Humanizing Big Data – A Book Review

imageI received a review copy of Humanizing Big Data by Colin Strong a few weeks ago. The subtitle to the book is “Marketing at the meeting of Data, Social Science and Consumer Insight”….that should give you a good feel about the contents of this book.  It isn’t a heavy duty data science book…it is targeted more at folks in the marketing world to allow them to better understand the types of data that they may encounter as well as understand how that data might be analyzed and used within their business.

Many times the term ‘big data’ can cause fear in non-tech and/or non-data people. The term sounds so vague and so ‘big’ and can cause people to steer away from big data.  This is unfortunate because the size of the data doesn’t really matter – only the data, the context of the data and what you are able to do with the data is what matters.  This book helps to remove some of the fear that might come along with big data.

This book takes the user through an introduction of big data and how marketers (and others) can use many different types of data to better understand their customer base, their marketing efforts and their business. The author does a very good job describing how the reader could use existing data combined with other data gathered from social media and user-generated content.

The great thing about this book is that you don’t need to be a marketer to get value from it. Just about anyone, including social scientists, financial analysts and others can find some value within this book.  I strongly suggest this book for anyone looking to learn more about big data.

Pick up your copy of Humanizing Big Data by Colin Strong today.

The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making – A Book Synopsis

51XNsxTJaNL._SL250_One of the books that I use in my various consulting projects and academic work is titled “The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making” by Scott Plous.  This particular book might seem like a very academic book, but in reality it is very accessible and easy for anyone to read and understand.

I’ve had this particular write-up in my ‘draft’ folder for quite some time and is a by-product of a quick write-up that I created for a client a few years ago. This isn’t a full review of the book but more of a synopsis of the main topics found within the book.

If you have an interested in decision support, judgement, perception, bias or heuristics I’d recommend you pick up a copy for yourself.

Summary of the Book

This book provides an introduction to the judgment and decision making theories that have been developed over the years. The book does a good job of introducing topics like decision making, memory, context, perception, heuristics and bias. This book is perfect for non-psychologists to use as an introductory text on the subject and can act as reference material anyone designing research projects.

The book is broken down into Six Sections with each section introducing new concepts and providing case studies to help solidify the concepts in the reader’s mind. These sections are listed below and described in more detail throughout the remainder of this paper.

  • Section One – Perceptions, Memory and Context
  • Section Two – How Questions Affect Answers
  • Section Three – Models of Decision Making
  • Section Four – Heuristics and Biases
  • Section Five – The Social Side of Judgment and Decision Making
  • Section Six – Common Traps

Section One – Perceptions, Memory and Context

The first section covers a considerable amount of material throughout its 32 pages.   Topics covered in this section include hindsight, perception, context and memory with examples provided to try to illustrate the various topics. I found this section to be slightly over-arching in its topics and after completing the section, the topics weren’t as clear to me as I would have liked. I felt as if the author was trying to cover too much material in too little space.

The introduction and description of the halo effect was the one topic that was the most interesting from this section. The Halo effect, which is an example of context dependence, is a topic that many people in research and industry should be aware of because it shows that the way people to stimuli is dependant on the context that the stimulus is received (Plous, 1993). This topic, which was covered extensively in the book The Halo Effect by Philip Rosenzweig, is an interesting concept and one that many people fall victim too. Rosenzweig’s book is not an academic foray into the world of psychology but does provide some excellent examples of how cognitive bias and context dependence can cloud the judgment of many intelligent people (Rosenzweig, 2007).

Section Two – How Questions Affect Answers

This section covers some very interesting topics from the order of questions, wording of questions and the framing of questions and how they might influence the results obtained from those questions. These topics are extremely important to researchers since the way questions are worded and/or asked can influence the results of the research.

Examples and case studies are provided to help the reader understand how questions affect answers. For example, an example is given in Chapter 5 that shows how the ordering of questions has an affect on the results. This example, which was taken from research performed by Schuman and Presser (1981), shows that the order of questions in a survey has an affect on the results of the survey (Plous, 1993; Schuman & Presser, 1981)

The concepts described in this section are arguably some of the most important issues for any researcher to understand as they will need to be taken into consideration when designing survey questions to be used in research.

Section Three – Models of Decision Making

This section covers the various models that have been developed to described the decision making process. Models such as Expected Utility Theory and Prospect Theory are described and examples are given to help the reader understand the models.

Chapter 9: Descriptive Models and Decision Making is one of the more interesting chapters in this book. This chapter provides an introduction and explanation of the Prospect Theory of decision making. Prospect theory is a more descriptive model than the expected utility theory and provides methods to model real world scenarios rather than the optimal solutions that are modeled with the expected utility theory. This theory differs greatly from expected utility theory by predicting that a person’s “preference will depend on how a problem is framed” (Plous, 1993).

