Big Data: Recognize Propensity to Accept False Correlations – Bias Confirmations

Business leaders are obliged to…recognize propensity to accept false confirmations and/or correlations emerging from ‘big data’.  It’s essential!

Many business management teams are now capable of…rapidly processing (intellectually) substantial amounts of ‘big data’ which they presume is relevant to a (business) decision or strategy.  However, the human characteristics of intellectuality and speed occasionally clash and/or not be in sync, and when they do, the potential for making, in some instances, poor – bad business decisions may rise.

To be sure, the availability and application of ‘big data’…allows many business decisions to be made efficiently and speedily and, in most instances, those are the objectives. However, when the data being relied upon for decision making omits, dismisses, or otherwise does not factor the contributory role and value of intangibles in their relevant contexts, stand by, the outcome may unnecessarily carry a higher probability for achieving something less than the desired or projected outcome.

A strategic requisite for business decision makers – management teams today must be to…assess and mitigate risk probability, vulnerability, and criticality, i.e., adverse impacts to business initiatives and/or transactions in order to meet expectations – projections, e.g.,

• distinguish the intangibles that underlie – play a contributory role to company value, sources of revenue, competitive advantages, and sustainability, etc., and the decision and/or transaction at hand, and

• ensure relevant intangibles have been fully addressed – integrated in the data relied upon.

Before delving further into asset safeguard decision making…especially when-where speed and big data are simultaneously-continuously in play, we are obliged to possess a basic operational familiarity with the…

     economic fact that today, 80+% of most company’s value, sources of revenue, competitiveness, and sustainability lie in – emerge directly from intangible assets.

So, executing both of-the-above will provide business management teams with essential context to...decisions that contribute to business strategy and decision making and being more effective, especially any initiative and/or transaction in which intangible assets are-will be in play, which, by the way, is a constant.

For some, this may beg the question…if – when a business management teams identify an obstacle, risk, or challenge regarding an operation, does it matter whether paths for resolution are expressed in language or solely numerical data?

Recognizing the presence of personal-professional and/or data biases…which may be (become) preludes to false or misleading confirmations and/or correlations insofar as data interpretation, is obviously essential.  Left un-noticed and unchecked, either can play a significant role whether projected transaction outcomes are met, exceed, or fail.

Ultimately, recognizing (distinguishing) any receptivity for…engaging in false – misleading confirmations-correlations is an important step to any business (transaction) responsibility with respect to its outcome.

Similarly, it’s important for business management teams to…demonstrate precisely (how) the process they use to arrive at a decision. The reason for this is…

  • if one doesn’t recognize – know what ‘thought’ steps one took and what information-data was relied on, there is virtually no way to know what ‘thought steps and data’ were not considered, overlooked, or misinterpreted.

When these procedures are not in place and practiced consistently…it makes it all-the-more challenging to know what questions…

  • should, weren’t, and/or remain to be asked insofar as preludes to the execution of a specific business decision and/or strategy.

Too, a central management teams are obliged to ask themselves, is…did the (big) data really lead to this conclusion? Or, the alternative, i.e., did the conclusion merely make the decision maker feel more successful and more comfortable, i.e., intangibles both.

According to a perspective expressed by Ken Cukier (Data Editor of The Economist, and author of ‘Big Data Is Better’)…business functionality is heading to a position whereby massive amounts of (big) data are being processed and applied in ways that make people’s lives – society generally better. There will of course be some downsides. But the upsides, Cukier, and other ‘big data’ prognosticators believe, will outweigh any potential downside.

On the other hand, Susan Etlinger (big data analyst, Altimeter Group, and TED speaker) suggests…the more data produced and applied presumably to make everyone and everything necessarily better off may not be quite that simple. For example, Etlinger describes an app called ‘Samaritan Radar’ that was developed in the U.K. in late 2015.

The idea underlying this app is that if a user is on Twitter and uses language that suggests depression and/or hopelessness…(conceivably) it would send an ‘alert’ to his/her Twitter followers. The alert would say something to the effect that ‘your (Twitter) friend is having a rough day today, you might want to reach out to them, and see if they’re OK’?

Such suggestive and highly subjective information could now be available on a server somewhere, Etlinger claims…so, setting aside for the moment the ‘potential good’ such an alert and follow-up Tweet may produce, one is also obliged to ask a series of ‘what if’s’…i.e.,

  • employer sees it, their insurer sees it, clients see it, or a cyber-bully sees it; will-could adversely affect their job, health insurance, or probability of being victimized by an aggressive cyber-bully?

Etlinger is not suggesting that good things do not emerge from big data just because something bad may occur…instead, one is obliged to consider various adverse scenarios that may manifest as we become increasingly inclined to automate the ways in which we make decisions, or how we integrate ‘big data’ into our decision-making processes.

As Guy Roz (host, TEDRadio Hour) suggests…one can certainly imagine big data being variously manipulated to purposefully harm society and people.  This probability, Etlinger follows-up by asking… ‘is something essential being taken from humanity’ through more reliance and integration of big data?

What I think what we need to do, Etlinger adds…is start thinking about the ways in which technology and big data (can) serve society, all-the-while being mindful of, and perhaps design a set of principles and/or identify parameters for governing the way that technology and big data will and won’t be used and applied.

  • So, how should we approach big data, with a healthy amount of skepticism, and still use it for good? What a question, right?

(Parts of this post were adapted by Michael D. Moberly from a TEDSalon program held in Berlin in 2014 featuring Ken Cukier (Data Editor of The Economist, and author of ‘Big Data Is Better’.)

Michael D. Moberly November 30, 2017 St. Louis ‘The Business Intangible Asset Blog’ since May 2006, ‘where one’s attention span, intangible assets, and solutions converge’!

Readers are invited to explore other blog posts, papers, and books I have published at

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