What Big Data, what information dominance?

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A new adage is blowing around in the world of innovation. According to Wikipedia, The term “big data” often refers simply to the use of predictive analytics, user behavior analytics, or certain other advanced data analytics methods that extract value from data, and seldom to a particular size of data set. Analysis of data sets can find new correlations to “spot business trends, prevent diseases, combat crime and so on”.
It is reminiscent of an early US Navy doctrine, as a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the essence of teachings in a given branch of knowledge or belief system. As such, it is a thinking pattern, in which is stated that “information superiority permits the conduct of operations without effective opposition”.
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However, in an electronic war game back in 2002 one aircraft carrier, ten cruisers and five out of six amphibious ships were sent to the bottom of the Persian Gulf in the span of just one hour, resulting in the virtual death of over 20.000 US service personnel.

It was the result of an asymmetric strategy by the opponent forces.

Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, adopted an asymmetric strategy, in particular, using old methods to evade Blue’s sophisticated electronic surveillance network. Van Riper used motorcycle messengers to transmit orders to front-line troops and World-War-II-style light signals to launch airplanes without radio communications.
Red received an ultimatum from Blue, essentially a surrender document, demanding a response within 24 hours. Thus warned of Blue’s approach, Red used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of Blue’s fleet by the second day of the exercise. In a preemptive strike, Red launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles that overwhelmed the Blue forces’ electronic sensors and destroyed sixteen warships (Wikipedia)It is the same kind of bold thinking we noticed in our blog Thinking outside the SeaMap:  “doing different things” or “escaping the temptation to do more-of-the-same but only better”.

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Military strategists distinguish between symmetric and asymmetric warfare. Symmetric warfare is characterized by standing armies that follows more or less the same tactics and organized in the same way. Their standard mode of operation can be traced back to Napoleonic Warfare.

Guerrilla warfare is an escape from fighting according to the rules imposed by the often far more powerful opponent. Therefore, this strategy is often applied by less powerful opponents. The most famous form is guerrilla warfare, next to terrorism.

Asymmetric competitor strategies could be an effective approach in business. Basically, it is not playing the game similar to the other companies, that is selling and marketing the same products as competitors but cheaper and better. It is about disruptive innovation, changing the rules in the market, by delivering a complete different product than you competitor does. It is all about gaining competitive advantage by creating an unique niche in the market. Playing another race at a different circuit.

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There is much more to say about the embarrassing destruction of the mighty US Navy, as the over reliance on technological superiority and information dominance. It’s all about big organizations and the neglect of intuition about the intentions and capabilities of the competitor.
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Asymmetry

There is much more to say about the embarrassing destruction of the mighty US Navy, as the over reliance on technological superiority and information dominance. Also, the neglect of intuition about the intentions and capabilities of the enemy.

Disclaimer: Now you have heard  about the advantage of disruptive innovation or step-out innovation and decide that your organization should do “some of that.” But most organizations are designed to do something else very well. Namely, what they are already doing. You may have a brilliant vision, you may have identified the next great idea, but organizational routines, standard Key Performance Indicators and existing organizational structures will prevent proper execution: The company will will continue to do what they are already doing succesfully: ” a tiny bit better and a tiny bit cheaper?” See “Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate” by Maxell Wessel.

See also the video: Disruptive Innovation Explained by Clay Christensen.

Framing = To Lure into Deception

In this Thinkibility Boost we will explore the relation between thinking and framing.

In visual arts and particularly cinematography, framing is the presentation of the visual element in an image, especially the placement of the subject in relation to other objects.

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Framing can make an image more aesthetically pleasing and keep the viewer’s focus on the framed object(s).

Something similar happens with mass communication. In essence, framing theory suggests that how something is presented to the audience (called “the frame”) influences the choices people make about how to process that information. The basis of framing theory is that the media focuses attention on certain events and then places them within a field of meaning.  Framing involves social construction of a social phenomenon – by mass media sources, political or social movements, political leaders, or other actors and organizations.

Framing is in many ways tied very closely to Agenda Setting theory. Both focus on how media draws the public’s eye to specific topics – in this way they set the agenda. But Framing takes this a step further in the way in which the news is presented creates a frame for that information.

