Monday, May 11, 2009

It can't be business as usual

Hey Giacomo, I hear some Big Thinkers recently convened a seminar in New York. Their topic was, "Making Information Pay." These guys had tackled Big Topics before, but this was huge, even for them. We're talking monumental. Imagine if a publisher could make information pay? Hell, it'd be like effing El Dorado. You'd see people dancing all over the island of Manhattan. Cha-cha-cha.

The Big Thinkers started with data -- lots and lots of data. As Professor Strohfresser would later say, "We knew we needed oodles of data, otherwise no one would take us seriously. Shoot, everyone knows you can't make information pay without data. Data is gold, you just gotta mine it."

So they collected as much data as they could find. Definitions. Statistics. Demographics. Assumptions. Predictions. Government data. Industry data. Historical data. Paid-for data. Free data. Real data. Made-up data. They cast a wide net. They did a deep dive. They found data wherever they could find it. Then they took each datum, cleaned it, scrubbed it and polished it till it shone. Gold.

That was the easy part -- collecting the data. "We knew the data existed and we were confident we could find it. But we never expected to collect so much so quickly. Before we knew it, we had more data than we could organize."

They were in a pickle. They had run into a major problem. Some data pointed up and some data pointed down.
This data contradicted that data. Some data was mute and told them nothing, other data couldn't keep its mouth shut. It was impossible to organize. You had data running away, data forming cliques, data attacking other data, data trying to hide, it was a mess. So the Big Thinkers made a decision -- they were only going to use data that agreed with other data. They knew they were taking a risk. Clem Hoops was the one who made the decision. "We were waiting for the publishing people to jump all over us because of our selective use of data, but they didn't. And we don't know why. Could it be that they weren't able to understand the data?"

Once they'd chosen the data that agreed with other data, then they had to get it ready for presentation. Dickie Dicer put it this way, "You can't just throw data at people. You've got to arrange it so a pattern emerges. Then you've got to format it so the pattern is obvious. It's just like a novel -- it's the story that matters. With this audience, we knew we had to paint them a picture. Or a novel."

They put the data in rows and columns. Then they pivoted the table to see how it looked. Too hard to read. So they sliced it. Then julienned it. Then minced it. Finally, they couldn't control themselves and they went ahead and
grated it. They had workbooks with multiple spreadsheets. Bar graphs and pie charts. X's and Y's all over the place. Colors and 3-D effects. It began to look like something. Something that could be put into a series of slides. Slides that would tell a story.

Tara Taradiddle put it best, "We pulled a rabbit out of thin air. And boy, did that rabbit jump!"

I'm telling you, Giacomo, the audience was serious, the Big Thinkers were serious, the slides were serious, even the lighting was serious. Makes sense. This was serious stuff, this
making information pay. Peoples' ears were glued. Their notebooks were open, their pencils sharpened. I understand it went off without a hitch. The slides were in order and they painted a picture. The Big Thinkers told a story and it was filled with data. Notes were scribbled, expectations were met. The only negative moment came near the end of the presentation when a scruffy-looking kid got up and walked out. "Thought they were gonna talk about widgets," he muttered sullenly as the door closed behind him.

Afterwards they held a meet-and-greet. Fudge bars and teeny bags of corn chips. Sodas. The Big Thinkers stood in line and greeted the audience. Everyone understood that something had happened. The old paradigms were out. New paradigms were in.
Now they would make information pay. All this took place right here in New York not too long ago. Hey Giacomo, whaddya think, should we try and make information pay? Or just watch others do it?

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