A small review of “Small Data” by Martin Lindstrom

I found this new book by Martin Lindstrom as I was walking to my gate at LGA a little over a week ago and subsequently have read most of it on flights since then. The title first grabbed my attention on a prominent outer shelf at a book kiosk. Its cover with bold title and magnifying glass communicated that it would dig into its topic and would be of interest to those interested in data. I did not know of the author or his previous works, and had not read any reviews of the book. Indeed, I still do not know if any have been written- so these represent my unbiased comments.
What I did not realize until much later was that this was a book about branding. It is also a detective book too, as Martin literally searches through trash and toilet water to make his discoveries. But it’s much more than a branding detective story. Small data as a book brims with insights on humans that only come from the very small data that is collected from subtext analysis involving interviewing and or watching humans and analysis of their surroundings and behaviors. An observational experiment with humans, what do they do, what do they surround themselves with, how do they want to be seen and how has technology changed them?
The 8 chapters are anecdote filled, describing the author’s adventures in helping well known brands rediscover their mojo and reclaim territory perhaps lost through disconnecting with their core customer or through the passage of time and shifting tastes. It’s as much a well written, absorbing travelogue cultural smorgasbord as behavioral analysis, passing through Russia, Saudia Arabia, India, the Middle East, Brazil, China, Japan, USA and more. There is some humor added to what could well be a very dry topic, and the author’s take on everything connecting pop culture and marketing is simmering. Several times there are linkages and statements that make you realize how seemingly superficial much of human behavior is and how our lust for technology is changing culture in not so subtle ways. Martin Lindstrom is a modern day Sherlock Holmes who searches for clues to tricky branding cases that deserves to be read. Small data is elementary in a big data world and we should pay attention to it in all fields, not just those described in the book.

As a scientist I think we have shifted to focus on big data, we have also seemingly lost the serendipity we once had that resulted in many discoveries and treatments. Yet this could probably return if we looked at the small data too. This is something I have discussed before. We need  scientists to take note of this book. I am sure readers in other fields will want to go back and look at small data. The book could also influence so many areas which have ignored the small in favor of the big. The author has provided a timely reminder that the most valuable data may be right in front of our noses.

small data

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