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Political Framing

This is usually a conscious choice by journalists – in this case, a frame refers to the way media as gatekeepers organize and present the ideas, events, and topics they cover.

Most of the time framing is a technique used by politicians or their advisers to favor a wished representation of the facts, usually when things went wrong.

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Political Spinning

This is called spinning. The main objective is to lure the public into  believing propaganda. A standard approach used in “spinning” is to reframe, reposition, or otherwise modify the perception of an issue or event, to reduce any negative impact it might have on public opinion.

Spinning might be discovered by misleading or false

  • Metaphors: To give an idea or program a new meaning by comparing it to something else. See for an analysis of political metaphor here.
  • Stories (myths and legends): To frame a subject by an anecdote in a vivid and memorable way. For an introductory text, see story telling in politics.
  • Traditions (rites, rituals and ceremonies): To pattern and define an organization at regular time increments to confirm and reproduce organizational values.
  • Slogans, jargon and catchphrases: To frame a subject in a memorable and familiar fashion. Here a list of political sloganscatch phrases, buzzwords and jargon.
  • Artifacts: To illuminate corporate values through physical vestiges (sometimes in a way language cannot). Look here for 25 Amazing Political Artifacts From the New-York Historical Society
  • Contrasts: To describe a subject in terms of what it is not. For an introduction read Contrast in Presentations Creates Contour

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Cold Cases –

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What could we learn from solved cold cases? What has caused that the case is solved after years of investigations without results? What were the reasons that a solution was waiting for discovery, but never did? Solved cold cases are illustrative for how we think wrongly.

In September 1961, 25-year-old Lucy Johnson, mother of one, was at her home in Surrey, British Colombia. She was not seen the next day. Or the next. Or for the next 52 years.
For one reason or another, Lucy was not reported missing until four years later. Obviously, this raised questions, and suspicion fell on her husband Marvin. Police even dug up the husband’s backyard in search of a body, but they found nothing. Decades passed, Marvin died, and there seemed no hope of solving the case.

 

According to Wikipedia, a cold case is a crime or an accident that has not yet been fully solved and is not the subject of a recent criminal investigation, but for which new information could emerge from new witness testimony, re-examined archives, new or retained material evidence, as well as fresh activities of the suspect.

However, it is not always new and fresh information that helps to solve the case, but new perceptions. Even new information tends to be interpreted in old perceptions. Information is not perception.

Lucy’s daughter Linda, a small child at the time of her mother’s vanishing posted ads in newspapers and other media outlets in search of clues. Then in 2013, she received a phone call. The woman on the other end of the line claimed to be Linda’s stepsister, whom she’d never known existed. The woman said their mother Lucy was alive and well, living with a whole new family in the Yukon.

 

Sometimes a viable suspect has been overlooked or simply ignored due to then-flimsy circumstantial evidence, the presence of a likelier suspect (who is later proven to be innocent), or a tendency of investigators to zoom in on someone else to the exclusion of other possibilities (which goes back to the likelier suspect angle)—known as “tunnel vision”

However unbelievable the claim sounded, Linda followed up it. Sure enough, her mother was not the victim of foul play as suspected. She’d simply fled to another life. Marvin had abused her, claimed Lucy, and when she’d tried to leave with her daughter, he’d stopped her. So she just took off on her own.

 

In our view, solved cold cases are excellent vehicles to study thinking methods, as what students and scientists are supposed to do at the  Thinkibility University. At its East Wing they are excellent in Reverse Engineering of Thinking Strategies we wrote earlier about.

When Linda visited the caller to check whether the woman in question was indeed her Laura, she recognized her mother immediately.

 

The people working there are not trained as criminal investigators but will use systematic and deliberate creative thinking techniques. Not only to improve forensic investigations but improving thinking methods in general. For scientific research as well for daily practical thinking.

As you might notice in the following mind map, little attention is given to the role of perception in this example of a  Crime Scene Investigator Job Description:

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The following books could be good starting points to be studied by the East Wing:

Solving cold cases happen when limiting thoughts and behaviors are challenged.

But how to challenge “limiting thoughts and behaviours”?

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More, More Information, Yes, Sure, But Relevant?

