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.

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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Group Obedience

Have you ever stopped yourself from speaking up at a meeting because you felt that the idea or suggestion would not be appreciated or ridiculed? Groupthink is a phenomenon where the desire for group cohesiveness and a quick decision cloud the judgment of the people in the group. The decision taken is often less than ideal. Consequently, identifying warning signs of groupthink is vital. 

images (1)Bay of Pigs was a plan that many knew in advance would fail. Yet the American President J.F. Kennedy went ahead with the plans to try to invade Cuba despite the fact that several of the general knew that the plan would backfire.

Another example is the Challenger explosion, which was a disaster that occurred in 1986 where seven people died. Engineers of the space shuttle knew about some faulty parts months before takeoff, yet the signs were ignored to avoid negative press and the shuttle was launched. 

imagesFeelings of unanimity and morality within the group lead to the members thinking that everyone agrees. Members of the group may be afraid of controversy and there may be a pressure to conform to the group’s decision. In some cases, there is a pressure to make a quick decision and the group may work with incomplete information. This may result in an idea that is not balanced. Or it may result in a family going to Abilene despite the fact that no one wants to go. ScreenShot2012-01-27at115851AM

The Abilene Paradox was coined by Jerry B. Harvey, and author of “The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management”. 

There are a number of ways to avoid groupthink such as finding negative points and risks with an idea (see Thinkibility – Positive & Negative). Asking members outside the group to look at the idea is another way to reduce the effects of groupthink. 

Learning how to spot groupthink is vital. Signs of groupthink are a strong leader, high level of group cohesion and pressure from the outside to make a good decision.

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Pressure of a moral character is difficult to deal with. For example, the suggestion that an idea is better because it is more moral is challenging and difficult to resist since no one wants to be seen as less moral or immoral. Suggestions such as “We all know right from wrong, and this is right” are emotionally difficult to deal with. 

A company should have a Plan B or a contingency plan to minimise risks related to groupthinkThe emotional consequences of groupthink can leave many of the members feeling disillusioned and dissatisfied. Enthusiasm can fade if you feel that you do not support a decision that has been taken by the group.  

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Creating a healthy group working environment helps to ensure that the group makes good decisions. Nominal Group Technique focuses on members independently  nominating priority issues, on a scale of, for example, 1 to 5.

 

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Another method that could be used is the Delphi method. This method helps to structure the communication to ensure that consensus is achieved. Thus these methods try to prevent and minimise the impact of Groupthink.

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It is called Delphi because some researchers assumed that the forecasts by the priests of the Delphi oracle basically were compilations of information the visitors from all over the known world brought in themselves.

Basically, it is not the best strategy to strive for consensus, but for dissent.

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So encourage disagreement, difference of opinion, argument, dispute, disapproval, objection and protest over constructing consent and majority rule.

See also our earlier posts:

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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?

 

Thinking Patterns in Science

Some time ago Robert Sheldrake  suggested ten dogmas of modern science. In a TEDx presentation he argued that science,  by using a rigorous method, has become a belief system that has become the default in the scientific community and this system is based on reductionism and  mechanical philosophy. This idea caused an uproar in the scientific community and – ironically – also the watchers of the YouTube channel “Ideas Worth Spreading”.

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As followers of Thinkibility already know, the more controversal a topic is, the more interesting. Sheldrake had apparently broken a pattern of thinking or challenged a common pattern and this was followed, as it always does,  by anger and attack. Below are the ten assumptions Sheldrake suggested in his talk.

  1. Nature acts like a machine, relations between phenomena are mechanical
  2. Nature does not have consciousness
  3. The laws of nature do not change
  4. The total mass and energy is constant
  5. Nature does not have a purpose
  6. Inherited biological properties are material
  7. Memories are stored inside the brain
  8. The mind is inside the brain
  9. Thinking do not have physical effects
  10. Only mechanistic drugs work

You may or may not agree these assumptions, but that is not the point to be taken here, in our point of view. We belief that putting these assumption in a True either/or Untrue box is a  premature approach. Of course, we could use these assumptions as preliminary hypotheses to work with, yet it is wise to acknowledge your assumptions and not regarding them as dogmas. Instead of that we could better, or even must, regard them as possibilities and triggers to question: “What if?”.

