Tag Archives: events

Werner Heisenberg

Mr. Heisenberg meets #BigData?

1927 was a very good year for Werner Heisenberg, and, in an odd twist, those wrestling with Big Data and the identification of global events and trends that are shaping our future, a mere 85 years later.

Heisenberg was a brilliant physicist, yet his work on Quantum Theory and the Uncertainty Principle may help us shape how we look at many of the issues that we face today in the non-Brilliant-Scientist realm.

“One can never know with perfect accuracy both of those two important factors which determine the movement of one of the smallest particles—its position and its velocity. It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the direction and speed of a particle at the same instant.” ~ Werner Heisenberg

Heisenberg’s statement has been quoted, mis-quoted, adapted and modified to suit any number of ideas over the decades, so excuse me if I twist it myself to make a point.

In 1926 and 1927, when Heisenberg was laying the foundation for, and publishing, the Uncertainty Principle, we were in a world where Big Data didn’t exist as we know it today. We were also far from being globally hyper-connected, and the idea of Pervasive Communications was a dream of the future.


I was recently having an interesting, and ongoing, Twitter discussion about Big Data and the value of Curation with some friends (Alan Berkson, Colin Hope-Murray, Peter Bordes and Robert Moore). In response to a question about the value of too much data, or data that was too old, I tweeted “old info doesn’t die, it reveals long-term trends”.

As I looked at what I had written, Heisenberg (oddly, also part of the ongoing discussion) kept coming to mind, ultimately prompting the question “How do we determine the long-term value of an event or data point, and ultimately the value of a trend if it lacks the right context?” This question became all the more important as the different perspectives that frame “context” began to come to light. No two people see the same particle or event from exactly the same personal perspective.


It became increasingly apparent that our discussion of “too much” Big Data was really about having the “right data”. But how do you determine the right data? In many cases, you can’t. We’ve plugged ourselves into this giant fire-hose of Social Media and can’t digest it all.

In the end, most of us can only “sample” off the feed. But in sampling, we get a very accurate description of what is happening at that particular moment, but we can’t tell where what we are sampling fits into the bigger picture. Is this data “byte” the beginning of a trend? Is it supporting a trend that already exists? Or is it perhaps signaling the evolution, or end, of a trend? Is it possible that we can’t answer these questions unless we are continuously sampling from the buffet that is available courtesy of Pervasive Communications and our always-on data feed?


As we talked a bit about this issue offline (if you consider a couple of hours on a Skype video call “offline”), I came back around to the tweet about the value of old data revealing trends. Perhaps we’re looking at Big Data and the online fire-hose in the wrong way. Too often we think we already know the questions, or we already know the trends, and we look at data points as a way to support our pre-existing notions (numerologists often have a particular knack for this – you can find anything if you look hard enough in the wrong direction).

So rather than always trying to consume information to answer questions, what if we just taste the data, and let it help us form the right questions, regardless of the sector, the market or even what the data was originally supposed to represent? Why not let information from the Transportation sector be co-mingled with information from Politics, or Economics, or Energy. By doing so, we’re helping to erase preconceived notions about the value of the data, and the answers we expect to get.

Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? As Alan pointed out in his recent post Big Data: Is The Answer 42?, answers are meaningless if you don’t understand the question, and with today’s glut of data, events and trends, figuring out the right question, and understanding why it’s the right question, is more difficult than ever.


Heisenberg talked about particles, their position and their velocity. I’m talking about events, their impact and their influence (their ability to form trends). In either case, the more certain we are of something, the less certain we are of something else. To me, that raises the question of value in being uncertain, to an extent.

Knowing the present state of an event or data-point is extremely valuable, as is knowing the direction it is heading. But equally important is the value of knowing why it is where it is at a particular moment and why it is heading in a particular direction (what influenced it, what shaped it). Following that lead, it’s also important to know where it is heading and what it is going to hit (how will it influence something else).

“Why a trend exists is just as important a question as asking what impact will result from the trend. It’s all about context.”

