Tag Archives: trends

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.

5 Properties of Influence You Need to Understand

There has been a great deal of discussion of late regarding influence, most of it centered around who has it, how to measure it and how to leverage it. So when I sat down with my good friend and colleague Alan Berkson (@berkson0) of the Intelligist Group to discuss influence, we decided to push each other in a slightly different direction.

Rather that focus on how influence is quantified, we decided to take a look at what defines influence, and in particular, what are some of the universal characteristics of influence – not just in social media, but in the real world, across any/all markets and not limited to any specific time period.

At the end of our talk, several hours later, we had identified a number of unique characteristics of influence that were not limited to individuals, but also applied to events and trends. Here are five that we found particularly noteworthy – feel free to add your own to our list

1)    Influence can have a transitive reach across multiple industries or market sectors

Being influential in one market can often lead to being influential in another. In fact, the more influential a person or event is in a particular market can often be a good indicator of how far that influence can be extended, but there are limits.

Take for example, Bono, of U2. He has leveraged his influence in the music industry into the realm of humanitarian causes with great success, but I probably wouldn’t be swayed at all if he tried to sell me a Fiat. On the other hand, Lou Gerstner (who turned around IBM despite a non-tech background with RJR Nabisco and American Express) and Jack Welch (who drove General Electric to a dominant position during his tenure from 1981 – 2001) have enough influence, clout and experience to dominate just about any industry they touched (their influence in this case was both within their industry and within their companies, as motivators). But again, while I might be influenced by their actions in other unrelated business sectors, I probably wouldn’t be swayed by their attempt to sell men’s fragrances.

2)    Influence can have variable fade curves by time

Influence is not a steady thing, it ebbs and flows like the tide, but ultimately tends to fade over time. In some cases, the influence of a person is felt both in their present (look at how Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized the printing process in his own time) and the long term future (without Gutenberg’s invention, the age of knowledge would never have occurred).

For some, the curve is very steep and fades with extreme prejudice (ala 15 minutes, or even seconds, of fame – the same can be said, by the way, for trends or “fads”), while for others their personal and global influence continues to grow to span their entire life. For example, look at how the influence of Stephen Hawking continues to grow and drive advances in the world of physics (his curve continues to rise and will have a very slow fade, similar to Albert Einstein).

3)    Influence can be cyclic and/or recurring

Influence, of both trends and people, can be recurring. Steve Jobs is a great example here. While he was at Apple (the first time), his influence rocketed upward. But when he left, his influence (over both the company and the market) dropped to almost nothing. Interestingly, when he returned to Apple, his influential status picked back up exactly at the place where he left it, and it hasn’t stopped growing since.

In a different way, past figures can see a resurgence of their influence, often in unintended ways. Here are two really interesting examples:

  • Yul Brynner, the famous actor who passed in 1985, saw a resurgence in his influence through a series of anti-smoking commercials he recorded prior to his death to be released years after his death. Here, his influence not only was recurring, but transcended the industry in which he was known.
  • Charlton Heston, the great actor and long-time champion against gun control laws, while known for his acting is best remembered for his line “from my cold, dead hands” – a phrase uttered well after his fame as an actor had faded that has now, even today, remained a rallying cry for those who believe the 2nd Amendment guarantees their right to bear arms.

The list goes on. Look at how RunDMC jump-started Aerosmith’s fading career with their cover of “Walk This Way”, or how Tony Bennett, the singer famous in the mid-1900’s was able to stage a remarkable comeback with a younger generation, appearing along-side the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Flavor Flav, or Roy Orbison, whose career was revitalized through the collaborative efforts of people like Tom Petty and Elvis Costello, bring his then “old” music to a new generation of younger fans.

4)    Influence transcends positive & negative

The saying there is no such thing as bad press is as true as ever. Influence doesn’t respect the boundaries of good or bad, it simply is, and can often work in ways that would seem to be at odds with common sense. Need a good example? Take a look at Rupert Murdoch. Throughout his career, he has had his share of tremendous successes and dreadful controversies. Neither of these has, in the past, diminished or limited his ability to wield tremendous influence through his media empire. Even with his current scandal, involving the News of the World newspaper (and also the name of one of my favorite Queen albums), it is extremely uncertain what the long-term impact will be on his influence or his legacy.

