Big data has the potential to make businesses go algorithmic—algorithmic as in no humans in the loop. As the computer says to its programmer in War Games, “How about a nice game of chess?"
Likewise, I should also note that big data is more about “data” than it is about “big.” It is more about mindset than merely skill. If I sound vague, try and use your computer just to compute and your smartphone just to phone. Do you see what I mean?
At its best, big data enables us to explore correlations among data and test them in a noncommittal fashion. We can discern what works and discard the rest. All too often, however, we begin to believe that big data magically enables us to predict the future. It doesn't.
There’s no magic involved, only a certain level of analytical sophistication required to properly use big data. And this fact creates risks, particularly with the use of big data within enterprises in which the entire chain of command has been selected for its ability in outdated methodologies.
This new tool requires new skills.
As data-driven decisions replace traditional "business sense" and "soft skills," everything that can be expressed in algorithmic form will be. An analytic mindset will be increasingly valued.
Developing a strategy will entail algorithm design as much as executive meetings. Businesses that ignore the benefits of big data will fall behind and, eventually, exit the market.
So how do we manage this transition? Managers and boards should start rewarding soft skills not as a substitute for, but as a complement to, a solid foundation of hard skills. Enterprises must look for more people persons with technical and analytics skills and develop soft skills among their technical, analytical staff.
Is this “Revenge of the Nerds”? No. The separation between analytical and relational, rational and emotional, and functional and aesthetic—the "two minds"—is outdated.
There is but one mind. There is but one world. And numbers are its language.
Data-driven business consultant
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