Jonas observed that as the systems we rely on and the data we collect continue to grow, the more important it is to “widen our observation space.” The more broadly we can expand our field of vision, the better the context we can build. And, the better the context we can build, the more relevant – and therefore more impactful – the insights we can achieve.
More signal, less noise.
I’ve taken Jonas’ advice to heart. Below are a few of my lingering thoughts about what we all learned in Las Vegas. They’ve been rattling around in my brain for a while; only recently have they formed into coherent thoughts. They’ve helped widen my own observation space; I hope they can do the same for you. Here goes:
Technology discussions aren’t about technology anymore. At least not entirely. There will always be a need to talk about storage and security. But IT discussions now are more likely to touch upon public policy, aesthetics and broad-based social and economic change. Irving Wladasky-Berger summed up it up during the What’s Next panel: “Technology becomes pervasive when people stop talking about specific devices and more about their large-scale effects.” Your cel phone was once just a phone. Now, it’s an entry point into a vast ecosystem of people, processes and data. When technology is everywhere, everything is open to the prospect of change, evolution, analytics and optimization.
We need a new way to understand its potential, and its potential effects. Geeks may make the world go ‘round, but philosophers and artists tell us what it all means. This is why Jason Silva was such an inspired choice to host this year’s event. His openness and enthusiasm for technology inspired many attendees; his education in philosophy and film helped him explain where it’s taking us in dramatic, compelling ways. Math needs the Humanities. And artists. And communicators who can explain the numbers in ways that drive people to make positive change.
We need better education about analytics and statistics. The drive to analyze and optimize will continue to expand as more data becomes available in more and more fields. Outcomes – whether in business or in public policy – will increasingly be determined and reported on as predictions and percentages. Cross-discipline collaboration and old-fashioned problem solving will be highly prized skills. It’s a positive trend, but as Nate Silver observed, it also demands a deeper understanding and a greater appreciation of what the data can and cannot do. At least not yet.
We all need to step up our game. The data – and hence, the potential – is out there for all of us to drive positive change, whether for our company, citizens, even our own health. It’s an unprecedented development in our history together on this planet. We owe it to each other to take advantage.
The jobs are out there. The worldwide shortage of data scientists was already common knowledge before HBR called it “the sexiest job of the 21st century.” As the world’s data volumes expand, so too will opportunities to develop what will be highly sought-after skills. Companies and governments are combing through their data for new opportunities to grow. The more quickly you can find them, or the greater the benefit, the more in demand you’ll be.
Reasons enough to Think Big, don’t you think?