Thursday, 20 June 2013

Mining Data....Nuggets of Gold & Pearls of Wisdom

I have a geeky confession to make... I get way too excited about the potential findings from the spreadsheets with huge data sets that I pull together and analyse looking for ideas and insight. 

It has been 6 months since I became involved with #UKfechat and 2 months since #edtechchat was established. I get a lot out of these and am keen to highlight what a great resource this is to others.

Recently I spent a bit of time looking at the archives for both these chat sessions, and I noticed some interesting recurring themes that I thought were worth researching.

If you're interested in finding out what these themes are, I'm afraid you'll need to stay tuned as I am still collating and assessing the data... but all will be reveled very soon. Or as Dr River Song would might put it to The Doctor;

River Song says, "Spoilers, sweetie."

Anyway, exploring these themes has led to me spending a considerable amount of time collating tweets from over 170 chat sessions over a 2 month period. This has generated a data set consisting of thousands of rows in an excel spreadsheet, which I will be wading my way through to compile my findings... Thanks a lot #ukfechat & #edtechchat!

I needed to give my eyes and head a bit of a break from this never ending spreadsheet and thought I'd work on a blog post... But what to discuss?

Why bother spending weeks - maybe even months - looking at this huge data set?

There are a number of reasons for my motivation for working on these time consuming (not to mention mind numbing) projects. I thought it might be worth highlighting the rationale to demonstrate (or convince myself) that there is "method in the madness"

Scratch Your Own Itch
In his brilliant book "ReWork" Jason Fried, CEO of 37 Signals discusses his unconventional, but extremely effective, business strategies and philosophy. One of these practices includes how the company decides which products and software to develop; 

"The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use. That let's you design what you know - and you'll figure out immediately whether or not what you're making is any good."

By the way, Fried also goes on to highlight what I believe to be one of the biggest challenges in EdTech today;

"At 37 Signals, we build products that we need to run our own business... If you're solving someone else's problem, you're constantly stabbing in the dark. When you solve you're own problem, the lights come on. You know exactly what the right answer is" 

It is for this precise reason that I think more educators need to be involved with the R&D process for education services, something that seems to be in a healthier state in the US than I can see in the UK.

Anyway I like 37 Signals advice and I work on projects and areas that are of interest to me and hope that, eventually, both myself and others will find the data useful, I'm delighted that this does tend to usually turn out to be the case... even if its for different reasons than the original hypothesis.

For example, in my Business Development Idea for FE report, I wanted to map all the FE College campuses to save time when planning college meetings, I had no idea that I would discover the number of commercial outlets that the FE Community had. 

Show your Friendship First
If the research is done well then this will provide some good, relevant and (hopefully) unique content.

Content is the core of inbound marketing but for me it is more than the prospect of having good content. I think that Dave Kerpen from Likeable Media puts an important point across very well in this post "Always show your friendship first

After all... as Steven Johnston highlights collaboration is a great source of good ideas! Where ideas come from.

The spirit of Kerpen's message also mirrors Napoleon Hill's advice.

Quality & Community Spirit
In 1937 Napoleon Hill was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie to research the philosophy of successful people. He makes some great observations about mindset, work ethic... and the importance of time;

Hill points observes "What else, apart from ideas, services and your time, can someone 'not possessed of property' have to give?" 

He goes on to suggest that you need to identify what advantages and benefits you can offer members of your group/community in return for their collaboration and cooperation. Regardless of the sector you work in or what advantages you might offer, Hill recommends following the "QQS Formula" - Quality, Quantity and Spirit.
  • Quality of service - performing in the most efficient manner possible.
  • Quantity of service - Giving all the service of which you are capable, at all times, with the purpose of increasing the amount of service as you develop greater skill through practice and experience.
  • Spirit - The positive manner in which you deliver service.
Sounds a lot like community engagement and inbound marketing techniques, written in the 1930s.

Implicit Learning & Meta Data
I mentioned the potential impact of Implicit Learning in education in my Culture in Education report, which seems to be equally applicable in a work context. 

