Big Data and Big Confusion

Updated: Jun 14, 2018


“There's something that happens with the collection of a large amount of data when it's dumped into an Excel spreadsheet or put into a pie chart. You run the risk of completely missing what it's about.” - Aaron Koblin

Big data. Just the name alone tells you that with the emergence of Big Data there is more data to be had. It’s not news to you that the information age has brought us a lot of great numbers and stats. As in, a lot, meaning data beyond our ability to count or even take it in. It really can be like drinking from a firehose. (There is a great book on this, called, appropriately enough: Drinking From the Firehose.)

But loads of data don’t necessarily correlate with better decisions. It is our belief that effective market research is based on analyzing data and building a narrative--a story--around the insights derived from the data.

That’s where we feel we add value--in the analysis and story building and telling.

So, what, you might ask, is a story doing in the same context as data? And a legitimate question that is. After all, the idea of a story evokes images of Kindergarten, pulling out the blankets, dimming the lights and Ms. Periwinkle pulling out The Cat in the Hat or Alexander’s Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

We’re not talking about fiction. Or stories in the sense of reading a book or telling a story around the campfire stories. What we are talking about is creating insights through analysis and then stringing those insights into a compelling narrative. That narrative, or story, will flow like any good story. It will have a beginning, a middle and an end. It will have characters and tension. Just that the characters might be your customers and the tension might be around how well your product would sell. And the moral of the story will be what you take from it to help make better decisions.

The power of the story is in bringing the data and insights to life in a memorable and understandable way. It’s a way to give shape and form to concepts that might be otherwise difficult to grasp. That’s why parables were often used to teach concepts back in the day, long, long ago. And idea of parables--stories--is still a useful tool for teaching and learning.

And they are oh so much more pleasant than a data dump.

It is easier to remember a good story. It is easier to fully grasp the meaning of a good story. And it is easier to communicate to others what they need to do via a good story.

That’s why when we do research, in the end, we pull it together into a good story for you. Ultimately, giving numbers meaning is a task best left to story-telling. Putting words, anecdotes, attitudes, and real people to those percentages and pie charts will give you a solid foundation to drive change.

So, in the end, let’s band together and fight bad market research with great stories. One for all and all for one, as they say. (And we’ll leave the ghost stories to the campfire people.)