What’s Wrong with Big Data?

We know that the whole world led by tech sector is surfing the Big Data wave. Billions of bytes of data is being collected, cleaned up, indexed and mined by the time I will finish this sentence. According to Wikipedia, as of 2012, roughly 2.5 exabytes (2.5×1018 bytes) of data is getting collecting every day. The promises of mining that data range from cloud intelligence health care to driverless automobiles.

What could possibly be wrong with Big Data anyway?

There is nothing inherently wrong. But there are two problems I can point out.

  1. Big Data is too big. It is incomprehensible. Big Data remains infertile unless you can redact Big Data to Small Data, which can be summarized, visualized and put to use. Right there is the metaphorical big elephant of our Big Data living room. How do we handle that complexity? Google, Facebook and other tech giants are already scratching their corporate heads to unscramble this puzzle. Doable, but expensive and often could be erratic.
  2. secondly Big Data convinces us that we all can become mini-statisticians. “Show me the data” is the new mantra. We often mistake correlation to causation. With Big Data, this tendency can get even more accentuated.

There are plenty of avenues for making use of “small data” available to us. One of them is our on personal data. What do we eat, how much we exercise, what are our biometric readings etc. Data collection is going to be easier than ever with the emergence of wearable technology. If we could collect our own personal data and dive a little deeper, we can derive intelligence about ourselves and it can have a positive impact to our lives. On a personal level, it is more worthier a quest than crunching mega-billion abstract data points.

A big shout out to all those Life Logging ninjas! And to the good folks at Quantified Self.

Highlighting for Evernote is here!

I don’t know about you, but if there was a single feature that I always wanted in Evernote, it was text highlighting. I use Evernote for quite a lot of offline reading blogs and other articles. I wished if I could grab a virtual highlighter to mark what is important and worth remembering. This was the single most feature request, users were fighting for, if you happened to be around Evernote blog. Finally it is here. At least I have it in my Mac version.

evernote-highlight

Click on the pen icon and start marking your stuff.

Thanks Evernote! You guys rock!

Two Steps to Survive a World of Humanoids

If you belong to the age group of 5 to 50, please listen up. At some point in our lives, you and I may be victims of the ruthless march of automation. On a positive note, futurists are predicting that manufacturing will see a revival soon. But most probably a robot – a Baxter variant (http://www.cnbc.com/id/49344701) with a price tag of $25,000 will be doing the work that humans were happily doing earlier. Generally speaking, a job once claimed by a robot is never going to be returned to humans. A robot doesn’t have to look like a humanoid, but a banal command line program that is silently crunching data also is equally consequential to our lives. In an ensuing “battle” of man (and woman) vs. machine, men and women are poised to lose. Big time.

honda-robot

Honda robot Asimo

Don’t get me wrong, I love to work on automation projects. I hate as much as anyone else to work on monotonous tasks day in and day out. Moreover, when I take on automating a mundane manual process, I too feel proud to see the end-product running like an automaton with tremendous speed and splendor, which a 1000 humans can’t match. Such is the power and proficiency of automation.

Automation increases productivity, produces extra wealth and creates comfort for a section of the populace. It also creates new opportunities and new ways of doing the work. The problem with automation is that it disrupts the economy by changing the way things are produced and people have been served. More often than not, the disruption means displacing the current workforce, which couldn’t adapt to the new environment. Since the changes happen in tremendous pace, for an average Joe, it is nearly impossible to keep up. It unsettles the status quo.

It bothers me personally. The disruptions and displacements, which automation would bring to our lives are not going to be always pleasant. Without exception, each one of us is vulnerable to this new reality. The impact of automation is all-pervasive and has been proceeding with such an amazing pace and vigor. All professions are vulnerable. There are no fences to run into. There are no trenches to hide.

I think the only option is to adopt an embrace and outrun strategy to survive the automation tsunami.

1. Embrace automation

If you can’t beat it, champion it. Be the forerunner of process automation. This will help us to be leading the automation efforts. If we could be agents of disruption ourselves, we could become less fearful. If a machine can do something as good as a human can, simply go ahead and automate it. If you refused to do it, someone else is going to do it anyway. In the process, it will take you down along with it. Ouch!!

2. Refuse to be a humanoid
If a machine can’t do a job as good as a human can, make sure that you opt that as your specialty. Be the best at doing it. Bring in the high game of doing that job with an ultimate human face. This is the battleground that we can confront and beat the machine with a single stroke.

If you look around, you may be able to see many people act like machines, when they have a choice to be otherwise. Do not blame me, if this reminds you of your recent visit to the doctor’s office or an encounter with an airline worker. Anyone who is reading out from a script, will be outrun by a machine, some day. It’s coming.

If we walk, talk and act like a robot, the profit engine will soon find a better performing Mechanical Turk. We have only one choice: leave the things that machines can do the best, to the machines and the rest to the humanity. Migrate to the new realms of work, where we can do a completely human job, that a machine can’t even “dream” of getting into.

Machines are marching forward for their ultimate world domination. Fight back like a human! Remember: machines by themselves are impotent. But when man’s greed joins hands with mighty machines, nothing can stop them!

Photo by Honda News

Two da Vincian Methods for the Rest of Us

If there was one polymath who would trump all the others by leaps and bounds, that would be Leonardo da Vinci. He has an almost mythical stature among thinkers, philosophers and artists. His brilliance spanned arts, science, engineering and literature.

