Some years ago, I noticed whenever I spoke with innovators, founders and entrepreneurs about how they secured their breakthrough ideas, most of them didn’t get their ideas for a killer brand from some well-planned brain storming session, or years of lab innovations. They got them from seemingly insignificant behavioral observations they made while interacting with friends, family members or colleagues. These observations which, often when least expected, would reveal an unmet consumer need—and as a result become the foundation for the birth of an entirely new breakthrough brand.
It was a thought provoking insight. I mean, who would have thought that SnapChat, one of the fastest growing social media apps, was invented as a founder’s friend desperately tried to delete a message containing a photo of him smoking pot, leading to the creation of photos with a ultra-short lifespan. Back in the day, Post-it notes were invented as a priest dropped the bible on the ground, losing all his bookmarks and a failed insurance claim on a surfboard lead to the invention of GoPro cameras. All products driven by a multitude of coincidences. In reality, if you peel back the layers, most innovation is driven by coincidence, despite businesses’ reliance on data based observations.
A couple of years ago, you’d hardly be able to attend a single conference without hearing the term Big Data. As a result, you would not be able to attend a single board meeting without Big Data suddenly dominating the agenda. The idea was intriguing, that a black box of data would, almost magically, produce deep insight about humans, our deepest needs and even shed a light on potentially billion dollar innovation opportunities. Almost like a kid in a candy store, every CEO proclaimed: “I want one of those” and, with that, the world transformed towards Big Data.
But since the term Big Data was coined allegedly by John Mashey in the mid-1990 over a lunch-table at Silicon Graphics, there’s been little evidence that the bold hope of the ultimate crystal ball and dashboard into the consumer’s mind and future has never really materialized. Instead, more and more industry experts are concluding that Big Data has blinded businesses to believe that they have it all covered. In reality, slowly but surely, we are drifting away from the very source that has shaped the foundation of most major brands we know today.
"More and more industry experts are concluding that Big Data has blinded businesses to believe that they have it all covered."
The answer seems to be tiny, yet the impact huge—Small Data. Observations made in homes, in restaurants, in night clubs, in sports clubs, when driving or on the phone, these apparently insignificant details which, first seem completely irrelevant to dwell on, but once connected, create a bigger picture of opportunities never discovered before.
You could say where Big Data is all about correlation and Small Data is all about the causation. It’s the foundation that makes Big Data possible. How can anyone mine billions of pieces of information without starting with a hypothesis? Quite frankly, who should come up with such hypotheses, the data analysts locked into a clinically air-conditioned room or the real world?
The question is if you and your organization is prepared to notice and more importantly truly tap into these Small Data. It surrounds us every second but which also, as we’ve increasingly have become blind by billions of data points, become harder and harder to see and give them any significance.
I’m going to explore the value of Small Data further in a webinar with Andrew Reid, founder and president of corporate innovation at Vision Critical, on February 25 at 2 p.m. ET. Vision Critical is one of Canada’s fastest growing software companies, and has been working with "Little Data" for quite some time now. They truly understand the value of data, be it Big, Small or Little, and are forward thinkers in the application of information for business. I know that you will get a great deal of value from listening to the conversation between the two of us. Personally, I’m honored by the opportunity to engage in dialogue with Andrew.