5)    Influence transcends medium

Influence often works in subtle ways. For example, trusted and famous actors often lend their voice, not their image, to commercials across various industries. Most people don’t recognize the voice at first (if at all), but they do subconsciously associate the comfort they feel with that “voice” despite the fact that the medium doesn’t show the face of the actor or even mention the actor’s name. Great examples include the actor Sam Elliot, who despite a brilliant screen career, has probably had more true influence through his voice-over line “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” than he has had in his acting career. Interesting, isn’t it.

Like I said above, these are just five examples that we thought noteworthy. There are many more, and I think the real value of this list is how we leverage these characteristics in our daily personal and business lives feel free to add your own to our list

5 Trends Influencing Business Today

The world is presently in the midst of a wave of revolutions, spanning from massive changes in global politics to the ever-exploding presence of social media and online technology into our everyday lives. Through all of this, however, business must go on, but it isn’t business as usual. I recently wrote a short post on who might be influencing your next business deal.

After delving a bit deeper, and surviving some great brainstorm sessions (if you don’t have a group of trusted advisors, get one), I started to take a look at the bigger picture – not just “who” might be influencing business deals, but what are some of the major trends that are helping to redefine how we do business while the world around us transitions from the past of the 20th century to the new realities of the 21st.

Here are 5 trends that I think are worth watching:

1) The Importance of the Customer

The phrase “customer-centric” has never been more important than it is today. With the arrival of the “information age”, consumers world-wide know what is available, what everyone else is buying and how to find it online at the lowest cost. With this power has come the ability to shape markets, and define the products that they want. Manufacturers no longer have the power to define a market in their own closed space. The phrase “build it and they will come” no longer applies – you must know what the customer wants in advance if you want any chance of survival. And once you have delivered what the customer wants, your product and your customer support must both be perfect, because in this age, word-of-mouth doesn’t just reach family and friends, it reaches the world.

Place the customer first. Listen to them before you build your product and they’ll tell you what to make. Listen to them after they buy your product and they’ll tell you how to keep them as repeat customers (and brand advocates).

2) The Rise of Search

Search has changed everything. Anybody with a laptop, tablet or even a phone can find any piece of information they need. They can find just about everything regarding both a product and the company that makes it, including the opinions of others. But more importantly, search is becoming personal, and that is having a dramatic impact on both the consumption of information and the consumption of product and services. Search is no  longer “your father’s SEO”.

To drive revenue & growth, Google, Bing/Yahoo, etc. have always tried to present the most “relevant” search results (and advertisements) on your search page. Relevancy = dollars. But we’ve moved into a stage of technology, and “business to business” information sharing, where this refinement has evolved to where not just ads but content (search results) are now unique to individuals, based on their past search history, sites they frequent, their geographic regions, social/economic groups, etc. For example, Google uses 57 different “signals” to track who you are and what content is most appropriate specifically for you. Couple those 57 signals with information that they can obtain about you (either directly or through other “information partners”) and you have a powerful tool.

Businesses need to recognize the importance of personalized search, how it impacts their own online strategy and figure out the best way to leverage it to their advantage.

3) The Globalization of “Message”

There was a time when a brand’s “message” was local. Even corporations that had a global footprint (General Motors, SONY, Coke/Pepsi, etc.) still had customized messages that were appropriate (and targeted) at the local, or at least regional, level. And they stayed there.

Today, that world is gone. With the rise of the Internet and a population that increasingly views world travel as just another part of life, messages and brand images no longer stay where you put them. Instead, they go viral. They get picked up on YouTube. They’re seen by travelers. They’re found on the Internet (occasionally in a blog with a title like “the 10 worst marketing translations”). They are everywhere. Moving forward, the “message” that a corporation presents must be global in nature, or at the least, local and regional messages must be cultivated in such a way as to work on a global scale. From a business perspective, this isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, get creative with your international message and perhaps you’ll get lucky and it will go viral.

