Victorio Milian, Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Victorio Milian, Editorial Advisory Board Contributor


Big Data is (broadly) the concept of organizations harnessing massive data sets to achieve competitive advantage in the marketplace. Due to a number of interrelated factors (computing power becoming cheaper, more items gathering and transmitting data,  companies looking to exploit this potential service), it’s a subject of interest for many. Proponents discuss the possibility of data being used to identify candidates for hard to fill roles, to quantify and optimize the Human Resources profession, and to provide consumers with goods and services more in-line with their needs. (Here is a Big Data overview from an earlier HR Examiner post that’s worth reading.)

All of these objectives make sense. For businesses, any tool or practice that allows people to work smarter (and earn a profit) is welcome. For many organizations, large repositories of potentially useful data already exist. Any system of record that a company utilizes (such as its payroll system or HRIS) contains data that may be mined. The capacity and disciplinary processes needed to implement Big Data concepts (such as data collecting, quality control, reporting, and analysis) may also already exist. This means that an organization may just need a shift in strategy and tactics (as opposed to investments in resources, human and otherwise) in order to put Big Data practices in play.

But instead of providing an explicit roadmap by which you can exploit Big Data concepts, I want to discuss strategic blind spots to avoid. With that, I want to talk first about hip-hop.


Hip-hop is a popular American music genre, with many artists and companies consistently earning significant profits off of the music. What many may not know is that in its early years, hip-hop was unpopular amongst mainstream listeners. In addition, most major labels didn’t have artists on their rosters, believing them to be unmarketable. This includes acts such as (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees) Run-D.M.C., now recognized as one of the greatest musical acts in American history, as well as the first hip-hop artists to have their video played on MTV.

A story tells of Russell Simmons, co-founder of the pioneering hip-hop record label Def Jam, trying to convince an executive team from Adidas to sign Run-D.M.C. to a sneaker contract. He brought them to a club where they were performing. Run then told the crowd to “take their Adidas off and wave them in the air!” The vast majority of the kids in attendance did so, as the group were well known to wear them. They got the contract and Run-D.M.C. became the first non-athletes to sign an exclusive sneaker deal, valued at $1.5 million.

Now on to zombies


World War Z is a book written by Max Brooks. It’s fashioned in the style of a United Nations report, where the protagonist interviews key figures as zombies are eliminating humanity. While the subject can be dismissed as unrealistic, if you substitute the word “avian flu” (or any number of other potential epidemics) for “zombie,” then you’ll see why this book is a fun, yet anxiety causing, read.

During one interview, the protagonist talks to an Israeli intelligence officer named Jurgen Warmbrunn. Jurgen discusses how the state of Israel avoided being overrun by zombies, where others (including the United States) did not.

He states:

“In October of 1973, when the Arab sneak attack almost drove us into the Mediterranean, we had all the intelligence in front of us, all the warning signs, and we had simply “dropped the ball.” From 1973 onward, if nine intelligence analysts came to the same conclusion, it was the duty of the tenth to disagree (emphasis mine).”

In essence, the Israeli intelligence community emphasized the need for skepticism in the face of consensus. Even when the data seems to unanimously point to a certain conclusion, you must dig deeper to confirm that it’s valid. In the case of World War Z, this skepticism allows the Israeli government to take appropriate steps to save its citizens.


In my hip-hop example, having vast organizational resources and capabilities did nothing for record executives when it came to identifying hip-hop’s marketability. The art form’s perception at the time (urban youth music) hid the opportunity for labels to get their foot in the door early, allowing companies like Def Jam (and pioneers such as Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin) to claim early market share. In World War Z, zombies are a metaphor for how groups can be incapable of recognizing and adjusting to threats, in spite of the vast wealth of intelligence available.

In both cases, blind spots were at work.

Organizational strategies regarding the application of Big Data can allow for better decision making. However, it cannot substitute for the ability to see opportunities beyond itself. Big Data is not a substitute for quality analysis.

On its own, Big Data won’t sell your product or service. And it won’t save you from zombies.

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