6 Lessons ‘Star Wars’ Can Teach Us About Big Data

Whether you’re a data padawan or jedi, what you do with your data is be a key to your company’s suc­cess. May the data be with you!

Brent Dykes By Brent Dykes from Domo. Join the discussion » 1 comment

In the Star Wars uni­verse, there was a strong con­trast between how the two oppos­ing forces used data. The Empire had vast resources at its dis­pos­al, but ulti­mate­ly failed to use its data effec­tive­ly. The small­er, scrap­pi­er Rebel Alliance trust­ed in the data and applied it suc­cess­ful­ly to win its first major bat­tle. Whether you’re a data padawan or jedi, what you do with your data will be a key to your company’s suc­cess.

It’s hard to believe my father took me to the first Star Wars movie 38 years ago in 1977. And now I get to enjoy the next round of “Star Wars” episodes with my own chil­dren. As part of my prepa­ra­tions for “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awak­ens”, I watched the first three films (Episodes IV-VI) with my chil­dren so they under­stand what hap­pened in the pre­ced­ing episodes. As I was watch­ing the first movie (“Episode IV — A New Hope”), I was sur­prised to see how much data played a key role in the sto­ry. Princess Leia believed in the pow­er of data to turn the tide of the Rebel­lion. When she arrived at the rebel base after being freed from the Impe­r­i­al prison by Han Solo and Luke Sky­walk­er, she stat­ed: “You must use the infor­ma­tion in this R2 unit to help plan the attack. It is our only hope.” Data on the Death Star’s con­struc­tion — not a geri­atric Jedi Mas­ter — was what would save the day. The orig­i­nal “Star Wars” movie actu­al­ly teach­es us six valu­able lessons about data. Here are some scenes that stood out to me and what lessons we can learn from them.

1. Recognize The Full Value Of Your Data

At the begin­ning of the movie, there’s a scene where a group of Impe­r­i­al offi­cers are debat­ing the val­ue of the tech­ni­cal data that was stolen by the Rebel Alliance.

Gen­er­al Tagge: What of the Rebel­lion? If the Rebels have obtained a com­plete tech­ni­cal read­ing of this sta­tion, it is pos­si­ble, how­ev­er unlike­ly, they might find a weak­ness and exploit it. Darth Vad­er: The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands. Admi­ral Mot­ti: Any attack made by the Rebels against this sta­tion would be a use­less ges­ture, no mat­ter what tech­ni­cal data they have obtained. This sta­tion is now the ulti­mate pow­er in the uni­verse! I sug­gest we use it.

Clear­ly, Admi­ral Mot­ti didn’t appre­ci­ate the val­ue of the data that fell into the Rebels’ hands. His orga­ni­za­tion was essen­tial­ly hacked by the Rebels, and the Impe­r­i­al offi­cers dis­missed what they could do with the data. Per­haps if they val­ued the data more, they would have had more secu­ri­ty to pro­tect it from falling into the hands of the Rebel Alliance in the first place. Maybe they might have ana­lyzed their own tech­ni­cal data and dis­cov­ered the weak­ness before the Rebels did. Your cor­po­rate data can be a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage for your busi­ness. Are you tak­ing full advan­tage of your cus­tomer data and ensur­ing it won’t fall into the wrong hands?

2. Seek Context To Better Understand Your Data

When Obi-Wan Keno­bi and Luke Sky­walk­er head back to Luke’s farm, they come across the remains of sev­er­al of dead Jawas. Ini­tial­ly, it looked like they were killed by the nomadic war­riors known as the Sand Peo­ple or Tusken Raiders.

Luke: It looks like Sand Peo­ple did this, all right. Look, here are Gaffi sticks, Ban­tha tracks. It’s just…I nev­er heard of them hit­ting any­thing this big before. Obi-Wan: They did­n’t. But we are meant to think they did. These tracks are side by side. Sand Peo­ple always ride sin­gle file to hide their numbers.Obi-Wan: And these blast points, too accu­rate for Sand Peo­ple. Only Impe­r­i­al Stormtroop­ers are so pre­cise.

Old Ben Keno­bi had retired to the bar­ren waste­lands of Tatooine after the Clone Wars. He prob­a­bly had many run-ins with the Sand Peo­ple over the years. His back­ground knowl­edge of the Sand Peo­ple pre­vent­ed him from being tricked by the Stormtroop­ers’ attempts at hid­ing their evil deeds. If con­tent is king in mar­ket­ing, con­text is king in analy­sis. Any­one ana­lyz­ing your data needs to have ade­quate con­text on your busi­ness or else they’re going to miss the sim­ple sub­tleties that can often make or break many analy­ses.

3. Make Precise Measurements & Calculations

When the Mil­len­ni­um Fal­con was forced to flee Tatooine with Impe­r­i­al star­ships in hot pur­suit, Han Solo had plot a course to Alder­aan in the ship’s navi-com­put­er before jump­ing to light speed.

Obi-Wan: How long before you can make the jump to light speed? Han Solo: It’ll take a few moments to get the coor­di­nates from the navi-com­put­er. Luke: Are you kid­ding? At the rate they’re gain­ing…? Han Solo: Trav­el­ing through hyper­space ain’t like dust­ing crops, boy! With­out pre­cise cal­cu­la­tions we could fly right through a star, or bounce too close to a super­no­va and that’d end your trip real quick, would­n’t it.

Han Solo stressed the impor­tance of tak­ing the nec­es­sary time and effort to cal­cu­late a safe path in hyper­space. Hap­haz­ard­ly jump­ing to light speed could cost the lives of the entire crew. You may not be plot­ting your next hyper­space jump across space, but your busi­ness may be increas­ing­ly depend­ing on data to chart its course. If you fail to get the right data, remove the bad data, use out­dat­ed mod­els, or per­form care­less analy­sis, the data could inad­ver­tent­ly steer your busi­ness into a black hole before you can course cor­rect. Rush­ing to insights and deci­sions with­out a sound data foundation—which can take time to plan and maintain—will put your busi­ness at risk.

