search instagram arrow-down


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 26,233 other subscribers

Too much math. Too little meaning.


Today we are living in a data driven world infested by mathematics.

In marketing we worship the algorithm and its superiority to human decision making.

In our conversations about music and books and postings we boast about the number of songs we have downloaded, the number of books we have on our Kindles and how we can switch between devices more than discuss the books or the music.

In social media we are besotted by measuring and increasing our followers, friends, and connections.

In a world of  ascending Buzzfeed, Vice, Vox our media landscape is driven by the viral vortex of volume verification.

The wearables that will soon festoon our bodies will allow our quantified selfs to resonate with numerics.

Data data everywhere.So much data we will sink.

Data often without meaning. Who will help us think?

I am a math major. I love numbers and logic.

But somewhere in this hurly burly of numbers we may end up worshiping before the wrong totem pole.

1. Too much plumbing. Too little poetry.

In the world of media we are so fixated on the plumbing of finding the right person at the right place at the right time that we forget that the interaction we deliver will have to be absolutely right and brilliant not to piss of this superbly well located person at the exact right time. The better the “targeting”, the more important the tone, content and quality of the interaction.

Lets think about the poetry (water) versus just the plumbing.

2. Too much content. Too little time..

Marketers instead of focussing on improving their own products and services and gaining insights about their customers have got seduced into being content providers. They believe the social platforms of the world will help them distribute their in house content or they can impregnate journalism with the seed of their marketing messages under the rubric of “native” advertising.

The ability to quantify the social media distribution and the cost reduction in content creation allows for this type of focus and decision making.

In the world of content everybody now is finding ways to create new content and more content and scalable content and viral content without realizing that the time we have is limited and increasingly the returns to content are going to plunge as we increase the numerator (amount of content) while the denominator (amount of time we all have) remains the same.

Soon we will see a major content crash like we did in the cost per thousand views for display advertising.

Because the best content is created for itself and not as a shill for a marketer. It is created by true experts or is truly authentic.

 3. Too much information. Too little common sense.

In Finance we are inundated with books and articles and mutual funds and investment experts who use up everybody’s time and money to justify the money we give them for their time when almost no one can beat this simple three step formula

a) Spend less than you earn

b) Diversify your savings using low cost index funds which you re-allocate once a year

c) Hold for the long term

In Health and Diet we have books  and articles and experts  and charts which eventually cannot beat three steps

a) Eat less and move more.

b) Diversify your eating across a lot of food types (today something that is good for you will be bad and vice versa) while moderating alcohol ( lots of data suggests 2 drinks a day for men and one for women is better than none!)

c) Sleep enough

Intriguing that finance and health have basically the same general best formula built around moderation, diversification and long term habits.

More importantly the point of money is to enable you not to think about it. The point of food is to enjoy it as it is one of life’s great joys versus it being some monster you have to manage and grapple with.

In the end the world of science needs to support the world of living and art.

Anybody can read an excel spread sheet and let the numbers make the decision. In fact if that is what you do get ready for your job to be soon replaced by a machine.

But the point of the machines is so that we do not have to bother as much about the numbers and go on with living.

Its not the number.

Its how you use it to live and what you add to it to make decisions.


8 comments on “Too much math. Too little meaning.

  1. Pete Duborg says:

    Fantastic. Thank you Rishad!

  2. dangermond says:

    Rishad – it’s interesting because Clay Shirky just wrote about how data driven we must be here: And yet something is missing from the big data picture – I remember being an A+ math student and my teacher saying I was the hardest type of student to teach – because I approached math intuitively. When I began two decades ago working for a research firm, I found that my intuition is what helped me figure things out faster than a data set but increasingly the company began to rely and reward data over intuition. I think it’s because you can’t teach intuition. Data without the ability to glance and blink and know what it means is meaningless. People are hungry for data, but without understanding what it means and not just on the surface, but intuitively, it will be challenging to use the information for any meaningful pursuit. So corporations cannot train you to be intuitive, but they could hire more intuitive people. It just takes recognizing and rewarding them.

  3. This is awesome. Simple and beautifully articulated. Love it.

  4. Beth Uyenco says:

    Your blog couldn’t be timelier, Rishad. We have started to worship at the foot of the Big Data Altar. Algorithms alone cannot connect the dots. Analyses require a very clear & very broad understanding of how our world works to understand what data’s value might be and how all the different streams might fit together.

  5. Gr8 post Rishad, loved it …Would be good to see some example of companies who are doing this right ..would be immensely useful .. Have seen Warby Parker annual report or Kickstarter one ..awesome it is..

  6. Very true. Peoples’ needs fundamentally haven’t changed. It’s still a process of learning ‘How to Live’. The data hype is an empty promise without purpose. Whoever is going to use the numbers to help people do things that improve their quality of life will be winning.

  7. Love this. I wrote on a similar topic about the need to “right-size” big data – and that small data is just as important.

  8. John Graham says:

    Rishad, I know the years have passed since you were my first boss at Burnett and I must say reading this as well as seeing your interview with brought me back to 1987. You are a tremendous simplifier who has a way of cutting through it all with intelligence, wit, and even charm. Having ventured back to Burnett in 2010 to lead a 10-agency account, I found my team more intrigued with the science of the tools and the data than remember the “art” required for business. In fact, I made the entire SMG Search team read books about the principles of Direct Response and Direct Marketing. Our numbers changed dramatically after doing so. Kudos for telling it like it is.

Leave a Reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: