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Bad air, virality, misconstructions and BI

Enterprise BI lessons from the 19th century

· business analytics,BI strategy,data driven,predictive analytics,Analytics insight

Miasma theory, the old belief that disease was transmitted by “bad air” had a hint of truth to it. The theory met its limits when people focused on masking bad smells instead of improving hygiene, as many did during the Great Stink of London in 1858. Thankfully, through careful observation and reflection, data driven people like John Snow managed to cut through prevailing wisdom to properly identify the root cause of water-borne diseases.

One modern equivalent, “misinfodemics” occurs when disease spreads as a result of viral misinformation. Think anti-vaxx memes here.

How can we describe the equivalent phenomenon that occurs within companies? “Misconstruction” seems ominous enough. It’s really just a fancy version of the word misinterpretation, but with extra gravitas.

Why do misconstructions go viral inside organizations? I think it’s because they all contain a hint of truth. They’re plausible. And when enough people are repeating the same misconstruction, it’s incredibly hard to have a contrary opinion. Woe to the lone dissenter in a room of nodding heads.

So how can companies inoculate against viral misconstructions? One approach would be to encourage dissenting opinion. Another would be to encourage open-mindedness. But to build a robust system, companies need to invest in evidence-generating tools that can quash misconstructions early. This means investing in business intelligence strategy, data mining tools, data reporting tools, predictive analytics and perhaps most importantly, data visualization best practices to ensure that people can properly interpret the evidence presented to them.

Companies are ultimately measured based on their ability to correctly identify situations and craft appropriate responses. Having tools in place to ensure that the wisdom of the crowd isn’t just a frequently repeated misconstruction seems prudent.

Special thanks to Nat Gyenesan and Xiao Mina for their inspiring article in The Atlantic, How Misinfodemics Spread Disease.

Make data-driven decisions. At 3AG Systems we help businesses improve by transforming their data into actionable insights. Learn more.

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