4. Plan What You’re Going To Track Or Measure

After Princess Leia and her res­cuers escaped from the Death Star, she rec­og­nized their escape was far too easy.

Princess Leia: They let us go. It was the only rea­son for the ease of our escape. Han Solo: Easy? You call that easy? Princess Leia: They’re track­ing us. Han Solo: Not this ship, sis­ter.

Despite Han’s objec­tions to the con­trary, we find out that Darth Vad­er had indeed allowed them to escape.

Gov­er­nor Tarkin: Are they away? Darth Vad­er: They’ve just made the jump into hyper­space. Gov­er­nor Tarkin: You’re sure the hom­ing bea­con is secure aboard their ship? I’m tak­ing an awful risk, Vad­er. This had bet­ter work.

Darth Vad­er under­stood the impor­tance of track­ing and col­lect­ing use­ful data. By allow­ing the Mil­len­ni­um Fal­con to flee with the hom­ing bea­con, the Impe­r­i­al forces were able to dis­cov­er the true loca­tion of the Rebel base on the moon, Yavin IV. It was infor­ma­tion they couldn’t coerce out of Princess Leia even as they were threat­en­ing to blow up her home world of Alder­aan. Darth Vad­er knew you can’t man­age what you don’t mea­sure. Too often I hear of busi­ness­es that launch elab­o­rate mar­ket­ing cam­paigns or dig­i­tal ini­tia­tives, but mea­sure­ment ends up being a last-minute after­thought or even over­looked entire­ly. Plan­ning and effort should go into what you’re going to mea­sure so that you can under­stand what’s bro­ken and improve your ini­tia­tives over time.

5. Hire Smart Analysts

There’s a scene where the Rebel pilots are being briefed on the dif­fi­cult mis­sion of destroy­ing the Empire’s Death Star bat­tle sta­tion.

Gen­er­al Dodon­na: The bat­tle sta­tion is heav­i­ly shield­ed and car­ries a fire­pow­er greater than half the star fleet. Its defens­es are designed around a direct, large-scale assault. A small one-man fight­er should be able to pen­e­trate the out­er defense. Gold Leader: Par­don me for ask­ing, sir, but what good are snub fight­ers going to be against that? Gen­er­al Dodon­na: Well, the Empire does­n’t con­sid­er a small one-man fight­er to be any threat, or they’d have a tighter defense. An analy­sis of the plans pro­vid­ed by Princess Leia has demon­strat­ed a weak­ness in the bat­tle sta­tion. But the approach will not be easy. You are required to maneu­ver straight down this trench and skim the sur­face to this point. The tar­get area is only two meters wide. It’s a small ther­mal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads direct­ly to the reac­tor sys­tem. A pre­cise hit will start a chain reac­tion which should destroy the sta­tion. Only a pre­cise hit will set off a chain reac­tion. The shaft is ray-shield­ed, so you’ll have to use pro­ton tor­pe­does.

The unsung hero in this dia­logue is the ana­lyst or team of ana­lysts that were able to pin­point the weak­ness in the Death Star. The Rebel Alliance would be in a world of hurt if their ana­lysts hadn’t been able to iden­ti­fy a weak point in the Death Star’s defens­es. All of the hon­ors and glo­ry went to Luke Sky­walk­er and Han Solo for destroy­ing the mas­sive bat­tle sta­tion, but the ana­lyst team should have received gold medals at the medal cer­e­mo­ny too (along with Chew­bac­ca). As your busi­ness increas­ing­ly relies on data, you will need to invest in the peo­ple who are going to extract val­ue from your data, which means mak­ing invest­ments in hir­ing the right tal­ent and offer­ing ade­quate train­ing.

6. Use Data To Inform Decision-Making

As the squadrons of Rebel starfight­ers approached the Death Star, the Impe­r­i­al forces had to decide how they would respond to the attack.

Com­man­der #1: We’ve ana­lyzed their attack, sir, and there is a dan­ger. Should I have your ship stand­ing by? Gov­er­nor Tarkin: Evac­u­ate? In our moment of tri­umph? I think you over­es­ti­mate their chances.

Rather than con­sid­er­ing the insight pro­vid­ed by his sub­or­di­nate, Gov­er­nor Tarkin react­ed with an ill-timed emo­tion­al out­burst. With the lives of the esti­mat­ed 1.7 mil­lion per­son­nel at this com­mand hang­ing in the bal­ance, he was close-mind­ed and failed to dig into the data. Tarkin could have asked for fur­ther clar­i­fi­ca­tion: “Based on your analy­sis, Com­man­der, what’s the like­li­hood of the Rebel attack suc­ceed­ing?” If the answer was 95 per­cent , he would have to issue the dif­fi­cult but nec­es­sary evac­u­a­tion order. Busi­ness own­ers who want to estab­lish a data-dri­ven cul­ture must lead by exam­ple in using data to inform deci­sions and cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where sub­or­di­nates can ques­tion actions if they bring sup­port­ing data.

Brent Dykes

Written by Brent Dykes

Director of Data Strategy, Domo

Brent Dykes is the Director of Data Strategy at Domo, which is the world's first open, self-service platform for running your entire business. He has over 12 years of enterprise analytics experience at Omniture and Adobe, working with many industry leaders such as Microsoft, Sony, Dell, Comcast, and Nike. Dykes was given the Most Influential Industry Contributor Award by the Digital Analytics Association in 2016. He is also the published author of two books: Web Analytics Action Hero and Web Analytics Kick Start Guide.

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