Also, as Kant argued, it is not sufficient that hypothesis are positive confirmed by experiments. Kant recommended that we should  indicate under which conditions a hypothesis would be wrong. A hypothesis is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive an observation or an argument which proves the statement in question to be false. Could we?

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Challenging the dominant thinking patterns in science could led to a paradigm shift as Thomas Kuhn described in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A paradigm shift is a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science. It is in contrast to the idea of normal or generally accepted science.

Beside our considerations above, it would be an excellent exercise in Thinkibility to think up a compelling science fiction story by challenging the standard beliefs of science.

What if ?

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We have written about standard patterns and possible escapes from them in the following blogposts:

World’s Most Interesting Reversals (2) – Thinkibility Boost

As a follow-up of an earlier post about Reversals, we present here some more examples. A Reversal reverses the usual sequence or direction of doing something. For instance: Normally a product is delivered after the customer places the order. A Reversal could be that the customer places the order after the product is delivered. What ideas may come out of this turn? Also this time, some examples we derived from This Explains Everything, a 150 of the most surprising stories and brilliant theories of the way our minds, societies and universe work.

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 A good and fast way to crank out some new ideas is to reverse them.

Reversals are also known as Assumptions Reversals. It is a powerful thinking strategy that could lead to some interesting ideas and new concepts because they provoke the conventional way of thinking and challenges generally accepted wisdom. Out of an excessive interest we have collected some most stunning examples.

  • In many conversations it is conveniently assumed that a company, the government or another institution is one and the same actor, and it’s actions are interpreted as that from a real human who behaves rationally. That is to say, the actor examines a set of goals, evaluates them according to their utility, then picks the one that has the highest “payoff.” 

A Reversal could be that behavior of organisations could be interpreted as a result of negotiating processes between parts of an organization (“Governmental Politics“) or as standardized and automatic outcomes of Organizational Procedures and/or routines.

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  • Normally, companies pay for advertisements directed on broad defined target groups in advance and regardless weather they are read or not.

GoogleAds has this reversed. A company pays only for an advertisement if it is actually read by a prospective client. Many new business models are based on Reversals. One such a Reversal is that the receiver of the product/service don’t pay for it, but that it is paid for by a third party.

  • Many people believe that higher education of the population, science and availability of medical services are responsible for lower infant mortality and longer life.

It is not. Safe drinking water and sewage treatment plants have been instrumental in improving health.

  • Heliocentrism – the astronomical model in which the Earth and planets revolve around a relatively stationary Sun at the center of the Solar System- is the Reversal of the Geocentrism -a description of the cosmos where Earth is at the orbital center of all celestial bodies.
  • Before 1982, conventional thinking was that no bacterium can live in the human stomach, as the stomach produced extensive amounts of acid of a strength similar to the acid found in a car battery.

Marshall and Warren rewrote the textbooks with reference to what causes gastritis and gastric ulcers: a bacterium with affinity for acidic environments: the Helicobacter pylori. In hindsight, it is amazing that already in 1875 it is hypothesized that ulcers are caused by bacteria. The timeline of the discovery illustrates how much effort it takes to become mainstream knowledge,

A Reversal is that cities are the primary drivers of economic development, as Jane Jacobs has put forward,

  • In psychoanalysis conflicts between conscious and unconscious, or repressed, material can materialize in the form of mental or emotional disturbances, for example: neurosis, neurotic traits, anxiety, depression etc. Solving repressed conflicts by talking and freely associating would lead to reduced symptoms of emotional disturbance.

However, Aaron Beck reversed this approach by hypothesizing that different disorders were associated with different types of distorted thinking. By helping patients identify and evaluate these thoughts, patients were able to think more realistically, which led them to feel better emotionally and behave more functionally. This Reversal initiated Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. He began helping patients identify and evaluate these thoughts and found that by doing so, patients were able to think more realistically, which led them to feel better emotionally and behave more functionally.

  • Ha-Joon Chang suggests in 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism twenty-three Reversals of theories and empirical facts that are accepted by most professionals that cloud our financial institutions like “there is no such thing as a free market”, “we do not live in a post-industrial age”, “Africa is not destined for underdevelopment”, “despite the fall of communism, we are still living in planned economies” and “More education in itself is not going to make a country richer“.

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The future is often a reverse of the assumptions of the present.