Politics, Policy & Media it's all connected.

Leadership in a BIG data world


Data isn’t the goal

With our obsession with data, we forget that knowledge is a means to an end. Ultimately, if we are to influence the behaviour of others, we need to move their hearts and minds. Economic and political choices are not always made for rational or logical reasons. Learning about other people should allow us to make better decisions in terms of how we can serve them.

Data simply tells us what emotional triggers the audience is most receptive to.  Shouldn’t we be glad that those gathering and using the data know more about us? If not why not?

The fear that we see arising from big data being used is a fear of untrustworthy politicians and organisations – and perhaps ourselves. The problem is that we believe that the information will not be used to serve us better but instead to manipulate us; to distort reality in order to serve the agenda of those who possess the data.

There is may also be fear by those who have the data. They also fear data because of what it tells them. It tells leaders they are not trusted or past their sell-by date, or it may tell organisations that their value propositions are broken.

Leadership in a data-driven world

Recent data breaches could suggest that those who had a sufficient number of data points could have easily manipulated the thought process of the general population. Is this something new? Prior to the BIG data madness and social media world, marketers manipulated human minds with seductive messaging. Who made us believe that Marlyn Monroe was a great actress? Or that John F. Kennedy was an extraordinary leader?

How many times have political leaders have changed their policies and their outlook by looking at polling data? The traditional research model has worked for communication specialists, political strategists alike. Knowing what other people think of you helps — knowing what they want from you is also great! But someone has to step up and change their behaviours to provide what people want. Merely looking at data points doesn’t give you the ability to win hearts.

Look at the number of insights a regular person gives out to the world. People are celebrating their birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and even sharing grief; some are even expressing their love for their partners on social media! Data will tell you that  X wished Y on the 10th of April for their wedding anniversary. So they are married! Two names are available and they have kids too! Data is in your face but data will not tell you whether than they are truly happy in their marriage.

Robert Greene, in the Art of Seduction clearly makes a point that people are really not what they are showing to the world. Lives are more complex than meets the eye!

The world as we know it has drastically changed over the last decade thanks largely to Zuckerberg, Brin and Page! But Facebook and Google were never started by controlling the world. It was a pure evolution and we have come to surrender ourselves to the trio. An excess of anything is bad. Instead of making technology working for humans, we have successfully achieved the reverse.

Had Machiavelli lived today he would have rewritten “The Prince”. He would have suggested the emperor to use big data to know about the constituency, enemies, friends and more importantly, to have a pulse of the public mood. Further, he would argue that having data analysed and doing the right thing will get the Emperor the love or fear to succeed in doing what’s good for the republic. Tsun Tszu would argue that knowing yourself, knowing your enemy and knowing your terrain is the only sure way to win. Sadly, current day politicians cannot identify themselves, so forget the rest.

You can have million data points and probably manipulate millions of minds to get to a point. However, Napoleon may say, it’s not about winning the battle but about winning the war.


About the author

Saliya Weerakoon

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Politics, Policy & Media it's all connected.