From number of words, pictures and videos to Facebook posts this info-graphic captures how big data actually is. Keep in mind as you look at these numbers this is not just every day –it's every minute of every day. That's a lot of data.
Enter the need for someone to make sense of it all. Harvard Business Review says data scientist will be the sexiest job of the 21st century. Move over dragon tattoo, make way for the Yoda tat.
Technology really is changing everything. But it's also changing nothing.
We've long been classifying, slicing and dicing, creating cohorts, tribes and segments of people or behavior. The difference is the sheer amount of information the big data scientist is wrangling.
|The act of compiling data points blurs the image of the individual|
Just as technology is fueling big data it's also making it easier to get to know individual people and the quirks and the power of their stories. We used to have to travel around the country getting to know people (usually in groups of strangers because that's the most efficient way to maximize travel) by cramming every reasonable (and unreasonable) question into a two-hour block of time. It works surprisingly well, though there's never time to go beyond the headlines. We almost never get to the human stories and that's a shame because stories are what captivate, motivate and truly inform us.
Again I say, technology is changing everything and nothing.
Just as technology is enabling us to find patterns in huge amounts of data it's also making it easier to get to know the twists and turns of an individual journey. Over the last two years almost every research exploration I've done was conducted virtually. The amazing thing? Without ever meeting them in person I got to know people better than I've been able to in the past. By using a mix of creative assignments and Skype interviews I've gotten past the headlines and into the stories. I've gotten past the last purchase and to the holistic journey.
I recently completed a project for a car maker exploring what causes and erodes loyalty. Because technology enabled me to connect with owners of this brand over the period of a month I was able to explore the topic from a variety of angles and to dive deep enough to understand it as an evolving state, not a static one. Throughout the project, and even once it was complete, I got emails from owners telling me things I didn't ask but they knew I'd want to know. The result was an amazingly deep dive into what really fosters loyalty (by the way, it bears little resemblance to how companies try to create it).
Beyond their stories are the delightful quirks and unique motives that make people more than data. Here are a few of my favorites from the past few years:
- Jennifer's dog sits on her lap as we chat over Skype. She is not able to say the word "I" without brushing her cheek against the dogs' head as she says it.
- Shari drinks tea in her cozy-chair and coffee in her SUV. The two can never be flip-flopped so even though she really needed coffee to perk her up when we talked she made due with tea.
- Catrina only displays her wealth in her home because she loves her job as a teacher in a poor community far more than anything money could buy. She explains that she doesn't want to separate herself from her students and that's why she has two sets of brands that she buys.
- William measures all new technology against how he feels about his favorite technology –LED's. He has a six-point mental checklist to compare all new technologies against.
- James thinks a steak, when he manages to cook it perfectly, is the closest thing to freedom he's ever felt. He takes us back to his image of the wild west to explain. He hasn't mastered freedom yet but he's not giving up.
- Jeff is not nearly as afraid of computer hackers as he is of running shorts. He can tell endless stories of how a company can be taken down by a pair of running shorts.
- Eduardo tries to choose brands that remind him of eating an ice cream cone. He challenges me to lick an ice cream cone and try not to smile. He wants everything he buys to give him this smile.
- Josh's new car looks exactly like his previous car because his neighbor lost his job.
- Shelly has mastered the art of making the perfect sandwich. She runs to the fridge so she can show me the one she's made for her lunch tomorrow. I now completely understand why she refuses to eat lunch out at restaurants.
- Parissa comes alive when I ask about the photographs on the wall behind her. It turns out these photos are from a trip to Africa that has changed how she views everything –including her choice of products.
- Trisha's three year old climbs into her lap while we're talking and hugs her. This prompts Trish to say: everything I just told you is rationally true but really, this is why I made that choice.
It seems to me that no matter how much technology changes it always comes back to connection, understanding, and stories. Always stories.