In this blog post, as you can see in the upper left hand corner, we will focus on the quality of information, an essentially white hat thinking activity. Quality of information as a distinctive focus area or Area of Improvement (API) could be vital for many information intensive enterprises, but also for any other thinking situation, such as drafting a plan, preparing a decision, exploring a situation.

We will take you along the mindmap below to explain this – clockwise. A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. A mind map is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the center of a blank landscape page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those.

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Look at the top and right hand corner of the mindmap: In most thinking situations there is a need for information from outside the standard pattern of logic and perception. We have to look for unexpected information. In order to do that, we should enlarge our perception of the situation, looking for more aspects in the situation, to diversify our thinking. CoRT-tools like the PMI, CAF or C&S are excellent tools to stretch our perception space around a situation in the mind map upper right hand corner. Especially helpful is to actively look for actors which could be involved or would affected.

Center right of the mind map: It makes a difference if information is needed or is given. Given information tends to be egocentric. Ego-centrism is characterised by preoccupation with one’s own internal world. Egocentrics regard themselves and their own opinions or interests as being the most important or valid. To them, self-relevant information is seen to be more important in shaping one’s judgments than are thoughts about others and other-relevant information. Nevertheless, given information can be very convincing and one can easily be lured in a narrow defined thought path. Also, information could be left out information, deliberately or by accident, Hence, it is very useful to do some perception widening thinking before  looking at the information available, before you get locked in the thinking pattern of the information given.

Right hand corner: Doing some preliminary perception thinking is even important when there is a need for information. Many people, when confronted with a problem, begin a broad search for information. They assume that enlarging the information space inevitable will lead to uncovering the information needed to solve the problem. By doing so, a lot of information waste is generated

At the bottom of the mind map: A far more better approach was suggested in our blog post Cassandra Information. There is a distinction between available information and relevant information.

  • Available information but not relevant could be left out. It is egocentric information from the sender of the information;
  • Unavailable information and also not relevant can be completely ignored;
  • Available information and relevant is Ebne: Excellent but not enough. This is information that belongs to standard thinking, unchallenged;
  • Relevant information but not available is Cassandra information. It is information that is left out by the information provider, but still relevant. The task is to design a strategy to obtain this hidden information.

It is a good habit to assume that any piece of  information that we have is biased. Especially, as we earlier showed in our post Press Patterns, information from the Main Stream Media: those media that disseminate information via the largest distribution channels, which therefore represent what the majority of media consumers are likely to encounter. The term also denotes those media generally reflective of the prevailing currents of thought, influence, or activity.

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Key Performance (mis) Indicators

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Key Performance Indicators are meant to keep an organisation on track. By measuring the performance over time, you are able to look at deviations and to take measures. As Wikipedia defines it: A  key performance indicator (KPI) is a type of performance measurement. An organization may use KPIs to evaluate its success, or to evaluate the success of a particular activity in which it is engaged. Sometimes success is defined in terms of making progress toward strategic goals, but often success is simply the repeated, periodic achievement of some level of operational goal (e.g. zero defects, 10/10 customer satisfaction, etc.).

The concept behind Key Performance Indicators is to build a feedback loop between input and output. Its working principle does not differ from a thermostat, which senses the temperature of a system so that the system’s temperature is maintained near a desired set-point.

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In order to get not market driven organisations more efficient the adage “The numbers tell the tale”has become fashion among governments, institutions and not-for-profit companies. There are several metrics or key performance indicators.

However, Key Performance Indicators can also lead to perverse incentives and unintended consequences as a result of employees working to the specific measurements at the expense of the actual quality or value of their work. In the social sciencesunintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action. Perverse incentives are a type of unintended consequence. A perverse incentive is an incentive that has an unintended and undesirable result which is contrary to the interests of the incentive makers.

