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This book takes a typical "management primer" approach - it ...
on 14 July 2014
This book takes a typical "management primer" approach - it is narrative-based, as deep as an oil slick and ultimately as intellectually nutritious as cotton candy. There is a grinding inconsistency between the approach of the book and the message it is trying to impart. A book about the benefits of using data to make decisions needs to show-not-tell and this book contains virtually no data or quantitative analysis.
One problem with the narrative approach is that sooner or later any given reader encounters a story they have some familiarity with and realises how it has been simplified and spun to suit the purposes of the book. That moment came for me with the story of Steve Jobs' management of his terminal cancer referenced from Isaacson's authorised biography, pp. 550-551. But any rounded account of this story also has to engage with the very different impression given by pp. 452-456 of the same book. You need to take an 'N = all' approach to your sources, guys!
I really parted company with this simplistic narrative at the account of 'The-Numbers.com' which uses big data to predict income from movie proposals (pp. 144-145). I challenge any movie fan to read this section and not be thinking: "ha! that explains a lot about Hollywood's output over the last decade!". But the book never even acknowledges there might be any problem with this approach. For the rest of the book, I was expecting the authors to return to this piece of low-hanging fruit, but they never did. What a missed opportunity to introduce the problem of "causal pollution" of big data sets. As soon as big data gets used extensively to drive decisions, feedback from those decisions begins to pollute the data set reducing its predictive value and constricting the solution space. When a movie is predicted to be a flop, it never gets made so the prediction never gets tested. Meanwhile the same old movies are getting made again and again and with the same stars, their ageing making their performance increasingly ridiculous. So the whole industry is locked in a spiral of decline having poisoned the well of creativity. We can probably live with the suicide-by-data of Hollywood, but the same processes are behind many of the problems with the world financial system.
This book was given to me as a gift, but I've learned to steer clear of any book that has notes and bibliography which consist mainly of media articles and journalistic interviews rather than academic research.