Forbes - John Sumser makes the Top 20 Influencers in Big Data list

My unexpected appearance on a Forbes Top 20 List of influencers gave me a new perspective on my own HRExaminer influence project

I got an email from an executive recruiter this morning. It opened with, “As one of Forbes Top 20 Influencers in Big Data I thought you might be able to provide me some networking assistance for a search I am conducting.”

“Hmm,” I thought to myself, “So this is what it’s like.” I googled the Forbes’ Top 20 Influencers in Big Data List. Sure enough, there I was at #17.

I’ve been publishing computer generated lists of influencers for two and a half years. Each list brings a little more clarity about the process. Each time, I dutifully remove myself from the list.

So, I’ve never actually been on one of these things. I’ve never waited for the results, speculated about the importance of my place on them or been surprised and delighted by my inclusion.

The moment was pretty interesting.

This kind of recognition brings a smile and a curious feeling. The smile comes from knowing that my work has been seen and (somewhat) appreciated. The curious feeling comes from knowing enough about the arena to know who should have been on the list.

For my money, Tim O’Reilly (who lives in my neck of the woods) has been a consistent driving force in the evolution of the Big Data story. For sheer sustained impact on the arena, it’s hard to imagine a more powerful driver. But, because the internet is the ultimate ‘what have you done for me lately’ media form, he doesn’t appear on the list.

In these algorithm driven analyses, the use of keywords bounded by a time frame is absolutely essential. It’s the only way you can make the data coherent. It’s only a surprise to a few that the measurement of influence is a classic big data problem.

(That makes it particularly funny to read the comments to the Forbes’ Top 20 Influencers in Big Data List. There you can watch big data experts argue about the big data approach)

In an algorithm driven analysis of influence, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams would not make a list of the Top Influencers in American Culture. Instead, you’d get Oprah, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Brad and Angela and Tim Tebow. A significant figure who took a little time off (unless she’s in a Utah rehab) wouldn’t make the list.

The question is “What the hell do you do with the lists?”

The executive recruiter who sent me the note had it right. The lists are all about knowing who is connected to the story right now. The people on the lists are gateways to other networks of people interested in the topic. Influence lists are a powerful gateway for sourcing and the development of talent networks that are actual networks of talent.

They’re also useful as a way of discovering things and people you don’t know.

To most of the people in the Big Data silo, I’m an unknown quantity. They are never in the flow of my wrestling with the coming tidal wave of data and its impact on HR systems. Their focus is elsewhere.

For the majority of human history, people in a silo of information could rightly assume that they had the inside track on who was who. Every square inch of knowledge used to be organized like a closed fraternity. That all ended with the democratization of publishing at the turn of the century.

There are still vestigial aspects of the fraternity system in place. The universe of analysts in HR were all aware of the deal between Taleo and Oracle well before it happened. On reading their commentary at the moment of the announcement, it’s clear that there were a lot of players with deep insight about the deal before it happened.

Some of what people traditionally think of as influence is membership in those closed systems. Some of us think that the sort of groupthink that is engendered by that sort of inbreeding is bad for business.

Influence lists open the doors and let the sunshine in. As the technology continues to improve, they’ll get better and better.

 
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  • Hank

    John, you are and have been ‘one who influences’. It is interesting that aggregating and presenting those who influence makes you one and is reflective of the value of presenting aggregated content through numerous channels today. Keep your ‘list’ going – please keep rules in place that cause you to choose those who influence – including Tim.

  • Infosourcer

    John, 

    Very nice and insightful post.

    I like the fact that the executive recruiter who contacted you “connected the dots”, and IMHO those are some fine sourcing skills.

    As you state: The lists are all about knowing who is connected to the story right now. The people on the lists are gateways to other networks of people interested in the topic. Influence lists are a powerful gateway for sourcing and the development of talent networks that are actual networks of talent.”

    I, too will be contacting you soon in relation to “Big Data”. Stay tuned ;-)

    Best,
    ~Suzy

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