Posts Tagged "small data"

on Mar 4, 2014 in Blog

Not all that long ago, there were 3 places you could go for coffee in my town: a popular independent coffee shop, with somewhat variable service, near the town centre supermarket a chain coffee shop, normally full to gills with mums and toddlers and a café bar (over 21s only) with wifi. In the past year or so, there’s been an explosion of new coffee shops. Alongside the familiar coffee chains and supermarket coffee shops that have moved in, there are a whole host of new independents. We’ve got coffee/delis, coffee ‘and something to go with it’ cafés, and a pop-up coffee shop, which has now popped along to the pub up the road. So, what’s going on here? Is this sudden surge of coffee shops catering for a hopelessly caffeine-addicted local population? Possibly. But, if so, it’s not unique. My (un)scientific research on this topic – chatting to people I know – has revealed that many other small towns are also experiencing a flood of new coffee shops. Changing communities Perhaps what we’re seeing here is an indicator of socio-economic system change. Towns like mine are changing from retail hubs into social hubs, so people go there to meet/eat/drink. Hence there are more food and drink outlets. And, since coffee is a high-margin, high-consumption product with a decent shelf life – we shouldn’t be surprised at the proliferation of coffee shops in that mix. Coffee shops offer us a chance to connect with people. But, that normally means connecting with people you already know. So, while connecting over coffee may energise existing connections, it may not do as much as we’d like to create new communities. Creating new communities Network theory gives us some language to explain what’s going on in a coffee shop and how we might create new, thriving communities. [ALERT: If ‘theory’ isn’t for you, and you want to go straight to the practical bit, then just scroll down – and find out how Randomised Coffee Trials are helping create communities in big organisations] In a coffee shop, we see lots of small groups (2, 3, 4 people) chatting to friends around a table. But we rarely see much interaction between people on different tables....

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on Oct 16, 2013 in Blog

 A Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog entitled The Embarrassment of Complexity concludes that we need to: “Draw on the faculty of human judgment to focus on the smaller picture in order to comprehend the larger one” But why, at a time that Big Data grabs so many headlines, should we focus on small data? Well, for several reasons, small turns out to be really interesting: As people interact over time, small differences between them can create novel patterns across organisations, industries and communities. And these can never be predicted in advance. In a similar vein, who’d have thought that flocking starlings could resemble a whale chasing a dolphin across the sky? Small events can have large consequences, known as the Butterfly Effect. Anyone remember the throwaway comment which led to the demise of Gerald Ratner’s business empire? Outliers – small numbers of odd, unexpected, unusual things, cannot safely be ignored. They deserve our attention. We can ask ‘why are they there?’ and ‘what do they mean?’, just as Malcolm Gladwell, or Sir Alex Ferguson have done. Small things can serve as weak signals – giving us early warning signs of emerging problems and opportunities. In 2008/9 we found it hard to believe that more questions hadn’t been asked about bankers’ bonuses. So big data is big, but it’s the computer analytics that help us to see patterns in that data, which are clever. The danger here is that we’re always using our old ways of thinking to make sense. So we may well miss small data and weak signals which are potentially frame changing – heralding completely new patterns that we may never have seen before. The clever thing about small data is how it can signal new opportunities and emerging problems. If we notice and interpret that data, then we can choose how we respond much sooner – helping us to capitalise on emerging opportunities and head off emerging problems It’s here, in noticing and interpreting small data, that we need to cast off our reliance on data crunching machines and start using and honing our very human skills of perception and judgement. So that’s why I agree with HBR that using human judgement to focus on the smaller picture in order...

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