I happen to have a side interest in predictive analytics, which is a way of using numbers to make predictions. Those of you who regularly read my blog and newsletter probably already know that I am not keen on statistics, as they’re so often misused or used as ways to lie to us to try to force us believe things that aren’t actually true. As such, this idea that we can use numbers to predict something fascinates me, but I should add that the study of predictive analytics does use some statistics, as well as other tools.
I’m fascinated partly because it’s something I should know about for my business, but probably more because I wonder if it will end up being used to mislead us just as statistics currently are. Are we sensible practical people or will be be pulled-in by those using it as a simple crystal ball?
Who Knows and Uses This Information?
It is often the small companies like mine that figure out these new types of tools and strategies, first. We read articles and we tell each other about these things. We don’t have to ask permission to try them out. Once the large companies discover some of these things, they have more resources to create departments around them and explore them in more depth. So, when I speak with large companies about these types of topics, they tend to react in various ways. Some don’t want to speak with me on the topic because, “Gloria, your company is so small that you just don’t know anything about anything?!” or because they’re just not doing this type of thing, yet.
When I’m talking about the larger companies that I sometimes discuss this type of thing with, I’m partly doing it just to see how many companies are getting into using predictive analytics. I ask partly just because I’m curious, more than anything else. The types of companies I speak with includes software vendors, services vendors and periodicals that are related to our own industry, mainly, although I occasionally speak with companies truly outside our industry. The responses I get from these companies tend to be similar regardless which category they fall into.
Recently, though, I’m starting to see that the larger companies are probably starting to use some of this. But there are still those that don’t seem to have realized there is anything like this around. First of all, while I’m interested in this, I will admit right here that I’m no expert and what I do for my own business in this respect is rather limited. With that said, here are the two most recent related conversations I had with some relatively large companies in two different categories (software, service, periodical):
For one example, I happened to be in-contact with one of these large companies about an unrelated topic and we started talking about predicting behavior which was a slightly related tangent to the main conversation. It wasn’t terribly in-depth because we were both in a hurry, but we had a conversation that left me positive that this company was working this type of thing because they knew what I was talking about and actually had a discussion with me on the topic.
The flip side, and my second example, is that I was in-contact with someone from an entirely different large company. In it, the person made a statement that both included a number and was just obviously wrong . I responded to the person that he should be more careful about writing to the public (I was referring to myself) with statements like this because so many of us in laboratory informatics are analytical types who would immediately pick this apart. I gave an example of how the numbers wouldn’t support the statement. In return, he was quite angry with with me. However, while the person wasn’t in Marketing, I made the mistake of thinking that I was in-contact with another numbers-type person, which turned out not to be the case. In this instance, I misjudged my audience. However, I still did learn something.
My point is that some, but clearly not all, of the large companies are now starting to understand that this isn’t all just some voodoo, and that it’s probably just a matter of time before they all are doing it and it’s a more common practice.
Change always happens. Small companies like mine gain an advantage by being nimble and holding onto whatever the latest useful tools are but the large ones always catch-up, forcing the little companies to find yet another advantage. With regard to predictive analytics, that curve is called the “Adoption Curve” and I like this one partly because it’s in color, partly because it shows the chasm of innovation from the classic book “Crossing the Chasm”
While this latest edition was published in 2006, this classic book was originally published in the 1990’s. In any case, here the curve:
However, the fact that it comes from Rogers or has numbers assigned to it can be ignored for the purposes of this discussion.