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Predictive analysis: The art of time travel.

Predictive analysis: The art of time travel. featured image

The improbable black swan.

A very significant ‘black swan’ event is currently unfolding globally. Like the thinkers of the 16th century accustomed to white swans, many of us missed the improbable. The current pandemic has surprised many organisations, only seeing the signs in their data when looking backward.

Imagine being able to able to travel in time, getting a glimpse of the future, to better prepare for battle. Fictional time travellers, like Dr Who, use their knowledge of the future to rapidly identify and battle their foes, saving the earth from threats like cybermen, daleks, zygons and weeping angels.  


The science: predicting the future.

Not all of us have access to a working TARDIS to travel into the future. But we can use the science of predictive analytics to generate future insights with a significant degree of precision. Predictive models use historical data to predict future events. In simple terms, they collect data from multiple locations, make sense of it, identify patterns to predict the future and then display the information in relevant systems to support decision making.

Predictive analytics workflow from MathWorks

Predictive models are currently being used by epidemic data scientists to predict the spread of COVID19 so that frontline organisations can better prepare. Such models that help us answer ‘what if’ questions like identifying the most effective mix of shutdowns, closures and quarantines.

Similar predictive models can also be used in business to see the future, helping us prepare despite significant uncertainty. In the marketing realm, predictive models have successfully identified the need to change stock levels; pricing, shipping costs and shipping times; customer segments and customer acquisition costs.


The art: insights need to be well communicated.

Building and interpreting predictive models is a type of (data) science. To successfully travel in time, your organisation also needs art. Insights aren’t enough. Your people need to understand the predictions so that they can improve your customer experience.

Complex messages are best communicated through art. ‘Cattening the curve’ is a much more plateable message than ‘flattening the curve’. The chart works because it is playful, highly shareable on social media and uses analogies to soften confronting information. We can picture the difference between a lion stalking through the jungle, rubbing its germs all over the foliage and a housecat content in its bed at home. Data only has value when it drives change.


Don’t let your TARDIS backfire.

Travelling into the future takes more than a data warehouse and a fancy business intelligence tool like Tableau or PowerBI. No model can completely capture the complexity of the real world. Nassim N. Taleb, who popularised the concept of black swan events, advocated for the need to bring together knowledge and imagination to predict the future successfully. Big data isn’t for beginners – there’s many wormholes that organisations get lost in.


Our world has fundamentally changed.
You need fresh models to light the path to growth.

Your organisation needs to move quickly. Hoist brings the perfect blend of art and science to predict the future, avoiding common mistakes. Get the trusted insights your organisation needs rapidly with our team of data scientists, illustrators and communicators. Mad data scientists working in isolation aren’t enough.

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