It seems for a long while doctors in the 19th century did not wash hands between examining different patients or doing an autopsy resulting in perpetual cross infections and high mortality. One such example is by Doctor Ignaz Semmelweis who found out the link after observing a lot of cases but not before a lot of people losing their lives. The mindset is still the same, people need to be presented with a lot of data before they could take an action without applying the knowledge and reasoning.

Either the data way or highway

I have met my neighbour who is a doctor and he sometimes asks my granny for advice to take care of his child. I asked him “You being a doctor, why are you asking my granny for advice, she can’t even read”. I was in school when I had this conversation, I did not understand at that point. His reply was “Not everything can be found out scientifically, people over time will develop the habit of observing cause and effect, so grandmother’s advice works most of the time”.

There are different ways one can take a decision, data is one of them. There are others are like observation (anecdotes and personal experiences), logical (computing using formulas), hypotheses (works in one case, it should work in another similar case too). The problem with a shiny tool is everyone wants to buy that and then try to find how to use the tool instead of having a place for each one of them. The mindset I observe is that people can afford to be wrong as long as the data supports them. What if the data collected and analyzed is not the right one. People who think that they can solve any problem using data, can you predict the next FIFA world cup winner with a great confidence? Can you program a bot to get 100x returns from stock markets in a year if we can access the necessary hardware and tools?

While data crunching just like multiplying numbers is best left with machines, computers will speed up the rate at which humans can make mistakes. What use is of a knowledge that we extract from data when we don’t have an opinion or a theory on what to expect? Human intelligence should have its space as it is equipped with the most complex computer which is hard to understand how it works.

Just by running behind a method is not going to help, same with running behind the toolset and techniques behind data. One should know what they want to achieve instead of just trying to setup an infrastructure then wish for something to emerge out of it. There is also a rampant misclassification of simple analytics, graphing and time series as data solutions. Let us use all the available tools in the arsenal, not just rely on the shiniest one.

Whenever I met someone new and talked about business analysis, requirement gatherings or happy customer; I used to narrate the following story from Tales of Tenali Raman which I read in my school days. The story has many variations but the crux is the same. It is about the king who promises to Tenali Raman that he can keep any one in this world happy as he has the powers and resources to achieve that. Tenali Raman challenges that it is impossible and brings a kid to the palace.

The King sits beside the kid and tells him that he will get him anything to keep him happy. The kid immediately asks for an elephant and gets it. He goes on a joy ride on the elephant around the town along with the King. They stop when the kid gets excited on seeing a pottery ware house and asks the King to get a fancy looking pot for himself. The King obliges and orders for a pot. Now the kid asks the elephant to get into the pot and the pot breaks. The kid lets out a loud wail that the pot is broken. The King to keep up his promise, orders one more pot and the same thing happens. It keeps on happening until all the pots are broken and the kid continues to cry. Having watched all this, the kid’s mom rushes in with a small toy elephant and convinces the kid that the toy is so good that it fits into her basket and they can take it home. The kid gets convinced and leaves for home happily with his mom leaving the embarrassed King behind.

Why I narrate this story is, we are right now moving our days through information overload and the idea of the whole system never gets painted in our mind. We always tend to think problems to be linear and little do we give a thought about how small actions can have long term effects. In the above story the King never asked the intentions of the kid when he asked for a pot after getting the elephant, had the king known that before he could have talked the kid out of buying the pot by explaining before the kid lost his cool. Similar situations happen in day to day work especially when requirements are collected iteratively; but the situations are not so easily visible to our eyes like the elephant & the pot story and end up with rework because of trying to achieve something as a result of completing it by parts.

We need to acknowledge that there exists a system which is not linear and the whole system is much more than just the simple sum of the parts. Also wish to introduce a term from the book Patterns of Software, by Richard P Gabriel

Organic Order – the kind of order that is achieved when there is a perfect balance between the needs of the parts and needs of the whole.