Friday, September 20, 2013

Amateur Discoveries - Wrong technology and ridicule

In my previous post about amateur discoveries I posted some examples of how a combination of Curiosity, Passion and the right Technology is all you need. Today I'd like to talk about some learnings from these amateur discoverers that I think are extremely relevant to Organizations.

Firstly, these amateur discoverers would not be able to do any of their discovery without the right technology. So it goes without saying that the wrong technology will totally destroy any curiosity and passion you have. As companies look to become more data driven and foster a data driven culture, they need to enable their people with the right tools. Traditional Business Intelligence tools are so complicated, the process to get insight so long, that people end up being scared of data and analysis. This is fixable as you can leverage technologies like Tableau that are easy to use, intuitive and visual to re-ignite and motivate your people.

The second and much more difficult barrier is ridicule / resistance from the experts. This narrative plays itself out in all organizations and I'd like to list out some examples of the difficulties our amateur discoverers faced.

When  Angela Micol made a discovery using Google Earth, from her armchair, of 2 potential ancient Pyramid sites, here was a reaction from an expert - "It seems that Angela Micol is one of the so-called ‘pyridiots’ who see pyramids everywhere."

When Mary Anning started discovering dinosaur fossils, she did not always receive full credit for her scientific contributions. She wrote in a letter: "The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone." It was only after her death that her contribution was recognized.

Gregor Mendel, now considered the father of modern genetics was a priest. Mendel's work was rejected and again, it was many years after his death that his Laws of Inheritance were recognized and laid the foundation for modern genetics.

On the flip side, we do have example of amateur discoverers whose works were recognized and they gained fame during their lifetimes. Examples of this are - William Herschel (discovered Uranus), Henrietta Swan (came up with the calculations that helped us figure out how far stars are), David Levy (study of comets). The learning for organizations is that if you want to establish a data driven culture, you need to provide the support and motivation for your amateur discoverers. You will have to work through the cultural resistance from experts on having to 'let go'. This is not about replacing experts but enhancing the work done by the experts. There is a value in the wisdom of the crowds and there is a force multiplier when combined with expertise.

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