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Don’t be data driven

Data is information in the rearview mirror. We talk about being data driven as if that is the answer to this question; “What should we do next?”.

Let’s be perfectly honest. There is no greater computing system than our brains. Period! All the data in the world simply gives us context to make a decision.  It frames what might be ahead of us based on what’s happened in the past.  Defining significance in terms of sigma (σ), what level of trust do you have that you picked correctly? 1 in 100,000?  1 in 1 million.  Statistics always matter to the 1.

What makes us so unique? Initiative.

in·i·ti·a·tive [ih-nish-ee-uh-tiv, ih-nish-uh-]

  1. an introductory act or step; leading action: to take the initiative in making friends.
    1. readiness and ability in initiating action; enterprise: to lack initiative.
    2. one’s personal, responsible decision: to act on one’s own initiative.

Computers simply lack initiative.  Self generating biological initiative.  One might argue, we will get there in 2036 +/-  as Ray Kurzweil says, or we might prevent it for our own paranoia.  But, without it, no greater data processing engine exists than our own brains.  And there is the rub – even our brains need data to process.  That is not the issue I am raising.  The issue is being driven by the data that I argue is bad.

Check out this list of that demonstrates you can make bad choices with your ever powerful data driven brain.

“Pseudo data-driven CEOs and mistakes they make in taking on big data” – Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business and Schussel Family Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, recently published a piece

Are You Making a Mistake with Your Data-Driven Marketing? – “The intensity and availability of data only stands to increase. In a recent study, 78 percent of marketers reported feeling pressure to become more data-driven*. Although this is an admirable goal, there are consequences to becoming too data-driven.”

JC Penney’s data-driven mistake and what we can learn from it – “Recently ousted CEO Ron Johnson of JC Penney cited all kinds of detailed data to justify major reorganization for the company in 2012, and then made fundamental alterations based on it.”

And the list goes on.  Worse yet, in some ways this says that pressure to conform can in fact lead you to faulty outcomes.  The pressure to conform can make others create bad data to start with.

The WEAKEST link is discounting your brain and it’s initiative to create new models.  While based on real “data” or “experience”, your brain has the unique and powerful ability to model possibilities and outcomes faster than the best computers made.  Put simply.  Trust your hunch from the data, not the other way around.

“Google also used to be famous for posing impossibly difficult and punishing brain teasers during interviews. Things like “If the probability of observing a car in 30 minutes on a highway is 0.95, what is the probability of observing a car in 10 minutes (assuming constant default probability)?”

Turns out those questions are”a complete waste of time,” according to Bock. “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

Google also used to be famous for posing impossibly difficult and punishing brain teasers during interviews. Things like “If the probability of observing a car in 30 minutes on a highway is 0.95, what is the probability of observing a car in 10 minutes (assuming constant default probability)?”

Turns out those questions are”a complete waste of time,” according to Bock. “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”   Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-google-hires-people-2013-6#ixzz30TzfEFKa”

Data forms a basis for us to make choices, change behavior, improve mechanical and sometimes psychological defects, but it can equally lead us to ruin.  Being data driven is an excuse to cover up and avoid blame.  It’s a shield we use knowing our brains are not perfect.  But that disables what is greatest about us.  The initiative to innovate.

I will only be impressed with artificial intelligence when a computer invents a better computer and presents it to the human race. – Stephen Pieraldi

So what now?  Put “data” in it’s place and start thinking for yourself.  Be data respectful, not driven.  Garbage in, Garbage out.  Unless you know the entire chain of custody for the data you are working with, use your initiative to balance it with real cognition and let your brain work.  Remember this when thinking about basing all your choices on old data and using it to justify your actions.

Note this interesting data point on maintaining slavery:

“Defenders of slavery argued that slavery had existed throughout history and was the natural state of mankind. The Greeks had slaves, the Romans had slaves, and the English had slavery until very recently.

Defenders of slavery noted that in the Bible, Abraham had slaves. They point to the Ten Commandments, noting that “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, … nor his manservant, nor his maidservant.” In the New Testament, Paul returned a runaway slave, Philemon, to his master, and, although slavery was widespread throughout the Roman world, Jesus never spoke out against it.”

Being data driven can make a slave of us all if left unchecked.

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