There are a lot of examples of bad designed Key Performance Indicators. We came across, but not exhaustive:

  • Police officers get a predetermined quota of fines to give out. The unintended effect of this KPI that the police organisation will be focused on easy to obtain files, f.i. traffic fines instead of fighting serious crime;
  • An organisation involved in handling objections has a KPI for the amount of rejected complaints. Imagine how employees will approach complaints. . .
  • It is generally accepted that the progress of students is evaluated by tests. However, student tests assess only a small part of needed knowledge, skills and attitude of students. Also, often the purpose of the test, timely warning of learning difficulties and study delays, dilutes to “a (missed) ticket to the next hurdle”;
  • An agency of child protection is responsible for placing abused or emotional neglected children in foster parents and child care institutions. It is very logic to design a KPI: like the number of placed children. If this performance is coupled to the financing of the agency, it can easily lead  to placing children out of their home, against sound indications that there is no need for or against parents objections;
  • It is complete reasonable to expect higher efficiency and experience of surgeons as a hospital performs at least 30 knee surgery or angioplasty a year. However, such a KPI can lead to more instead of less knee surgery and angioplasty, an example of a perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (an intended solution makes a problem worse);
  •  The selling of mortgages as an end in itself, even to people who could no pay the interest, led to the bank crisis in 2008. Another example of a negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy to motivate sellers to do better their best.
  • To increase the efficiency of university studies universities are judged on the number of successful students per year. It is now tempting to reduce the requirements for passing exams.
  • In order to increase the efficiency of General Practitioners many assurance companies allow for not more than ten minutes consults by patients. This KPI leads to far more referrals to medical specialists because GP’s have not much time to carefully investigate the medical complaints. This is an example of a counterproductive KPI: it is more of an “obstacle” than a help in the achieving of a productive project or an objective;
  • Crews of warships run annual series of nautical and operational exercises. Through a complex multi-factor analysis, a KPI is derived: Operational Employ-ability. Members of Parliaments asked questions when the KPI decreased to 10%, as a warship was actually deployed in a crisis;
  • Notorious are budgets: the setting of expenditure levels for each of an organization’s functions. It expresses strategic plans of business units, organizations, activities or events in measurable terms. However, such budget tends to be exhausted at the end of the year, because organizational units realise that they will be shortened in budget for next year, because last year they needed not the full budget. So, as an example, in many towns you can observe that every five to ten years the same streets and squares are completely overhauled without any need but in order to use the full budget.

Many Key Performance Indicators have unintended effects. They function as rules for behavior. Key performance Indicators are designed to notice need for adjustments of the course of an organisation. However, more often than not, they are invitations to cheat, by employees but equally by companies and institutions,  especially when financial consequences are attached to the KPI.

Whenever designing or encountering a Key Performance Indication, be warned!

 

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For more examples of perverse incentives, see here. For examples of unintended consequences see here.

To built up your Thinkibility skills, imagine your are the director of a hospice. You have set a thinking task: how to improve the occupancy (KPI) of the hospice. Then check your answers with How Dying Became A Multibillion-Dollar Industry.

 

 

Creative Data Collection

Data collection is the process of gathering and  measuring variables of interest, in an established systematic fashion that enables you to answer stated research questions, test hypotheses, and evaluate outcomes. The goal for all data collection is to capture quality evidence that then translates to rich data analysis and allows the building of a convincing and credible answers to questions that have been posed.

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However, many research and policy are based on already available information that do  not necessarily fit to the issue or question. For instance, the average income of residents in a district is estimated at the average market value of homes. Suppose there are some big villas in a district. However,  the houses are rented to migrant workers who sleep with twelve persons in a room. Actually, the district has poor inhabitants and impoverishment is lurking. A better measure of prosperity in a district could be the amount of call shops, Travelex foreign exchange bureaus or percentage windows with bed sheets as curtains or without curtains at all. 

Perhaps we could use data of the local supermarkets to assess the risk of impoverish of a district, not only by sales volume, but also the kind of products consumers buy. Income groups differ in the food they buy. Supermarkets may have more or less variety in products they offer, regarding the population.

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This could lead to a Reverse Open Data movement, where businesses make their data available for town halls to design social and economic policies. Open Data is a movement that  open data should enable third parties to leverage the potential of government data through the development of applications and services that address public and private demands. This information exchange could be made two-sided.

Perhaps we could measure the level of civilization of a nation by registering the percentage of cars that don’t stop for a pedestrian at a pedestrian crossing (a zebra crossing).

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Another example is the Big Mac Index, a creative alternative to determine exchange rates, the rate at which one currency will be exchanged for another. It is based on the concept that a Big Mac is highly standardized all over the world. The difference in selling price in country A compared with the selling price of a Big Mac in country B gives a better idea of the value of the two currencies relative to each other.

