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VOL. 128 | NO. 165 | Friday, August 23, 2013
Graber Atkinson

Michael Graber & Jocelyn Atkinson

Drowning in Big Data

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“We have so much data but no answers.” This phrase echoes down the halls of all of the larger clients with whom we meet. In a quantitative world, where there is every dimension of research and analysis available, unreality multiples. The business world is drowning in data and, by the level of panic and anxiety, has lost its rudder.

The ability to have machines figure out existing systems, such as playing chess or optimizing a logistics supply chain, is a great boon to humanity – and it is the role of proper and attentive management.

But even the smartest predictive analytics cannot provide answers that move customers or consumers, nor can they re-imagine an industry, nor can they redesign a service experience. Yet, we expect Big Data to act like Santa Claus with a calculator, granting us every greedy wish we can conquer and to answer our unexplored and unmet needs as well.

We have entrusted the most ingenious and inventive humanity to a faster processor rather than to a mix of human intuition and creativity, tempered with reason and business savvy.

No machine can empathize with clients and prospects. For this obvious reason, human-centered design is the foremost competitive leverage any company can employ. A machine, at the end of the day, will work off the inputs you provide, whereas real people will convey depth, feeling, trust, preference and imagination.

If your company lacks the answers it needs, use big data quantitative modeling, which has its place at the table, but don’t expect any of the insights to tell you how to grow, how to innovate, and how to make critical new product decisions.

You can drown in the ocean of big data looking for such answers. These answers will not present themselves fully as the output of a machine. Employ people who know how to interpret data on behalf of your organization, and then talk with consumers about the trends you are discovering. Then, sketch new concepts, new products, new experiences.

In the wonderful, recursive, messiness of our humanity, there is an unlimited resource of creativity. Tap into it to spark something new to life.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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