As the data reveals more potential trends, so too does it raise more interesting questions:

  • What value do individual events have, either as singular events or as part of a larger data set?
  • How important are multiple layers of context and different perspectives?
  • How do you anticipate when or how trends may collide or intersect?

The next time you sift through the data, as you swim through the stream, try squinting your eyes a bit. Don’t focus so much on what you see, but rather let some uncertainty creep in, and see what patterns emerge when you see things just a bit “fuzzy”.

In the end, you might be surprised at what you do see, and the questions you start to ask.


Influence and the Value of the Introduction

INFLUENCE. Sometimes a simple introduction and handshake is all you need.

Influence is all around us, present in almost every aspect of our lives. We live through it in school, through our teachers, mentors and friends. We see it in our family lives, as our children are influenced by our own behavior and morals. We especially see it in the broader society where people are often influenced by their favorite stars, idols or athletes – perhaps even going so far as to emulate their behavior in the misguided belief that if their idols are cool and liked, they can be cool and liked if they adopt the same behaviors or lifestyles (and no, it doesn’t work that way in real life).


In all of the situations mentioned above, we are dealing with influence from the perspective of a direct cause-effect relationship that involves an influencer and an influencee. Most commonly, we see personal influence where a person, or group of people, has direct influence over another person, or group of people (classic examples involve politics and peer-pressure).

We also often see influence in business and marketing, with companies striving to sway entire markets to purchase their products, often through educational campaigns (providing the consumer with the advantages of their product, its features and why it is a better option than rival products). In other cases, they may lean towards more subtle neuromarketing strategies, while others simply resort to blatant “value by association” techniques (if my favorite movie star uses that product, it’s probably a good product…).

We can even take a more observational view with regard to events and actions, tracking the influence that a particular event (or group of events) today, or in the past, may have on future events (witness the history of political upheaval in one nation helping to influence, or even drive, similar upheavals in other nations suffering from similar internal or regional issues).

“Influence is much more than just changing or causing a behavior”

But there is another type of influence that is more subtle, less direct, yet often more effective at achieving a long lasting impact – and all it takes is an introduction.


When we talk about introduction-based influence, we are referring to the bringing together of two or more people (or groups) that have the ability to complement each other for mutual benefit. In this case, there is no typical influencer – influencee relationship. Rather, the influencer is acting as more of a facilitator – an enabler of sorts – using the introduction as a way of creating an environment where ideas and collaboration can be fostered between the groups being introduced.

“Influence by introduction can produce some great, and unexpected, results”

Influence by introduction does not work well when there is a fixed outcome that the influencer is hoping to achieve (i.e., a specific course of action). Where it does work, however, is where the outcome that the influencer is hoping to achieve is less for their benefit and more for the benefit of the parties being introduced, or in situations where the desired outcome isn’t a particular action but rather a type, or level, of action.

Perhaps the parties being introduced are an analyst and a vendor – each looking for information and insight from the other. Or perhaps the parties being introduced each bring a particular strength or talent that, when combined, can create a powerful, collaborative working group,  perhaps even identifying and developing solutions to problems that none of us, myself included, may have thought about on our own. It’s all about opening up new opportunities.

“Any business can benefit from influencial introductions”

From my perspective, successful introductions are definitely a form of influence. Positive influence, like leadership, is based on trust, and introductions only work well if all parties trust, and respect, the person making the introduction. Who doesn’t like to hear from a friend or advisor: “I think you two both have some great ideas and skills – you should definitely get to know each other“?

It’s more than just a pat on the back, it conveys a sense of value, potential and belonging to the people being introduced. They may not even recognize that there is a subtle form of influence at play.

So how do you or your company view influence? Most view influence as a means to drive an outcome with a specific goal in mind, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But have you taken the next step?

Are you willing to use your influence, with your name on the line, to make that introduction, acting as the catalyst to allow others to create value on their own, where the outcome is far less certain, but perhaps with the potential to benefit us all?

I value your opinion, and all comments are greatly appreciated. You can also subscribe to my posts via Email or RSS.  Thanks for being part of the discussion – Fred.