Short, E. (2014), "Big data goes beyond social media – and the rules need to change for people and organizations", Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 28 No. 6. https://doi.org/10.1108/DLO-07-2014-0057Download as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Big data goes beyond social media – and the rules need to change for people and organizations
Article Type: Viewpoint From: Development and Learning in Organizations: An International Journal, Volume 28, Issue 6
Eddie Short is based at UK and EMA Leader for Data and Analytics, KPMG Management Consulting, London, UK.
Keywords: Development, Engagement and learning, Team development
Many people think of Big Data (BD) as information derived from social media and, in particular, Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. In reality, BD extends far wider than that – and historically much further back – to include huge numbers of linked devices gathering data from around the planet and beyond.
For most organizations, BD includes the “Internet of Things.” As well as the obvious, this includes a massive source of connected devices, including satellites, sensors, CCTV cameras, audio and video recording equipment, personal mobile devices, etc. Currently, there are an estimated 5 billion connected devices. This is set rise to 20 billion by 2020, with the potential to rise to 50 billion, all gathering and creating data.
All of this means that business is now able to tap into the “real” world of their customers, suppliers and competitors, often in real time. This, in turn, generates massive opportunities to customize products and services to meet the needs of customers and better integrate with suppliers for co-development and co-delivery.
BD and learning and development
An organization working effectively in a BD culture becomes a dynamic, innovating brand, or department, which will ultimately sell more, more profitably, or deliver more effective services.
But, for the global workforce to make the most of BD, a change in mindset is needed which, in reality, has to start much earlier than the day an employee joins their first company. BD has to fundamentally change the way people are educated from primary school onward. They have to be allowed to fail. Just as when children are learning to walk they should be allowed to fall, as with BD, people should be allowed to fail.
Current education, particularly in the West, works on the premise that failure is bad and bases learning on facts. But failure is the most human principle – we learn as much, if not more, from failure than success. Because of the volume, immediacy and, in many cases, personal nature of BD, it holds a mirror up to business and adult life and its learning is often counter to current education and training curricula and standard business practices.
Discovering “the truth”
In general terms, people are taught or trained to be factual, narrow and seek “The Truth.” However, with BD, business is no longer working with one version of “The Truth” and requires a different approach to gathering and filtering information. This, in turn, can impact on all aspects of personal and business development and even recruitment strategies.
Data analysts, financial specialists and other functions which often take the lead in determining business strategy have generally had a mathematical or statistical focus. Now BD has introduced a need for higher emotional intelligence (EQ) levels; a greater balance of “left and right brain” function. People in these positions have often been described as having one primary skill and sometimes a strong secondary capability. Now, businesses are seeking “M-shaped” individuals who have a range of skills, and are able to view the organization and its customers and suppliers from a range of perspectives, helped by BD.
These are skills that can be learned. The information gleaned from BD can be transformed into invaluable business knowledge providing an analytical approach is moved from a structured, root-cause-based methodology – based on decision trees and rules – to a more probability-oriented approach.
In the past, answers to strategic business questions have been reasoned by starting with a single figure or “truth” and moving the decimal point by three places to arrive at an approximation. BD changes that methodology to an approach where Bayesian Algorithms are used to start with a hypothesis and improve it by adding data. The end result is an answer that delivers 80 per cent probability rather than 100 per cent certainty because, despite everything we are taught about finding the “right” answer, nothing in life is certain except death and taxes – and even the latter changes regularly these days.
Learn to fail
All of which leads to the premise that businesses have to allow their employees to fail. To succeed, companies need to enable their employees to test, experiment with and interpret BD to gain genuine business knowledge and understanding – often in “real time” – without a fear of penalties if an approach does not work.
In reality, individuals and organizations learn a lot more when they have pushed the envelope to the point of getting it wrong. Without this approach, Neil Armstrong would not have walked on the Moon.
Yet, a probability-based learning approach still presents, for many organizations, a dramatic and fundamental change in mindset. Business structures continue to be based on performance management frameworks where failure is not an option, or where the solution is to provide work-arounds to avoid the appearance of failure. Total Quality Management, for example, is based on the principle of “right first time, every time.” In reality, as clearly shown by BD, it is highly unlikely that this can be achieved. However, it is also essential to avoid paralysis by analysis, so there is a need for development approaches to emphasize that in the world of BD, the only wrong answer is to do nothing.
Performance managers need to be trained to design systems and processes that accept failure as part of the development process but which build in early warning systems that can identify when things are starting to go wrong. These are processes which encourage a culture of experimentation using data to support it.
In the age of BD, education from the earliest years to retirement and beyond has to make it acceptable to fail provided safety-nets are in place to catch people when they do.
The ideal employee of the future will combine logic, creativity, instinct and experience – a powerful package for any organization. Equally importantly, BD is set to play a significant role in helping to support their decisions.
This is a means of quantifying uncertainty based on probability theory.
Eddie Short can be contacted at: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org