Data’ism

data'ismA new word turned up in my weekly read of random pages. David Brooks wrote in the NY Times about “The Philosophy of Data“. Instead of the buzz word “Big Data” he used “Data’ism”.

“We now have the ability to gather huge amounts of data. This ability seems to carry with it certain cultural assumptions — that everything that can be measured should be measured; that data is a transparent and reliable lens that allows us to filter out emotionalism and ideology; that data will help us do remarkable things — like foretell the future.”

David continues using statistical methods to dissect common beliefs and stochastic principals to prove a point. Essentially he plays with this scenario:

When you throw a dice often enough every one of the 6 sides will be equally often on top. If one side is trailing, one can assume that statistically it’s more likely this one comes up next.  However, every single throw in itself has no knowledge of the previous ones. Hence there is no difference in likelihood for the trailing side coming up top compared to all others.

So, why bother? What’s the point of spending millions on advertisement when it has no lasting effect? John Sides looked at that in his December post “Were Obama’s Early Ads Really A Game Changer“. Interestingly he noted that not the amount of ads were of import but their placement at the right time.

“As I noted earlier, an advertising advantage — if it is substantial enough and close to the election — can sway votes.”

“But the political science research and this initial evidence from 2012 suggests that the Obama campaign’s blitz of early advertising did little apparent damage to Mr. Romney in the minds of voters.”

From a leadership viewpoint this is very important. You never have enough resources, you always have challenges and challengers, and you always face change management obstacles. Be aware where and when you spend your energy. An early win can bite back when you don’t have the resources to back it up. On the flip side you cannot drift through the early stages of a project, messing up the start will mean you face an uphill battle all the way.

That’s were historic data can help you. Look at successful projects in your organisation and talk to the people involved. That will help you identifying the obstacles worth fighting for and those you can ignore.

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