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

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