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Drinking From the Fire Hose: Get it While it's Hot

Posted by Brant Cruz on Tue, Aug 30, 2011

DFTF resized 600Nearly a year ago, my friend and long-time client Chris Frank (formerly of Microsoft, now Vice President, Global Marketplace Insights at American Express) told me he’d been approached to write a book.  Several good-natured digs and a decent steak later, I learned that Chris was serious. By the end of the meal I had been sworn to secrecy. Over the course of the last 10 months I’ve gotten a sneak peek at the title (Drinking from the Fire Hose) and its contents (based on a proof copy Chris sent me last month).  Now the book, a clarion call for smart effective data use—not just more data, is officially available for sale. The time is right for me to tell the world about it.

I promise later this week I will write something with a lot more personality. But I want to take a serious tack today for two reasons:
  • I wanted to see if I could do it.

  • I consider Drinking From the Fire Hose a “must read” for anyone who either uses data to make decisions, or who provides data, insight, and recommendations for decision makers to use in their decision making. 

“Fire Hose” asks researchers and decision makers to step back and siphon the jet stream of data most of us have at our fingertips, and to be parsimonious about which insights we bring to the decision makers we support to help them act confidently.  One of my favorite sections was the description of the Customer Impact Assessment (CIA).  I’ve seen versions of this standard used at most great companies with outstanding market research/consumer insights teams.  Jeff Resnick (formerly of eBay, now at Zynga) always asks the question “Okay, so who wins here and how do we make sure they know it?  Who loses here, and how do we help them win somewhere else.” It’s a great reminder of questions we should always be asking ourselves as researchers whenever we frame up recommendations. 

I’ve read some of Fire Hoses' predecessors in this “making sense of a data-driven world” genre. "Fire Hose" goes beyond the field, providing an important contrast to books like Ian Ayers' “Super Crunchers” and Stephen Baker’s “The Numerati,” books whose fascination with the amount of data obscure the importance of analysis in real world application.  While these books do fabulous jobs of describing the possible, Frank and Magnone do an equally great job prescribing what is practical.  If Ayers’ and Baker’s approach is the excitable young resident eager to make the most exotic diagnoses; Fire Hoses’ is your trusted primary care doctor who gets your diagnosis right because he understands the science of what ails you, and because he’s treated the ailment before.

Note:  I am very tempted to insert a whole slew of equally bad analogies here, but will wait until my next post.

But, who is this book for?  My guess is that most of the concepts in "Fire Hose" will feel familiar to all of us.  But that few or none of us practice all of the concepts as thoroughly and habitually as we should.  For me personally, I learned a number of new tricks.  But at least equally important, I was reminded of some key “rules” that are very familiar, but that I don’t follow as religiously as I should.  The book has left me energized and re-committed to nailing some of the fundamentals that can separate very good research from great research.  I hope you all feel the same when you read it.

Now, for those of you who prefer a more whimsical Brant, I provide the following “sneak peak” of my next Drinking from the Fire Hose blog post…

“I didn’t realize he had such kind eyes.”  That was my wife’s initial reaction when I plopped this month’s issue of the Market Research Association’s “Alert” magazine in front of my wife.  And you know what, I think she’s right.  I never expected to see a nearly life-sized photo of Chris Frank’s mug quite so close up.  But truth be told, I must admit he’s pretty photogenic.

Posted by Brant Cruz. Brant is a VP and resident segmentation guru at CMB.

Topics: big data, business decisions, consumer insights