It’s official, kids: Big Data is around the bend, out of control, and off the charts.
To prove the point, Harvard Business Review published an article called, “Data-Driven Management Can Also Be Compassionate“. Featuring a photograph of Amazon’s CEO — appearing to have mis-matched eyes and looking menacingly deranged — the article starts like this:
Jeff Bezos has a simple, powerful and culturally-compatible way to combat accusations that Amazon is a soulless, dystopian workplace: double down on being data-driven. Preempt bad employee vignettes with better empathic analytics.
That’s right. Empathic analytics. There are only two conceivable rationalizations for a statement like that. And as it happens, neither of them is sane:
- That Amazon can combat accusations of being a soulless, dystopian workplace by combining hair of the dog with fighting fire with fire; that is, by using soulless, dystopian means to combat the rap that it’s a soulless, dystopian workplace.
- That we’ve taken the anthropomorphization of inanimate things so far as to grant a metaphysical property — a soul — to inanimate matter — data.
This is exactly the kind of academic exercise that gives academic exercises a bad name. And I admit: I haven’t been invited to run MIT’s Sloan School yet. But you really have to wonder about an academic institution (as opposed to one a little closer to reality) called the Center for Digital Business. The Center for the Study of Digital Business Tools … maybe. Digital Business? Good grief.
And just when you’re tempted to think things can’t get any farther out there, HBR adds inanity to insanity by taking its own advice and doubling down:
Amazon’s CEO might understandably want greater (statistical) confidence that his high-performance culture quantitatively reflects and respects the quality of mercy. If Amazon’s culture of metrics truly cares about caring, in other words, it will measure it. Data will eradicate ignorance and ambiguity.
Uh huh. According to HBR, Jeff Bezos should desire statistical proof of mercy because data will eradicate ignorance and ambiguity. Astute, compassionate human beings interacting with other human beings won’t eradicate ignorance and ambiguity. Data will. It’s the fulfillment (it has to be!) of Richard Brautigan’s techno-clairvoyant vision.
If data respects mercy and has a soul, I’m going to update the B.B. King classic for the digital age: “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother and Big Data.”
In the meantime, God help us all.
Photo by Andreas Praefcke (own photograph), via Wikimedia Commons