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What Beats Big Data? Small Data

The author of a new book argues companies should focus less on data and more on conversations.

Ask Google how many people are searching for the term "big data" and you'll get a graph that resembles a steep mountainside. The concept has become incredibly hot over the last few years and it shows no signs of cooling anytime soon.

And why not? Every day our devices spew out an incredible amount of data on our behavior, preferences, and relationships. You can't blame companies for hoping that all that raw information hides a few valuable nuggets of business insight. What could be wrong with our newfound obsession with combing through numbers for profit-boosting insights and previously unnoticed correlations?

The trouble according to Martin Lindstrom, author or Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends, is when we fetishize data to the point that we forget to actually talk to people. In a fascinating interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Lindstrom argues that what he terms "small data," i.e. face-to-face conversations with actual, real-life customers often in their own homes, is a more reliable source of great business ideas than massive databases and sophisticated number crunching.

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