Food for thought for those who attended the MR Summit 2017
We call this a Summit – defined as bringing together the most important people in a field. With important things to discuss.
Our theme this year was ‘connecting the dots’ – the ability to see the whole picture from the clues provided. In the past the problem was too few dots and we needed a lot of guesswork. I think the problem now is too many dots – you could make a lot of pictures from them but which is the best one to use (I shy away from saying which one is true!).
Part of the answer will lie in new tools: algorithms, machine learning, analytical tools and so on.
But part of the answer will also lie in philosophy of approach. It is now almost impossible to go from data to hypothesis to what we have learnt. There is simply too much data.
Increasingly we need to go from what we need to know to hypothesis to data. Turn things on their head. In doing this we have to develop ways of avoiding confirmation bias – that is to say finding our own preconceptions in the data. It requires a rigorous, even brutal, honesty in our approach.
And increasingly what we do with it in taking business decisions will be more important than what we have. More and more businesses will have access to similar if not the same data. We must be careful not to let the machines that help us to handle the volume of data be mistaken for decision takers. Decisions need to be taken by humans (us) who have the ability to think creatively and make something different from the same raw material. And this is the story of the Ascent of Man. (see Jakob Bronowski).
If we don’t evolve, research will have the role of historic data while current information (for making decisions) will come from elsewhere. We must get on with the business of moving the locus of our legitimacy and confidence and usefulness from process to output. Process is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. It is important and it must be done expertly and with rigour but it is not what we will be paid for. Better decisions made by understanding people better is where the premium lies.
We know this, we talk about it at conferences, we have to start doing it.