If you look around at aisles of Barnes and Noble, you would find dozens of books dedicated to help us think creatively. Many of them revere da Vinci as an ideal model that every aspiring creative could adopt ideas from. Among them, “How to think like Leonardo da Vinci” (Michael J. Gelb) is of course a notable one. I too found this book helpful, though the title was misleading. Thinking like da Vinci requires his brilliance that spanned many, many disciplines. That is a tall order to ask for. At least from the vast majority of people.

Two da Vincian Methods for the Rest of Us

1. Collect

While creative excellence is not something we all are born equally with, there are methods and procedures, which we can adopt from the life of da Vinci, that will increase our odds of hitting the creativity jackpot. One such method is following da Vinci’s note-taking methodology, which is simple, yet crude and unorganized. All we have to do is to create a system to capture all our thoughts and ideas and drop them all in one single area. What tool do we use doesn’t really count. The choice of whether it is electronic, physical or something in between doesn’t really matter as much as the act of capturing consistently. The power and potential lie in the process of bringing in disparate and discrete information from different time spans into one breeding ground. News clippings, doodles, jottings, sound clips – whatever. If we are clipping from a web site, getting a small clipping is far more useful than taking the entire web page itself. It will be immensely helpful if we annotate every clip that we bring into this breeding ground. The world that we inhabit doesn’t have scarcity of information. What is in short supply, though, is the intelligent deciphering of the vast ocean of information. Making sense of information and bringing in our own perspective into it are what make us even more creative. When you are capturing ideas, resist every urge to organize them. Ditch the folders – totally. Be happy capturing.

2. Review

What I just described above is only the first step, which is note-taking. The other essential piece of the puzzle is to review them frequently. New thoughts and ideas will occasionally sprout. Capture them as well. If anything sounds valuable, pick it up and expand. Sometimes old ideas serendipitously will join forces with new ideas. Eventually, our mind will get trained to tune in for the footsteps of such epiphanies. In the whole process, just remind ourselves once in a while that this is more of journey than a destination. Enjoy it and make it a life long habit.

New ideas are created when we think about what is possible beyond the edges of current possibilities. Steven Johnson, in his famous book, “Where Good Ideas Come From“, explains this concept as “Adjacent Possible“. It seems that we will find our creative grounds in finding our “adjacent possibles”.

Here is a valuable lesson, which I learned from Seth Godin‘s “Linchpin“. From our school age, we have been always told to “think out of the box”. I think that is an unproductive cliche. Outside of the boxes are arid and empty. Creativity, innovation and potentiality exist along the edges.

Au revoir, Productivity Tools!

In an industrialized society, increasing productivity is the holy grail for business and personnel success. It is no surprise that the productivity tool-making business has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. From office productivity software to web 2.0 gizmos and Moleskine pads to iPads, the choices to improve productivity are almost unlimited. We have countless books, blogs and systems committed to improve our productivity. Self-help industry thrives in our relentless appetite for enhancing productivity.

Photos by kowitz

An obvious question is, over these years, are we becoming more productive because of these tools? Or are we producing more inspite of them?

I bet many tools hamper the very productivity that they proclaim to improve. The beauty and elegance of sophisticated tools constantly present us with eye candies and dopamine feedback that we eventually get obsessed with our tools rather than the task at hand. We forget that getting tools is not exactly the same as getting things done. Instead of focusing on doing things, we tend to spend time on constantly organizing and re-organizing our train of thoughts on how and when to do our projects. We forget that the tools are merely the means. Checking off todo lists from a fancy tool reward us with a false sense of accomplishment.

I think the key to accomplishing more is to use the simplest possible productivity tool and let go of the tool itself after the purpose has been served. Want to list down your tasks? Go for a dinner napkin, a worn out index card or a used-up train ticket. The sheer fragility and simplicity of these tools undock our minds to reach up and accomplish more. It may even help us innovate more often, once we break free from a predefined work flow path laid out by “productivity” tools.

Au revoir,  productivité tools!

Happiness at Work?

These days, I have been reading The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achors. It is an incredibly well written and well researched book with a touch of humor wherever is possible. One important thing he points out is that the happiness is not a static state but largely a variable of our attitudes. I have been wondering how do we determine if our work is really not fulfilling or if our attitude needs an adjustment towards positivism?

At what point, one can say that the problem is out there, not in our minds? What do you think?

New Operating System to keep you moving

Daniel Pink is one of my favorite authors. His previous book “A Whole New Mind” was an interesting read with it’s simplicity of presentation and clarity of thought. When the new book named Drive came out I was eager to take a dip into it. I was delighted when he was one of the key note speakers at one of the recent Sungard customer conferences. My delight was less than perfect as I was not attending it and Sungard was not giving away the book for free! You bet, that is why we have to defend our public libraries in these difficult times. Luckily for me, I found a fairly new copy at our library.

As was with his previous book, Drive is remarkable with it’s simple yet powerful message and it’s clarity. He urges business leaders, teachers and parents to jump start the new operating system for motivating minds and hearts of employees, students and lil’ ones. One that is standing firmly on intrinsic motivation as opposed to an external / extrinsic one. He questions the validity of using monetary means to motivate people. once baseline is set to take concern of money has been taken out of the equation, he argues, humans tend to find meaning and purpose in their lives.

Whether you agree with him or not, he presents his case with solid evidence from contemporary science and research. Worth a good read, highly recommended.