An good area to study the role of implicit learning at work is the stock market trading floor. Obviously traders are following data from the markets minute by minute, day after day. A study looked at the behaviour and actions of extremely successful traders compared with other traders. 

In the study it was clear that the high performing traders were utilising methods different from those used by others. They were less likely to rely on elaborate research for their decision-making and much more likely to cite "instinct" in buying and selling shares. Implicit knowledge played an important part of the most successful people in this industry. Other traders operated in a rule governed way.

The concept here is not dissimilar to the much touted 10,000 hour mentality.

Market traders can also use biological cues to assess when they might be making good and bad decisions, i.e. don't buy or sell when the readings get below some baseline levels... this could mean that frustration won't play a role in making any bad trades.

When they hooked themselves up to biofeedback units traders can measure blood flow in the pre-frontal cortex (part of the brain most responsible for focus, concentration and attention). Temperature readings rise when relaxed and "in the zone" and fall during periods of frustration and distraction.

Indeed some people have suggested that these biofeedback machines should be hooked up to traders PCs and cut out any time the traders are frustrated, distracted or not focused... they either find a way to relax and regain focus or they don't trade! Boy could we have done with a system like this a few years ago!

Anyway the point here for me is that immersing myself in this kind of data set might have a similar effect and I might, one day, intuitively know what a good Edu idea looks like. Who knows what kind of information my subconscious will pick up by reading thousands of educators tweets and links? 

Or maybe its just that my introverted nature means that I like to get away from it all for a while, and claiming to mine data from a massive spreadsheet is as good a reason as any... and is more professionally acceptable than if I were to put a sign up saying...

The Worst Fisherman Ever!
Thomas Edison, with 1,093 US patents, is one of the most successful scientists ever… but was also one of the worst fishermen ever!

Edison used to spend an hour almost everyday sitting at the end of a dock and fish. He always fished alone, but he never caught any fish. People wondered why Edison was obsessed with fishing when he is so bad at it? Late in life Edison admitted;

“I never caught any fish because I have never used any bait.”
 “Why in the world would you fish without bait?” Asked his audience
 “Because when you fish without bait, people don’t bother you and neither do the fish. It provides me my best time to think.”

In today's "always on" 24/7 lifestyle, some commentators question whether we are setting ourselves enough time aside to reflect and think? And highlights the power of these quiet times? Susan Cain suggests there is...

"We need much more privacy and much more freedom and much more autonomy at work. School, same thing. We need to be teaching kids to work together, for sure, but we also need to be teaching them how to work on their own. This is especially important for extroverted children too. They need to work on their own because that is where deep thought comes from in part.

We need to go to the wilderness. Be like Buddha, have your own revelations. I'm not saying that we all have to now go off and build our own cabins in the woods and never talk to each other again, but I am saying that we could all stand to unplug and get inside our own heads a little more often" Susan Cain, Author of Quiet and The Power of the Introverts Ted Talk

Maybe trawling through spreadsheets has nothing to do with meta data and more to do with the fact that analyzing big data sets gives me time to myself. 

While I am more than happy to spend time on these projects... especially as the positive feedback I get from educators makes it all worthwhile! But, at the same time it is important that we value our time and deciding where and what to spend time on is not something that I take lightly! Especially when you consider what Hill's parting comment from his research;

"I would remind you that life is a draughts board, and the player opposite you is time. If you hesitate before moving, or neglect to move promptly, your draughts will be wiped off the board by time. You are playing against a partner who will not tolerate indecision!"

I know that I want to work in education, but I also realise that the sales processes are radically changing, so I need to find new methods of engaging with the various stakeholders that I want to work with.

When you know what you want, go toward it. Sometimes you go very fast, sometimes only an inch a year. It doesn't matter... as long as you move.

It is for all these reasons that I now return to the wilderness that is a huge spreadsheet to see if I can turn it into a magnificent garden... And maybe to come up smelling of roses within the education community.

Regardless I am more than happy to "show my friendship first" by spending my time on these projects to see what little gems of information and ideas the data uncovers... 

There's gold in that there data!

No comments:

Post a Comment