Predicting The Future

As a teenager at boarding school in the early 1980’s I supplemented my Parents allowance for the term by selling horse racing tips to friends, family and others. Typically it was two or three horses selected for the forthcoming weekend’s horse racing in England. I would choose big races because the field was largely known and published by a Wednesday and I could easily mail out, telephone or pass on in person my predictions so that my clients could place their bets in time. My assessment was largely based on intuition of a horse’s past form, going, racetrack, distance, trainer/jockey combination and the relative chances of each horse in the race. I was pretty successful in a modest way at attracting and increasing numbers of clients by word of mouth. Advertising my success was not an option unless I wanted my Parents to receive a fateful call from the Housemaster! Email and other forms of electronic communication were not available to me and neither was electronic storage and processing of data (form, time, responsiveness etc). I tell the story because we now live in an age where all those tools would be readily available to me at extremely low cost.  Indeed we are awash with abundant processes and systems. The challenge today is picking the right one.

The fascination with “big data” (the ability to carve out highly valuable pieces of information in real time at low cost) and  “predictive analytics” to enhance the probability and accuracy of picking winners, are concepts based on solid common sense. Where I depart from the evangelists, who blindly bang the drum, is in their application.

Why is big data or predictive analytics the best process to achieve the desired result? Undoubtedly there are profound societal (crime), health (genetics) and other well-being issues (poverty), where large quantities of data can be formatted into information and the information applied to our current knowledge to make wise decisions about where to deploy capital, human resources and fixed resources to improve our condition (sustainable healthcare, lower energy costs and so on). Equally, I can make a very strong case that there are better processes and systems to profitably grow businesses, predict corporate buyers propensity to buy a product or service or even pick horse race winners.

My point is that just as in horse racing, it is a case of “horses for courses”. Big data and predictive analytics should be treated with the same standard as any other process and system:

1.A demonstrable  track record of success generating impressive results (highly relevant examples, similar case studies, powerful testimonials, war stories etc.)

2. Minimal investment required (time, capital, labour intensity)

3. Dramatically enhances credibility and rapport with your target audience (intellect, instant value,rapid responsiveness, trust and so on)

Be wary of any system or process which you cannot definitely answer “Yes” to all the above questions.


© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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