For me, one of the interesting things about going to Davos is that I was able to get out of the Big Data bubble. In this bubble, everyone believes in the value of data and the inevitability of every company becoming a data driven enterprise. (Of course, Davos provides an entirely different bubble — a story for a different blog.) The event gathered an incredible cross section of people, from artists to public officials to young leaders to Global 2000 CEOs to the leaders of NGOs, from pretty much every part of the world. With that lens, you get a pretty diverse set of viewpoints.
Given the four sessions that I participated in, three that I observed, and another 75 or so conversations, here’s what I surmised about how the rest of the world views Big Data.
An INSANE Amount of Interest in Data
With such a diverse gathering, you would expect some people to either be unfamiliar with data or at least uninterested. While the conference attracts people who are naturally very curious, almost every person that I spoke with either wanted to do more with data or was already doing a lot with it in their own profession.
It feels like data is no longer a fad, but a minimum qualification. Everyone wanted to be more data literate. In some sense, people seem to have bought in to the trend – and now they’re worried about how to contend with it.
Data vs. Intuition: Which to Choose?
This theme came up over and over again. Rupert Duchense, the CEO of Aimea, hosted a lunch that was devoted to the topic. Similarly, I heard a CEO of a company with massive amounts of data say that he needed to stop his people from using data. My assumption, though I’d have to validate it, is that he was saying that people would look at data instead of trying to truly understand the customer or the problem at hand. Often, they try to optimize or incrementally improve instead of reinventing.
One CEO extended this concept by introducing the concept of “warm data” and personalization. He argued that he’d rather send a customer one email that was accurate instead of 1,000 that contained irrelevant offers. Basically, he was saying that data could be useful, but only if it was correct.
Data is an Asset . . . Maybe. Maybe not.
In one session, one very thoughtful venture capitalist made the argument that “Data is an asset and it has option value.” He referenced startups that proactively invest in gathering data; he argued that companies should start storing data for the problems that it might address in the future. Many of the readers of this article would share this perspective. There’s also an entire branch of economics devoted to this idea.
You would think that people would be vigorously nodding their heads. They were not. It’s not that they did not believe in the value of data — they clearly viewed data as a means for solving a problem. However, when I spoke casually with many leaders, they said they didn’t have time for projects that would not solve some problem. They wanted to start with a problem and then fund a project to solve the problem. If data was the answer, great. If not, oh well.