Pertinent Patterns: Seeing Innovation Potential in Big Data


If we know where and how to look, the world around us is filled with innovation potential. True innovators are constantly analyzing markets in hopes of identifying underserved consumer segments that can provide inspiration for the next great product or service. However, it often takes a unique perspective and way of thinking to spot the potential under our noses. 

The social media and technology revolution has made peering into the minds of consumers easier than ever. “Big Data” about consumer preferences, habits, and engagement is a gold mine for innovators, if we know how to identify the relevant trends. We can spend countless hours poring over reams of data, hire in-house data specialist, or pay a third party to analyze our data for us. According to a study done by WANTED Analytics and published in Forbes,

“Demand for Computer Systems Analysts with big data expertise increased 89.9% in the last twelve months, and 85.40% for Computer and Information Research Scientists.”

As access to data grows, more and more people are learning to analyze and benefit from it. Trends come and go, but one principle is clear: “Big Data” offers huge opportunities for better understanding markets and consumer. But with all this data at our fingertips, what should we be searching for?

Seeing Data

We know that the key to growing our business and creating essential new products is hidden within that data. But where? And how can we better identify these areas ourselves?

Benedict Carey analyzes this problem in her recent article “Learning to See Data” in The New York Times. She writes,

“Whether predicting climate, flagging potential terrorists or making economic forecasts… the information is all there, great expanding mountain ranges of it. What’s lacking is the tracker’s instinct for picking up a trail, the human gut feeling for where to start looking to find patterns and meaning.”

So how can we develop this instinct? Scientists are working on it. 

Perceptual Learning

There is a little-known branch of psychology that deals with these “gut feelings,” known as perceptual learning, and scientists have recently proven the ability to train these instincts to identify and decipher particular codes. The same set of skills that allows us to differentiate between letters in elementary school can help us differentiate patterns and gaps in data. Carey explains it like this,

“The idea is to train specific visual skills, usually with computer-game-like modules that require split-second decisions. Over time, a person develops a ‘good eye’ for the material, and with it an ability to extract meaningful patterns instantaneously.”

Our perceptual skills are highly trainable and we use them more often than we think. For example — th ablty t rd sntncs lk ths cms frm prcptl sklls — our brains recognize familiar patterns and fill in the blanks. The best part about our perceptual skills is that they are automatic. There is no overt thinking or computing involved. Applying this skill set to data analysis provides insight beyond what is on the page. As Carey explains,

“Perceptual learning is active. Our eyes (or other senses) are searching for the right clues. We have to pay attention, of course, but there’s no need to turn the system on or tune it. It’s self-correcting — it tunes itself. The brain works to find the most meaningful sights or sounds and filter out the rest.” 

Innovation Applications

Through perceptual learning, we can train our brains to more easily identify key trends that could lead to disruptive and/or successful innovations and use those as a jumping off points. Although it provides clues for using pattern recognition to spot the kinds of anomalies that alert us to innovation potential, our understanding of perceptual learning is still developing. Carey writes,

“The question is when, and in what domain, analysts will be able to build a reliable catalog of digital patterns that provide meaningful 'clues' to the underlying reality, whether it’s the effect of a genetic glitch, a low-pressure zone or a drop in the yen.”

By identifying certain markers or trends that indicate a potential interest in or need for a certain product, we will be able to validate that need much faster than before. We will also be able to spot the obstacles that have lead products to fail, enabling us to pivot or adapt with greater responsiveness. Using the wealth of information readily available to us, our inspiration will become reality in increasingly short time periods.

With the ever-increasing importance that all industries are placing on “Big Data” and data metrics, it's only a matter of time until perceptual learning invades the entrepreneurial world. As the keys to innovation become more and more available, those who are prepared to grasp them and see inspiration in the patterns all around us will have an incredible advantage. Carey agrees,  

“Digital instinct-building is likely to become crucial, a discipline where people with computational and science chops will have to grow their visual sixth sense, like sea captains who can read the sky or guides who can find trails in the Mojave.”

So, keep sharpening your perceptual skills by being curious about the patterns around you, the pictures they paint, and the possibilities they reveal.

How do you develop your ability to spot innovation potential? Tweet us @EidsonPartners!

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