Things I Learned from the Big Data Book

Things I Learned from the Big Data Book



I recently read Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think.  This very quick read gives some great insights into the how and why of using data to shape decision making.  The book is loaded with interesting and fun research that will keep you turning the pages.  There’s a link at the bottom of this post to grab the book on Amazon.

Correlation is more important than — or is a higher priority than — causation.

One quote in the book is that the 1920s discovery of quantum mechanics shattered forever the dream of comprehensive and perfect measurement.  Give up on perfect and make use of the imperfect.  If we can draw conclusions from the data we’ve gathered in volume, then we can proceed to solution, sometimes skipping the discovery of cause, or allowing us to circle back to it for a richer investigation.

Play with algorithms

Google translate took bunch of messy data and used it to feed an algorithm with great success.  In this case, they made use of data that people had taken the time to make more perfect – painstakingly-translated minutes from international discussions – and created an algorithm that could repeat the process.  You don’t have to be a data scientist to learn from that idea.  Use available resources and make an elegant solution.

More data points make it possible to spot useful knowledge that isn’t possible with smaller data sets

At high volume the infinite details are less important. The book gives an example of Facebook posts.  When someone posts something 11 minutes ago, the facebook feed will say “posted 11 minutes ago.”  But when it was posted 2 hours and 11 minutes ago, they abbreviate the wording to say “posted 2 hours ago.”  At this distance, the extra minutes aren’t important.  This is a great lesson for us when we are working with data and preparing it to be read by other poeple.

Place your business in the middle of information flow.

As data importance increases, so will price.  If you’re dealing in data, your business is better off if it’s at the source of the data.

Maintain Perspective

Don’t let the data become the crutch without which your business is unable to function.  Let data enhance the decisions you make instead of relying helplessly upon the data.  Smart organizations are run by people, not data.

Re-evaluate your system constantly

You probably already do this, but it needs to be said.  Go back, review your solution, and make it better.  Keep analyzing without end.


Links are provided for the convenience of the reader.

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think
by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier

Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath


I spend a LOT of time in the car.  One way I’ve found of converting the uselessness of sitting in a car into somewhat less useless time is to listen to audio books.

The most recent read has been a book called Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. I got so much out of it I have actually gone back and begun to read it a second time and take more notes. This one introduces a lot of nifty ideas about how to initiate change in many different aspects of life, giving real-world no-nonsense examples. Good read.

Stop Belittling Change

Change happens all the time.  Unfortunately many people are resistant to change.  In Switch the authors present a few simple strategies to help guide people through change in a successful way, from simple business goals to protecting the survival of a species.

My biggest takeaway from this book was to stop trying to reduce change to something insignificant, and instead to embrace that it’s a big deal for people.  Such a big deal, in fact, that Change is likened to getting a person riding an elephant to change directions.  While not discussed such terms in the book, I think to take this view is as compassionate as it is strategic.  Once on board with the idea that — yes — change is a big deal for people.  How would we handle a big problem.  That requires a different approach altogether.

Get The People On Board

Step one is getting people to understand that this is the way we want to go.  If a guy doesn’t really see any value in changing direction, what are you going to do?  I mean, he’s riding an elephant after all.  Get this part wrong and you’ll be a squishy spot on the pavement.  People need to understand what we’re doing, why it matters, and how it will make life better.  Even then they may not like it but if they can agree that it is the right thing to do you’re headed on your way.

Change The Vision

The next step involves demonstrating the value of the change in a desirable way.  The authors call this Motivating the Elephant.  In other words, giving the elephant a reason to want to go the direction the rider is telling it to go.  This might mean changing opinion of a brand, making the change smaller or more incremental, or investing time and effort into maturing people around the change to the point they can accept it.  Once you’ve modified general opinion of the change, and made the change as palatable to the masses as possible, an often overlooked fact is that some people need special attention to mature to the point they can move in the new direction.

Make Change Suck Less

The final step toward success centers around making the change easier to achieve.  In most areas there’s a place and time when each person has to make a decision between two or more options, where one of those options reflects the change you’re trying to achieve, and the others do not.  If you can help people more easily and naturally make the right decision on their own at that specific point, the change becomes a success and everyone wins.

Let’s say you’re in a factory where people are injuring themselves on a piece of equipment.  You could simply give them instructions on how to operate it safely, but that’s not as good as making it nearly impossible to operate the machinery unsafely.  For example, perhaps the machine won’t turn on as long as people are nearby, or until everyone is wearing proper safety gear.  In nearly every case there is a way to make the right choice easier, and the wrong choice less prominent.

This book makes a lot of sense, and although very simple to understand takes real practice and savvy to follow.  I believe this is one book that will help you flip the switch for positive results.


Switch, By Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Amazon)


The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Books, Products I Love

Worthy of Repeating

I wrote in a recent post about how some of the concepts mentioned in this book, combined with lessons learned from great mentors through life, have shown me how to stop dreaming and really reach goals, one step at a time. If you haven’t already ready it, I encourage you to take a look at that post also.

Build Your Own Roadmap

This book is really a fast, easy read, and is really down-to-earth common sense stuff.  While I was reading this book I could hardly wait to finish it and get started putting the ideas into practice.  Some of the themes in the book you’ve heard before.  Does “starting with the end in mind” sound familiar?  But the way it’s presented in this book just makes it all click.

Additional Tools

The book doesn’t stop there.  On you’ll find great resources like a helpful blog, web communities, and podcast episodes featuring interviews with dynamic leadership speakers who have experienced The One Thing firsthand.  Also of great use is the web app, which you can use from your computer or smartphone to help you stay focused on your goals and report to your accountability partners.

