Data, analytics and Leadership : Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Big Data

Wally BockFrom Wally Bock‘s Three Star Leadership Blog

For years Tycho Brahe studied the heavens taking hundreds of pages of precise observations. When he died in 1601, Johannes Kepler, who was working for Brahe at the time, took those observations into his custody. Kepler wanted to use them to understand the movements of the planets.

It took him a few years to develop his first two laws of planetary motion. But the third turned out to be much tougher. With the first two, Kepler could reason his way to conclusions and then test them against the data. Developing the third law proved to be a very different proposition.

No elegant reason cut to the answer. This would be a process of one trial after another until he hit pay dirt. Author Edward Dolnick phrased it this way.

“Like a safecracker armed with nothing but patience, he tried every combination he could think of.”

It took more than a dozen years before he discovered the complicated computation at the heart of the third of his Laws of Planetary Motion. Imagine him trying one computation after another, hour after hour and day after day for more than a decade.  Big data tools could have done it faster.

Most Big Data operations are the same kind of brute force computation that Kepler did, only much faster. Big Data is the new panacea. It will do just about everything, we’re told. But before we start planning for the era of universal peace and an end to disease and hunger which will surely come, it’s worth pondering that the computation is only the middle part of the process.

Kepler was using the Big Data of his day, but he had to know what he was looking for. He had to use good, accurate data. And he had to have some idea of how he could use it when he found it. That hasn’t changed simply because we can calculate faster.

Here are some articles to read when the Big Data Hype threatens wash over you.

From David Brooks: What Data Can’t Do

From Steve Lohr: Sure, Big Data Is Great. But So Is Intuition.

From Forbes: IBM CEO Predicts Three Ways Technology Will Transform The Future Of Business

Here’s Wally’s original post

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