How do we measure a guru’s worth? In this case, I’m specifically thinking about social media / communications gurus. Do you need 10,000 followers watching every tweet about the incremental progress of your hair cut? Or is it enough to squeeze out one gem a day which then is referred through multiple social networks?
This is a variation of the old (in Internet terms) chestnut, “would you trust a social media expert who doesn’t use social media”. It’s hard to see this as a black and white issue though, as I doubt there’s a communications professional out there who doesn’t use social media in some way. The real distinction is between someone who gorges at the social media trough, against someone who picks and chooses their involvement.
The assumption was that a chef who didn’t enjoy food enough to over indulge couldn’t be a good chef. This is just wrong, confusing quantity with quality. Just like the critic in Ratatouille, some chefs are more selective about what they consume, but this doesn’t mean that they have less passion or ability than their more indulgent peers.
Anton Ego: I don’t LIKE food. I LOVE it. If I don’t love it, I don’t SWALLOW.
So the real question is: do we measure social media professionals by the volume of their engagement with the medium, or by the quality of their engagement. McDonalds (an international chain) vs. Vue de Monde (50 seats in Melbourne). Do you need to tweet 50 times a day to be considered a guru? Or will one well placed tweet a day qualify you?
My preference is for the advice of someone who demonstrates knowledge and insight into the medium, an understanding of the problem I’m trying to solve, and I’ll measure that insight by what they publish. The volume of their engagement is a secondary concern.
Most interesting business decisions seem to be a synthesis process. We take a handful of data and fuse them to create an insight. The invention of breath strips is a case in point. We can rarely break our problem down to a single (computed) metric, the world just doesn’t work that way.
Most business decisions rest on small number of data points. It’s just one of our cognitive limits: our working memory is only large enough to hold (approximately) four things (concepts and/or data points) in our head at once. This is one reason that I think Andrew McAfee’s cut-down business case works so well; it works with our human limitations rather than against them.
I was watching an interesting talk the other day — Peter Norvig was providing some gentle suggestions on what features should be beneficial in a language to support scientific computing. Somewhere in the middle of the talk he mentioned the Curse of dimensionality, which is something I hadn’t thought of for a while. This is the problem caused by the exponential increase in volume associated with each additional dimension of (mathematical) space.
In terms of the problem we’re considering, this means that if you are looking for n insights to a problem in a field of data (the n best data points to drive our decision), then finding them becomes exponentially harder for each data set (dimension) we add. More isn’t necessarily better. While the addition of new data sets (such as sourcing data from social networks) enables us to create new correlations, we’re also forced to search an exponentially larger area to find them. It’s the law of diminishing returns.
Our inbuilt cognitive limit only complicates this. When we hit our cognitive limit — when n becomes as large as we can usefully use — any additional correlations can become a burden rather than a benefit. In today’s rich and varied information environment, the problem isn’t to consider more data, or to find more correlations, its to find the best three or features in the data which will drive our decision in the right direction.
How do we navigate from the outside in? From the decision we need, to the data that will drive it. This is the problem I hope the Value of Information discussion addresses.