Train superstructure It's an unpleasant, abominable idea, submitting something as delicate as culture to the rack of metrification.

But here's why it's necessary. There's so much going on "out there" in culture, so many different people creating so many different innovations, subject to change so violent and frequent, that unless we have metrics at our disposal, well, we're done for. We have no real hope of canvassing all that water front.

It's also true that we can win arguments in the C Suite with heart felt recitations of things we've noticed.  We need something that looks like evidence and works like an argument. 

I was talking to a former student the other day. He works for a company that holds the copyright to popular music. They need to know who's playing what in order to collect royalties. They rely on several data sources including ASCAP which, it turns out, knows exactly at any given moment what's playing and where.

I put down my soup spoon and wept bitterly for a moment. The idea that there is a listening device this good astonished and disheartened me. Disheartened? But of course, perfect data, incredibly useful for listening for changes in American culture (imagining using this data to detect a sudden shift movement towards Country in the Northeast?) and sure as shooting, I think it's fair to surmise, no one uses it for this purpose.

It just sits there, like some wonderful scroll in a desert cave, like some wonderful device in Steven Spielberg's gigantic warehouse, the one where the US government apparently puts everything that is dangerously useful. What is wrong with us, that we should be blessed with these riches, and should fail to put them to advantage. This, this, is what's unpleasant and abominable!

It reminded me of the story about the Dole Pineapple in Hawaii. Some guy was doing a tour of the plantation on the big island, and he noticed that Dole was taking all the juice from their canning operation and pouring it into the ocean. He said, "er, could I have that?"

There are lots of good data out there in addition to ASCAP. All the big pipes designed to speak to the long tail (Amazon, iTunes, etc.) must have tremendous data. They can see upturns for a particular title (have you ordered your copy of Chief Culture Officer?), and with a little experience and good training, they should be able to leap to some very useful conclusions about what is happening in American culture. Google search makes there data available in a general way (with Google Trends).

These data sources are useful individually but aggregated they are a little like a perfect weather map, an opportunity to mix the data streams and watch cultural developments take on a kind of 3D clarity. Yes, it takes a good eye and lots of experience, but I think this data is so rich, it would make geniuses of us all.

Let us get with the program on this one!

3 thoughts on “

  1. kbn

    I would love some insight into how ‘culture officers’ and “perfect data” can best live together, be friends even, the one empowering the other. My recent experience in the agency world has me disheartened bc i see a trend towards opting for the metrics of google search data OVER the insightful, nuanced, observational thinking of the ethnographer. There seems to be a powerful (and perhaps growing?) belief that metrics will tell us everything we need to know about the human condition(s).

  2. Grant McCracken

    kbn, great point, we continue to wish for the ultimate app that will replace costly human intervention, when we know that data is the purest noise if there isnt a human standing by to perform pattern recognition.  There are no findings nothing actionable, nothing strategically useful, without this. Thanks!  Grant

Comments are closed.