Big Data: Exploit Your Competitors’ Laziness


“Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.”

–Dan Ariely

And that, in a nutshell, is the dirty little secret about Big Data today. Everyone is talking about it, but relatively few organizations are actually doing anything with it. To that end, there’s tremendous upside for skilled organizations and first movers—and it won’t last forever. In other words, when the bar is low, the time to act is now.

And this is not just true today with Big Data. Look back historically for a moment. In 1997, search was pretty terrible. I remember. I was there. Lycos and AltaVista typically didn’t give me what I wanted. I often thought to myself, “Maybe what I want just doesn’t exist yet.”

Enter Google. Larry and Sergey built a much better mousetrap. In fairness, though, the bar was pretty low. Today, it would be much more difficult to improve upon search to the same degree that Google did fifteen years ago.

And forget multibillion-dollar companies for a moment. Look at prediction wunderkind Nate Silver. Is he a smart guy? Without question, but his rapid ascent from baseball wonk to rock star pundit in no small part stems from his choice of vocations. In his words, “Political journalism had been a lazy industry for a long time, and laziness allows people who have an innovative idea to achieve success more easily.”

Simon Says: Embrace the Low Bar

The same mind-set can—and, I’d argue—should apply to organizations thinking about Big Data. Lamentably, for every Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, and Google, I’d wager that thousands of organizations are doing exactly nothing. Then there are those that claim to be “biding their time.” They’re waiting to see if, to paraphrase Silver, the noise exceeds the signal.


To me, that’s precisely the wrong question to ask, especially at such an opportune time. Of course there’s more signal than noise. So what?

New and powerful technologies are enabling organizations to minimize that noise and amplify relevant signals. Equipped with that signal, they are discovering new customer and employee insights, minimizing risk, and making more informed business decisions.

This is the very point of Big Data. It’s not a matter of collecting the most data; he with the most petabytes doesn’t win. It’s about what you do with it. When is the best time to act? When your competition is doing very little in an increasingly important area.


What say you?

About Phil Simon

Phil Simon is a sought-after speaker and the author of five management books, most recently Too Big To Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data. A recognized technology expert, he consults companies on how to optimize their use of technology. His contributions have been featured on NBC, CNBC, Inc. Magazine, BusinessWeek, The Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, Fast Company, The New York Times, ReadWriteWeb, and many other sites.

View all posts by Phil Simon →

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