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Opinion Beethoven’s ‘Eroica Effect’ and the future of analytics

  • February 28 2018, 6:28am EST

I was educated with an industrial engineering university degree. Engineers are not perceived as very worldly or sophisticated. They are often pictured with a shirt-pocket protector stuffed with pens. But some engineer graduates, like me, do have appreciation for the performing arts.

For example, I appreciate classical music. In particular, I admire and am in awe of the great classical music composers. How did Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn transcribe such beautiful music as notes from their brain to a page of musical score for so many instruments? (Hint: I don’t think they had a mobile phone or email to distract them.)

I believe that in the next few years the adoption rate for analytics will accelerate and have an effect similar to the one Ludwig van Beethoven’s masterpiece – his third symphony, Eroica – had on the future of classical music. Beethoven followed Eroica with his universally memorable fourth to ninth symphonies, and other great composers emulated him. What connection am I making between classical music and analytics?

Breaking free from tradition

Ever hear much about Beethoven’s first or second symphony? Few people have. That is because it was with Eroica, his third symphony, where Beethoven himself is quoted as saying, “I will now take a new path.” It was a radical change in music composition.

Eroica, inspired by Beethoven’s admiration for Napoleon as a world leader, had true melody. Prior to Eroica, Beethoven’s compositions followed a tradition where melody was rare. He complied with the conventional rules of what tasteful music for the elite should sound like. His prior music was influenced by masters who dared not change from tradition, such as Bach and Haydn. But Beethoven had a strong urge to break free from tradition. With Eroica, classical music was changed forever.

The evidence of the “Eroica effect” is this: How many billions of people, including you and me, will die with little trace of remembrance generations from now but a tombstone? But the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Rossini, Sibelius, Grieg and others in their league will be listened to for a long time to come.

Are we now at a point where the application of analytics, like Eroica, will also “take a new path?” Yes – because tradition increasingly gives way to change, and organizations are gradually learning to not just manage change but drive it. They require a “mindset change” as to how to be more competitive by outsmarting their competitors by applying advanced analytics.

The future of analytics

I am not going to conclude by writing about 2018 trends for business analytics and business intelligence (BI). There are already many articles published on that. I will conclude with a longer term vision of the future of analytics.

People are what it’s all about, so I honor and respect the importance of applying the principles and discipline of behavioral change management. With that context, an executive management team need to inspire their organization to be more progressive and experience that “mindset change” referenced earlier.

Consider this brief narration by John Nash, the Princeton University mathematician and Nobel Laureate in Economics. Nash introduced a theory describing how rational human beings should behave if there is a conflict of interest. In the 2001 Academy Award-winning movie about Nash’s life, A Beautiful Mind, he said:

“I like numbers because with numbers truth and beauty are the same thing. You know you are getting somewhere when the equations start looking beautiful. And you know that the numbers are taking you closer to the secret of how things are.”

The executive management teams with the courage, will, caring attitude, and leadership skills will shift their organization’s deployment of analytics from primitive ones, like ratio analysis, to progressive ones, such as correlation, regression, segmentation, clustering, and association analytics. These are some of the tools applied by data scientists.

Those types of executives will narrow, and ideally close, the gap between what level of maturity with analytics their organization is currently at to the much higher level that their users – strategic and operations managers – need for insights and foresight to make better decisions. Those executives will be the initial adopters of advanced analytics and will achieve the full potential of analytics with adding value and improved enterprise performance. Other executive management teams will follow them.

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