When Michelangelo invented Big Data

Álvaro Alegría    18 April, 2017

They say that Michelangelo was asked about his impressive technique in sculpting the Pietà in just one piece, his answer was: “The sculpture was already inside of the stone. I merely eliminated the extra marble”.

It is impossible to deny that, from a simplistic point of view, sculpting is about getting rid of the extra material. However, something must influence the artist, because, after all, if most of us were handed a block of marble, a hammer and a chisel, we would most likely not be able to sculpt anything recognisable.
It is the creativity of the artist, more than the handling of their tools, that is the added value that they bring to what they do and what makes the difference between a stone and a masterpiece.
Michaelangelo's Pieta
Figure 1: Michelangelo’s Pietà. 

The same can be applied, in my opinion, to the process of use case discovery in the framework of Big Data as, just as with Michelangelo, and his block of marble, the “blocks” of data are waiting for someone with a chisel to extract the information that has always been there.

And once again, in the same way, the creativity of Big Data professionals is a fundamental factor in the discovery of new use cases, as it makes a real difference between information that is merely stored and information that brings value to a company.
We have the great fortune to be able to participate in the dawn of a technological and economic revolution; an era in which almost everything remains to be discovered and in which there is no limit of possibilities but rather a giant blank canvas if discovery.
Due to all of this, it is very important for companies to have the best blocks of marble, the best hammers and the most precise chisels.  However, it’s important to remember that they will be of very little use if they don’t have a true artist who knows how to extract value from them.
Also, you have to let artists do their thing. You have to trust in the final result, without trying to understand the process. Not only should we not set them limits, but we should also encourage some craziness, because disruption produces changes, is abrupt, radical and even sometimes painful. It’s never the fruit of an organised, clean and pre-established process.
I wish I could  say I came up with this concept, but I didn’t. Warren Buffet already said that businesses should “Hire the best and let them do what they know. Or hire the cheapest and tell them what they have to do.”
Figure 2: Warren Buffet, one of the world’s most successful businessmen. 

But many traditional businesses are resistant to this new culture. It’s difficult for them to accept that, nowadays, many advances are achieved because of trial and error; that processes are living and can vary along the way; that many things are done “just to see” and that talent doesn’t wear a suit (or maybe it does, but it just depends on the day).

I sincerely believe that the biggest and most important change that a business must accept when it comes to facing Big Data is cultural: accepting that no one knows what’s coming and that uncertainty is not a threat but rather a spectacular opportunity. And the way to take advantage of that opportunity is to count on the Michelangelo of the present, the people who combine technical and business knowledge with creative abilities, which allows them to see and extract value where others see only stone.
And, once again, the idea was not mine, but in the recent Strata conference in London, Piotr Niedzwiedz, from deepsense.io, spoke about the “Awareness Chasm”, the great chasm that currently exists between business directors and analysts.
Figure 3: Piotr Niedzwiedz in the last Strata conference in London.

According to Mr Niedzwiedz, many of the problems businesses encounter can be solved today by using technical analysis, but businesses are not aware of this, and, in the same way, are not always aware of the problems needing solutions, preventing them from helping, even though they would most definitely be able to.

I therefore encourage them to find their artists and, if they don’t find them, train them. Sit down with your analysis and your business experts, invite them to create together and let them “make a mess”, break things and fail, until one day they will surprise the world with a masterpiece. That is what will allow them to overtake their competitors.
What companies are doing today does not necessarily bring value. Often, you already know how to do it, and your competitors do, too. The thing that will bring you value is waiting inside of your blocks of marble, because, as Aristotle said:

“The goal of art is to give form to the secret essence of things, to to merely copy their appearance.”

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