A Big, Big “Big Data” Challenge


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A recent post by colleague Richard Vanderveer, Ph.D., an expert and respected senior executive in healthcare-related research, took me to a somewhat disturbing article in Quirk’s magazine, by Richard McCullough: http://rbv3.com/blog/wanted-research-methodologist/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rbv3+%28rbv3.com%29 (see internal link to Quirk’s article).

Per Vanderveer, and as a read of the article will confirm, what McCullough postulates is that the role of ‘research methodologist’ is morphing into an individual who reviews enormous Big Data sets to identify what variables correlate with each other. As Vanderveer notes, one potential consequence of this is that: “Theory, causality, experimentation, etc. might all fall by the wayside.”

This prospective outcome of Big Data growth might be not so much that it can, potentially, marginalize the pivotal insight generation and consultative role represented by marketing, brand, and customer research. The trend, like the general acceptance of seemingly simple, and minimally actionable, macro performance metrics, can also contribute to a potential laxness or laziness on the part of researchers, i.e. a tendency to accept correlation as causation. If and when that happens, enterprises in all verticals will lose a valuable, objective, highly contributory internal resource.

Those of us old enough to remember satirist and radio personality Jean Shepherd (co-author and narrator of the film “A Christmas Story”) may agree that his concept of ‘creeping meatballism’, a growing societal passivity, uniformity, and complacency, readily applies to this trend. Big Data has the potential to lull users into a false sense of actionability, kind of the way attitudinal segmentation in marketing research, without understanding emotional and behavioral drivers, can seem to represent decision-making direction.

As Vanderveer concludes: “Big Data may open up yet another opportunity to view correlation and causation as the same. Never have been. Never will be. Huge data sets notwithstanding”. I completely agree, and said so in a CustomerThink blog from a couple of months ago: http://www.customerthink.com/blog/correlation_is_not_causation_big_data_challenges_and_related_truths_that_will_impact_business_s

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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