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Thick Data

The most meaningful data is "the emotional, even visceral context in which people encounter" products and services, say Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen in The Wall Street Journal (3/22/14). Christian and Mikkel, authors of The Moment of Clarity, refer to such input as "thick data." It’s the kind of data Lego used to get back on track, based as it was on "countless hours of video, thousands of photos and journal entries, and hundreds of artifacts of the play experience."

That’s how Lego figured out that while maybe not every kid wants to build stuff, those who do "want to achieve mastery, and they want to understand where they fit into the hierarchy of Lego skills." That led Lego away from pre-fab toys and right back to what made it great to begin with: the brick. Samsung similarly used "thick data" to find out that customers were less interested in televisions as technology than as pieces of furniture. A company called Coloplast, meanwhile, used "thick data" to find that their assumptions were all wrong.

Coloplast’s assumption was their stoma bags, used by patients after colon surgery, leaked because of inadequate adhesives. Thick data revealed, however, that actually leakages happened because patient weight changes following surgery made it hard to keep the bags in place. "Even with the magnificent computational power at our disposal," the authors write, "sometimes there is no alternative to sitting with problems, stewing in them and struggling with them with the help of careful, patient, human observation."