Big Hype About Big Data

ImageA geography teacher once came into a class to teach his children with a huge map of the world. And right in front of the children, he tore the map into pieces and set it on the table. He then invited the class to piece the world together. The entire class to the exception of one, tried to piece it together through logic and chance. Yet they did not succeed for hours trying to figure the map by the knowledge of their geography or the references they could draw. However, this one student who stayed away from the melee was keenly observing the rest in action. At one point his eyes flickered in hope and he joined the rest of the class and asked them to just let him take a shot. The rest of the class that had been toiling for several hours jeered at him but nevertheless gave him the space perhaps out of fatigue or just at the opportunity to belittle someone else at their expense. You know they had seen adults do that – punish others to take away the focus of their own shortcomings!

What sparked his thinking and hope? He thought he recognized an image. So carefully, instead of piecing the map together, he started reversing the image of the map and started piecing together what he recognized better. From the pieces, he put together the image of Gandhi that was on the back of the map. And in the process, he recreated the world map.

Focus again on what I just said; “he thought he recognized an image” observing from afar but it could not have been a whole image. When he sought the permission of his classmates to try his hand, he did not claim to solve the problem. He first confirmed that the impression he formed was correct. He first saw the image of some eye glasses and this conjured the image of the Mahatma in his mind. The glasses Gandhi wore were very unique to his identity. Looking at just a fragment of the total image the student was able to form an impression of the whole image. However, he still had to piece together the image he had conjured by putting together the pieces of paper. This was however an easier task than the more difficult image of the world. Another mind that has trained on the image of the world map might just be able to look at the map and put it together as well.

ImageAll of us individually or collectively think in this manner because our brain stores signals and uses these signals every time to piece the information together such as the map. Cognitive signals are those that the brain stores and processes depending upon the learning of an individual or an organization. These individual signals are reproduced or pieced together as recognition when we want to understand a new dimension of the data, audio, video or image we are processing. The former is known in science as Cognitive Intelligence while the latter is known as just Intelligence. In the case of business we also know it as Business Intelligence or Analytics or Big Data.   

When science knows that intelligence is primarily based on asking the right question and the right question can only be asked by a human being whose brain stores the cognitive signals, why is there so much hype around Big Data that is essentially a glorified store and search operation? Why is there so little effort oriented towards creating Learning organizations that is fundamental to the success of the investments in Analytics and Big Data?

ImageLearning in organizations must promote abstract thinking to look the right way and ask the right questions of all the empirical and analytical data in order to derive intelligence. Such Learning will develop the right contexts for which the interpretations that we understand as intelligence will be relevant. I would hate to be slapped by Marisa Mayer when I refer to how great she looks; because mine is not a sexist comment but a grudging acknowledgment on the difference she brings into yahoo with her abstract thinking and perspectives! 

About Subbu Iyer

Subbu Iyer is an Innovation & Transformation Leader as with 28 years of serving customers globally. He is currently the Chief Designer & Transformer at Energizing Innovation, an enterprise that is being founded to facilitate continuous growth in enterprises and as a consequence create societal wealth. The Radical Shift that this enterprise intends to employ is focusing on the Potential rather than the Performance of a business. He has been a serial entrepreneur and an intrapreneur in his past life, having founded Nihilent Technologies and Nandaki Systems besides being associated in senior leadership roles with firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Cambridge Technology Partners, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Steria.
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One Response to Big Hype About Big Data

  1. My understanding of Big Data is simple: not every CIO/CTO/BI analyst is competent enough to analyze and understand all necessary forms of data – specially information “as it flows”. It helps to involve competent parties or otherwise analyze the same data in bulk at a later stage sometimes, where discernible trends can be derived and value extracted from data that had little or no meaning originally.

    If I take up an assignment as a CIO with an organization who doesn’t have this data available it reduces my on-hand data availability and increases the time-to-market for my ideas. Just as Distribution and Reach help me understand my customers/target market better, so big data (recorded before I came in) would allow me to refine relevant information flows and identify key areas of improvement more easily.

    Else I would simply need to identify relevant areas and capture (from scratch) the data – which takes time – that would help me create/incorporate my strategy in the scheme of things.

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