Section Four – Heuristics and Biases

Section four covers two basic, but important, topics: (1) the processes that people use to make decisions and; (2) the biases that result from these processes. The process by which people use to make decisions is said to contain the use of rules of thumb, otherwise known as heuristics. Heuristics are believed to yield fairly good estimates but can lead to bias in the decision making process. This section attempts to cover the well known heuristics and biases. Some examples of these are: representativeness heuristic, availability heuristic, probability and risk, anchoring, perception of randomness, and attribution theory.

This section covers a lot of material with a considerable number of examples. I didn’t feel as though the section was well-connected and seemed to try to cover more material than needed.

Section Five – The Social Side of Judgment and Decision Making

This section covers the social factors that affect judgment and decision making. The theme of this section can be summed up fairly easily with the following sentence: people are social animals and their judgment and decision making processes are affected by social influence.

Chapter 17 provides an interesting overview of how society affects an individual’s decision making process and judgment with such topics as social facilitation, social loafing, diffusion of responsibility, conformity and groupthink. Chapter 18 takes a look at the issue from the group’s perspective and compares the decision making performance of a group to the performance by individuals.

The section on groupthink (Chapter 17, page 203) is one of the most interesting parts of this section. Groupthink is a problem in many organizations and is difficult to combat and prevent but this section provides some interesting warning signs and measures to fight groupthink.

Section Six – Common Traps

This last section of the book provides an overview of traps that people and organizations commonly fall into. The author lists three major traps: (1) Overconfidence; (2) Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and; (3) Behavioral Traps. Each of these traps is given their own chapter and each is described fairly well with examples used to clarify where needed. The author tries to describe these traps and attempts to provide methods to avoid these traps, but most of these avoidance methods seem to be a little to simplistic.

Conclusion

Unlike other books on the topic, this book does not provide (nor purport to provide) a ‘how to’ for decision making and/or judgment processes, which I think this is a great thing. This book provides background information at a high level for non-psychology majors to use to better understand the decision making and judgment process.

Section Two: How Questions Affect Answers is one of the most informative sections in this book. If a reader read only this section of the book, they would be in a much better position to understand how surveys are conducted and why some surveys are conducted in the manner in which they are.

This book is a short, well-written overview on most topics and should be required reading for all researchers and students.

References

Plous, S. (1993). The psychology of judgment and decision making. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Rosenzweig, P. M. (2007). The halo effect– and the eight other business delusions that deceive managers. New York: Free Press.

Schuman, H., & Presser, S. (1981). Questions and answers in attitude surveys experiments on question form, wording, and context. New York: Academic Press.

 

The Steve Jobs Way – Book Review

steve-jobs-wayNote: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher / PR firm.

I’m not an Apple ‘fan-boy’ and don’t much like Steve Job’s personality, but I like The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation (amazon affiliate link).  There’s nothing earth shattering here from a leadership standpoint…but its a good ‘inside Apple’ book that highlights some of the key things Jobs has done at Apple to help push the company to the leadership position it has today.

Don’t let the title fool you though…this is not a treatise on Steve Jobs leadership style, philosophy or his theories on leadership.  You won’t find a ‘recipe’ for building the team that builds the next Apple or iPod or Mac but what you will are some really interested stories about Apple’s internal workings, how Jobs built the initial Mac team and what it was like working with/for Steve Jobs.

There are some really interesting stories in the book…but again….don’t think that you’ll pick up this book and, after reading it, lead like Steve Jobs or Apple did.  It doesn’t work that way for any book.

The book is split into four main sections that cover product, talent, organization and sales/marketing and each provide a very interesting insight into how Apple & Jobs approached each area.  There are many lessons to be learned in each section – such as hiring good, passionate people and put them to work with other good, passionate people.  Like I said, nothing earth shattering here but a good read.

My only real concern / gripe about the book is this:  the title makes me think the author is providing insight into Apple & Steve Jobs entire history up until the modern day. The ‘iLeadership’ word makes me think about the modern day Apple.

This seems a bit misleading since lliot hasn’t been directly involved in Apple since the mid to late 1990’s. As far as I could tell, he left Apple before Jobs returned the 2nd time. Nothing wrong with that of course…and there’s really a lot to learn from Apple’s founding and release of the Macintosh…but the title of the book made me think that I’d be reading about stories and learning insights from the modern day Apple. The author does talk about Apple during Jobs’ second stint as CEO but its not quite the same as the the insight garnered  while Elliot was still intimately involved at Apple.

