How they do that, you may ask. Now when I get on Facebook, I have ads from my favorite sporting goods store talking about promotions or sales going on. All of us know that databases are here to say, and they have become very smart about who we are and what we might buy, how we might vote, when our birthday is, and much more. Welcome to the world of “Big Data”. At its core, it involves a lot of information about people and things, and mathematical equations that can make all kinds of correlations, predictions, and observations about buying patterns.
The unique thing about using data for patterns is not the practice itself. The new thing is the ability for software, sensors, and data to see things no person would see at all, with more data than any single group of people could possibly digest. It has been one of the advantages of big companies, but is finally becoming common enough for small businesses to take advantage of. How did this come about?
First, there needed to be a giant nervous system all over the world (the Internet and it’s offshoots), a wireless capacity to receive this information from anywhere, all the time, and then sensors, databases, etc. (think the sensory system; the eyes, ears, nose, touch electronically delivered) to deliver mass quantities of data to one place to be run through complex mathematical code where does its magic and turn input into information.
“Market Research” of course is as old as the Bible, albeit in different forms. Paul’s famous quote from 1 Corinthians 9 to become like the Romans to win the Romans; the Greeks to win the Greeks, those without the law to win those without the law”, calls the followers of Jesus to interpret the community they find themselves in, before they create a strategy to reach those particular people. In Acts 17, we see the Holy Spirit take Paul on a guided tour to prepare him for the speech to the Epicureans and Stoics at the Areopagus, where some became Christians that day.
What becomes an interesting part of this trend is not the gathering of information (except privacy issues). It is in the interpretation that things become tricky and important. To take information (facts or ideas from the data) into insight (something that actually applies to our particular organization) is a complex process for most organizations. It is even a step further to create strategies that become predictive, actionable, or to be used in experiments for a company’s growth and penetration into the market. Some people call this noise (data) becoming sound (information) and then becoming music (insight) to the customer’s ears (strategy in action). This is where most Big Data stops today.
What is interesting, by way of comparison, is the brain’s incredible ability to go way beyond this. The sensory system does deliver data that the eyes, ears, nose, touch become electronic information to the brain. The brain, in turn, can turn this into insight and actionable information. However, what computers cannot do yet, is evaluate this action from a moral, emotional, situational, spiritual (meaning and purpose based upon beliefs), historical, and intuitive points of view that vet any action steps with a very complex set of interactions that makes us human and allows a totally different set of outcomes likely to be applied in any situation. The more data becomes a reality in all organizational contexts, the more these human capacities will need to be incorporated for organizations to be human-flourishing-centered.
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