4) The Power of “Same”

Not only can you buy the same thing anywhere, people have grown to expect the same thing everywhere! While we still pride ourselves in finding that unique place or product, the reality is that the world is becoming one giant franchise. The “bland effect” (the ability to eat at a McDonald’s or Burger King in just about every country in the world) has moved into most major industries, from automotive to online, and shows no signs of slowing.

Perhaps the greatest example is the global domination of major online firms (Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay, etc.) who have created wildly successful brands that require little or no customization to reach into any country. And if a business can’t get there themselves, the clones will. Here’s a great column from Shane Farley at Business Insider on how Sina Weibo (a Chinese version of Twitter) is outpacing Twitter’s own growth curve. If you are bringing a major product or brand to market, you must expect and drive global demand.

5) The Fall of Nations

What is more important in the world today: nations or businesses? I’d argue businesses. Who has more influence today: nations or businesses? Again, I’d argue for businesses. The globalization of brands, and the ability of consumer demand to occur on a world-wide scale, are tipping the balance of power. Commerce and trade, and consumer demand, doesn’t respect political borders. In fact, it makes them less relevant as, in this information age, we become a globe of increasingly “similar” consumers. Nations, of course, will push back and continue to try to regulate international commerce and trade. But in the long run, power is increasingly in the hands of the consumer, and the businesses that meet their needs.

What are the trends that YOU are seeing?

These 5 trends are a few of the trends that I see shaping and influencing the world of business today. What trends are shaping your business, and how are you adapting?


Why I think T-Ball and Social Marketing are alike

Sometimes it’s about winning, and sometimes it’s just about learning how to play the game.

My 6 year old son started his foray into organized sports this year with T-Ball. There are 13 kids on a team and everybody bats every inning (they play three). For most of the players, it’s the first time they’ve ever worn a team uniform (my son’s team is the Raptors). For others, it’s the first time that they’ve ever really swung a bat, or tried to catch a ball in a glove. It’s a learning experience for all of them, and more than anything else it’s fun – even when all 13 of them converge on the ball at the same time.

I’m fortunate to be able to help coach the team. I can’t imagine not being there at first base to help teach them the basics of a game that I don’t even fully understand.

But even though we’re not playing competitively at this point (we don’t count runs or outs – that will start next year after they’ve learned the basics), that still doesn’t stop at least half the team asking me every game “how many runs do we have?” or “did we win today?”

And that’s where we take a leap into Social Marketing.

I had the chance to query two companies this past week about their plans for establishing an active online presence in the “social media/network” space (think everything from Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn, etc.). Both of these firms are well-established with brand names that are known beyond their own industries (i.e., they are not small or in the startup phase), and both have competitors that are already moving into the social space.

Interestingly, neither of these firms are particularly active in social marketing today, but for very different reasons. One has dabbled a bit in the space, but said that they couldn’t find a single instance where they had made money off of their efforts. The other has yet to step into the space at all, saying that they don’t yet understand the market and, while they have several different plans, they don’t want to move on anything until they fully understand the market and can figure out which of their plans is the “best” approach to take.

That said, my response to both firms was pretty much the same: marketing into the social space today isn’t really about scoring sales, it’s about learning the game. If you don’t play today, you won’t be able to play tomorrow, and let’s face it, social networks, as a “target”, are still an emerging opportunity for most industries. I don’t think that anybody has solved the complete equation for how it will provide a consistently positive return on investment over the next couple of years – even the social network firms are struggling to solve the positive cash-flow issue themselves.

So at this point, the social space really isn’t about making money, it’s about learning and evolving and keeping pace with the rest of the universe.

Fortunately, the cost of being active in the social space today is relatively low, with the ROI being experience and consumer mind-share – two clear positives in my book. Taking it a step deeper, I can’t tell anybody that they will significantly grow their market share by actively marketing into (or participating in) social networking today. But I am fairly confident that those firms that don’t play today will have a difficult time playing tomorrow, and could very likely lose overall market-share by simply not keeping pace with their competitors in terms of generating positive market exposure in what is clearly one of the fastest growing “emerging” target markets.

So there you have it. T-Ball and marketing into social networks today. It’s that simple. Neither will guarantee that you score today, but both are a necessary, and potentially fun, learning step to playing the game right tomorrow.