Regardless…this is a good book. It won’t really be on the shelf of leadership scholars – but its a good read for those interested in corporate history, Apple’s history and/or Steve Jobs.

 

 

The Next Level by Scott Eblin – Book Review

Late last week I received The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success, 2nd Edition by Scott Eblin (amazon affiliate link) from Daniel Decker of the Higher Level Group to review (thanks Daniel!).

I normally receive a few offers from agents, PR firms, and authors to review their books, and for the most part I accept those offers….and normally I’ll post a review on here.  Thankfully, I’ve enjoyed most of the books I receive…and I enjoyed this one as well.

That said, this book isn’t for everyone.

Quick Review of the book

So…what is this book about?

From the dustcover of the book:

Moving successfully to the executive level requires knowing which behaviors and beliefs to let go, as well as which new ones to pick up.  This confidence building book outlines a program for success based on frank advice from accomplished senior executives around the world on what to do and, just as important, what to avoid.

I’d say that synopsis is accurate.  The book provides a good walk-through of what skills are needed to be successful by senior level executives.

But…are these skills just for senior level executives?  Nope…anyone can pick up these skills to use in their current role…whether that role is as a consultant, senior executive, entrepreneur or student.

For example…Chapter 2 is titled:

Pick up Confidence in your Presence; Let go of Doubt in how you Contribute.

Pretty powerful statement in that title, don’t you think?  Have confidence in your abilities and push out the doubt.

Overall, this is a good book and worth picking up by anyone looking for advice / coaching on things that can be done to improve your career.

If you’ve had a good role model in your career, this book might be a repeat of what you’ve learned from your mentor and/or role model….but there might still be some good nuggets of information in here for you.

If you don’t believe in ‘ business / personal coaches’  and think you’ve got all the skills you need to be a senior level leader / manager in a large organization…move along.  This book won’t have anything of substance for you.

Of course…if you think you’ve got all the skills you need, you’re deluding yourself.  Everyone can learn something new.

Ambiguities of Experience – Book Review

The Ambiguities of Experience (Messenger Lectures) While on vacation last month, I saw a review in US Airways‘ magazine for The Ambiguities of Experience by James G. March (affiliate link).

The review was a short one but peaked my interest as it points out March’s main question presented in the book.  The question is a simple one…but has a very difficult answer.

This simple question is:

What is, or should be, the role of experience in creating intelligence, particularly in organizations?

Simple question right?

Now…I’ve always been of the mindset that experience is a good thing.  I’ve argued before that I’d normally hire someone with experience over education.  This book makes me rethink that approach in some ways. I’ll still hire for ability over experience any day though.

The book is a short one – only 120 pages of content in a 5″ by 8″ book.  While short, there’s quite a bit of ‘stuff’ in it.

As mentioned above, the main focus of this book is to question whether experience really is the best teacher.    In this book, March argues that experience can be a good teacher if that experience is used as a means to build context for stories and models of history.

The problems with ‘experience as teacher’ is that these experiences can be easily warped, misconstrued and interpreted in many ways.

March does agree that experience can be a good teacher, but isn’t always the best teacher.  Using experiences alone as a learning mechanism can lead a person / organization down the wrong path.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book was that there were no answers put forth by the author.  March realizes that the issue of experience as teacher is a difficult one and there is no ‘right’ answer on how to approach using experiences as learning method.

One caveat  before you run over to Amazon or your local bookseller, know that this book is a bit difficult to read.  It is written much like an academic paper and, as such, as a lot of academic language in it.    Not a bad thing…but it isn’t necessarily a book that you’ll breeze though.  You’ll have to work at reading this book.

That said, I like this book and have added it to my bookshelf to bring down and read again in the future.

The Leadership Test – A Book Review

Leadership Test Book ReviewA few weeks ago I received Leadership Test: Will You Pass? (amazon affiliate link) by Timothy R. Clark, Ph.D. to review

The book is a small one (~99 pages in total) but packed with some interesting content.   Clark uses a business fable to describe leadership and what makes up a good leader.

I’m a HUGE fan of stories and storytelling as a means to convey knowledge and I love these types of books.   Obviously other folks enjoy these types of books as well (think Patrick Lencioni and his wonderful books).

The story in this book is an excellent one. It’s well written and the plot-line is pretty good and keeps you turning the pages. While the story is good, the lessons contained with the book are even better.  After reading the book, I didn’t feel as though I’d read a business book about leadership…I felt like I read an interesting story about someone learning to lead.

I’d recommend this book to everyone with any interest in leadership….and I’m not just saying that because I was sent this as a review from the author.  It’s a great little book.

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