”.
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”.
“A man of great common sense and good taste – meaning thereby a man without originality or moral courage”.
“All great truths begin as blasphemies”.
“the reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself, therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.
“People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it”.
Hopefully they will also inspire you and many more people to create great solutions to the many issues we face in business, healthcare, the environment, and many more fields.
In my view it’s a great strategy for our part of the world, Europe, to focus on creativity and innovation. We have enough ingredients, let’s add some inspiration! Thanks, George.
To me the widespread belief in the Holy Grail of making money is one of the causes for many, if not all, critical issues we face. This single focus leads to behavior that fills the headlines today. That’s the tip of the iceberg, and bankers aren’t the only ones. The underlying human hunger for power and status are beyond reach for now, but maybe a view on the end game of the current global religion can help speed up change.
For all clarity; there’s nothing wrong with earning a decent living, but money should be the result of a valuable contribution made, not the main objective as such. Not if you aim for sustainability.
The attention for durability, customer happiness, stakeholders etc. is a good sign, but isn’t moving fast enough yet to counter the pace of the destruction of the environment or the rise of bonuses.
The key issue with this religion is it’s love for short term. It leaves no room for the long term vision and thinking that helps true innovation. If this path is continued, it could lead to the lonely manager begging for salvation at the same alter that caused his misery.
With this vision in mind it will be easier to recognize the signs. Then we move to the next step: a shared need for change. Once we have that the fun part starts: creating new options, for sustainable competitive advantage, happy customers that tell their friends to buy from you and profitable growth. I’m ready, how about you?
Deep domain knowledge is often appreciated and experts are easily labelled. That makes us feel comfortable. But does it help us solve the complex issues we face today, never mind tomorrow? It’s time to see the value that the generalist can bring; puttting the right elements together, combining the content of several boxes.
Thats why great orchestra’s have a conductor, and why creating an exciting future for you and your company can’t be done by number crunching and analysis only.
The warning lights are on for those willing to see. Look for the generalists in your organisation, or invite some if you can’t find them, and work together to find some blue sky. It might not be comfortable at first, but will turn out much better that you imagined. Give it a try!