I think you’ll really get a lot out of this read.  It’s worth the price and is one you’ll want to share with friends.

Go Get It

The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan



Ways To Help Employees To Act More Like Owners

Ways To Help Employees To Act More Like Owners

Books, Self-help

Recently in our organization we’ve been looking into ways to operate more effectively in all areas, and one of the ideas is to get each individual contributor empowered and enabled to make good decisions and act on them without needing to wait for approval any more than absolutely necessary.  To simplify this is what we’re working on:

  • Train individuals on what matters and how to make decisions toward those ends
  • Give individuals authority to decide and act according to their training
  • Teach individuals to understand their responsibilities
  • Train individuals to be accountable to expected outcomes
  • Create a culture of peer accountability

We have all been reading and researching and absorbing information in pursuit of how to succeed in these goals, and along the way been able to take in some REALLY great tips from thought leaders in many industries.  I feel guilty highlighting only three books in this post, because there are volumes and volumes of great points made in many great publications that I’ve read over the last couple of years.  With that said, there are three books that I think really do a great job of describing the type of culture we’re looking for and explaining how to cultivate it. I will list them here, in what I believe is the Chronological sequence that helps them all make the most sense.  Here’s a hint: I read them in the wrong order at first, then went back and read them again in the right order and got much more out of them all.

Turn the Ship Around

turn-the-ship-aroundTurn the Ship Around by David Marquet recently made the rounds in our office.  This is a book that I think our president had read some time ago but either had mentioned not, or had mentioned only in passing, or had mentioned directly but without my noticing.  All are possible as sometimes I seem to live in my own world… Regardless, I didn’t notice it until it was mentioned in one of the other books on this list.  In this book we learn about the ways in which a “normal” organization adhering to the expected ways of doing things can breed a group of employees who really don’t give a rip about the work they’re doing.

In this case even a group of people trained to defend freedom in far-flung parts of the world against some of the world’s most hostile foes lost sight of the importance of their purpose in a mess of confusing and ineffective policies.  One guy stepped in with the courage to try a different approach and got startlingly successful results by trusting in the character and potential of the people on his team, patience and support to guide them through change, and the constitution to defend the change he believed would make a difference.

The reward was in the results.  This is book helps leaders understand that people are capable of much more than they are often given credit for, and the promise of greatness if we will harness this potential.

Start With Why

start-with-whyStart With Why by Simon Sinek helps us understand the differences between people who get the core of their purpose and those who simply show up — and the associated results.  In this book, Sinek drives through example after example demonstrating what is possible when individuals have a clear vision of their desired outcomes.  Those who understand and believe in the common goal or cause will always  outperform and surpass the success of those who simply follow the guidelines and procedures set out for them.

The first time I read this I hadn’t yet read Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around, and as a result I found it tedious and boring.  I read this book after seeing a video of Sinek speaking at a conference of Managed IT service professionals and having been impressed by his presentation.  I actually got bored pretty early on and moved on to other reading about halfway through.  It wasn’t until after I had read Turn the Ship Around that I had any desire to go back to this book, and when I did it finally made sense.


Leaders Eat Last

leaders-eat-lastIn Leaders Eat Last, Sinek dives into the physiological reasons for doing the things we do.  Building on this the book takes us through how we can use an understanding of what motivates us to drive greater outcomes.  Having a great support structure within our organizations and among our peers, and trusting that support structure gives individuals the confidence to take the (calculated) risks necessary to take things to the next level — to succeed in new ways that never would have been possible before.

As with the others, I read this at the wrong time — at time when I really couldn’t appreciate the content in the way it was intended. It was after reading Turn the Ship Around and then Start With Why, and only then did this book really click with me in a way that made any difference in my daily work.



The Real Learning Experience

The last and possibly the most interesting thing that I learned from these three books is that just reading any one of them — or even the three of them together — in itself didn’t really amount any real learning or change. Leaders Eat Last was utterly useless until I had thought about the “why” of our organization.  And Start With Why wasn’t beneficial to me until I was intrigued by the possibilities asserted in Turn the Ship Around.

My recommendation is to read them all, in this order, and to not stop there.  Once you’ve got an idea on what you want from your culture and what it can do for your organization, it needs to be applied to your specific strategic goals and tactical action plans. If you’ve built your organization for success, this will help build a culture to get you there.  Without a great plan, your culture is just a bunch of people working beautifully together at all the wrong things.  This little study gave me a greater appreciation for the visionaries who came before me, the current leaders of my organization, and my peers who are working to create the environments described in these books.


Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by David Marquet

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t  by Simon Sinek

Great By Choice by Jim Collins

Great By Choice by Jim Collins

Books, Self-help, Technology

Winner. Good book. Worth reading more than once. Listened to it on audiobook last year and am reading back through it again now in electronic print on my Kindle app. Couple of notes on the format: I normally choose print versus audio, because it sinks in better and is easier to reference at a later time. One exception is Jim Collins. He reads his own books and does so with enthusiasm and energy that makes the book anything but dull. Collins is a safe bet in audio.

Collins goes through some down-to-earth truths about breaking through from normal to extraordinary, such as:

  • Plan meticulously.  Plan for even worse than the worst.
  • Repeat your daily must-dos with religious fervor
  • Taking risks the careful way

This is book is a fresh batch of research presented in the traditional Jim Collins voice, and is well worth a the read.