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Maybe we can say something about the tendency to conformity by counting people who wear clothes of a specific brand. Or determine the percentage women that is involved in street sweeping.

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It’s hard to get solid data on drug usage, because it’s traditionally gathered via questionnaires. Respondents can fudge the answers or forget details. Drug users also sometimes don’t know what they are really taking or whether other drugs are mixed in. However, the laboratory analysis of waste water has the potential to get more accurate results more quickly, as a recent study showed that cities’ sewer water exposes use of cocaine, cannabis, meth and ecstasy.

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It is interesting to roam in a town and create some mini theories that explain what is observed, compared with another town. For instance:

  • There are substantially more gulls and open torn garbage bags ;
  • Advertising is everywhere and very blatant;
  • There is a lot of green space and many squares;
  • All doors and window frames are painted in the same color;
  • There are many pizzerias.

What does it mean? Or what does it explain? Can you quantify the phenomena and turn them into meaningful data?

 

Too Logical or Too Illogical

It is tempting to look at thinking as an all-or-none phenomenon – we are too logical or too illogical, calm and calculated or whimsical dreamers. But what annoys you the most – logical or illogical people?

Are you a logical or illogical thinker? Or maybe it is easier to shift the focus away from people and think about some situations where you have encountered logical and illogical thinking.

Too Logical or Too Illogical

To explore our own assumptions about thinking, let us stop for a moment and reflect on some of the following questions and statements.

  • Illogical thinking is more common than logical thinking.
  • Are you happy when you see the logic within a suggestion?
  • Is there a link between logical thinking and scientific thinking?
  • Is creative thinking the same as illogical thinking?
  • Can thinking be too logical?
  • Is confusion the opposite of clear thinking?
  • Do you have the right level of logical skills?
  • Illogical people are intentionally ignorant.
  • Illogical thinking and emotional thinking is the same thing.
  • Logical thinkers are calm and calculated.
  • Illogical thinkers get excited and too carried away with their ideas.
  • How do you react when someone says something illogical?

Evaluating Information and Thoughts  

Our daily life is filled with challenges where we constantly evaluate information as well as our own thoughts. A common way to assess situations is to use a critical approach to thinking, which is often linked to logic. An essential feature of a logical approach is that relationship between facts and the chain of reasoning needs to make sense. A search for truth is carried out and a decision is made regarding the practical level of truth.

A critical approach to thinking means to think through a situation about what to believe or how to act.  It can be involved in different situations such as improving an artistic performance, or deciding how to act in a social situation.  Often it may be difficult to decide an appropriate action where the situation is problematic and complex. Critical thinking skills are also used to see if further truths can be obtained from the “true” statement. This approach to thinking could be compared to walking down the stairs in a careful manner.  We consider each step so that the goal can be reached without making any mistakes on the way.

This thinking skill is often considered as a personal characteristic: the ultimate goal and purpose of education, particularly higher education, has been to gain critical thinking skills. Perfecting the skill to use the critical thinking framework is regarded as a life-long learning process, where exposure to certain problems is a necessary part of learning. A wide range of intellectual criteria is included in critical thinking such as credibility, accuracy, precision, and relevance. Logic plays an important role in critical thinking and logical analysis helps us to judge almost any situation based on a careful examination of the situation.

In logic, there is a movement from the present position to a new position by using the available information to draw a conclusion. Information is fitted into existing patterns and it rarely aims to form a new pattern. It is an independent, questioning style of thinking, where we do not accept everything that is presented to us. We analyse the underlying argument to decide if something is true.

The opposite of critical thinking is thinking that reaches a conclusion at face value without assessing the basis for the suggestion. In uncritical thinking, almost all decisions and judgements spring from assumptions – the thinking process lacks questioning and reflection. Is the conclusion fair to everyone? Is it possible to carry out the proposal? What will happen if the idea is carried out? Signs of lack of a critical approach to thinking are that we blindly accept justifications given by others. We trust political propaganda or TV commercials, we may also believe stories and information reported in newspapers, books or on the Internet without questioning the motives behind the message.  Yet a critical approach is not negative rather it is a positive process with the explicit goal to put things in a more realistic perspective.

Photo: “Ice Cubes” by Salvatore Vuono