Entrepreneurs

Council Post: Data Isn’t The New Oil — Time Is

By Michael Kershner, founder of ILC, an integrated lighting design and procurement company. Also, co-founder of a new stealth construction SaaS startup.

I wanted an ottoman for a chair in my home office. Four weeks later, I’d finally gotten one. I couldn’t help but think, Why did I take so long to buy something so simple? After a little ruminating, I had my answer: Data analysis paralysis. I had been paralyzed by options and a lack of trustworthy sources of info. In the end, researching that $75 ottoman cost me $1,275 by my hourly rate as a C-suite exec.

My time is invaluable — and I want it back.

In 2006, British mathematician and Tesco marketing mastermind Clive Humby shouted from the rooftops, “Data is the new oil.” For the next 15 years, big tech like Facebook and Google scooped incalculable data to fascinate us with as much unfiltered information as possible. Their business models quickly turned toward becoming the largest attention merchants in the world. They dig and dredge and glean and gather our information, and they do it not to make our lives better, but to keep us on their platforms long enough to sell us things. In response, we’ve obsessed and addicted ourselves to absorbing it all. 

They get billions in record earnings. We get billions of wasted hours.

We presume data tech makes us happier, yet some studies suggest the opposite. We study how tech enables us to waste our time, and we question whether we waste time collecting data. The typically human result is that we amass enormous amounts of data on wasting time collecting data.

Everyone seems starved of time: time to relax, time for family and friends, time to do absolutely nothing. When we do find a few minutes, we’re witnesses to the FOMO phenomenon — the so-called “fear of missing out” — which adds unnecessary stress to everyday frictions we already have to overcome. Always on the hunt for something better, we can hardly invest a moment to take part in what’s happening right now.

In addition to its questionable use as a time-saver, neither has data translated into efficient construction. In the past few years, the vast majority of the world’s data was produced — some say as much as 90%. Some of those same years gave us an uninspiring 1% productivity gain in my industry — construction.

Data has not helped assuage the growing unhappiness in the U.S. (but fear not, we have data on that). Some question if it actually makes us dissociate. And there’s a growing concern that data may add to stress for the layperson. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is such a thing as useful data collection and utilization. 

We need info entities that will use data to lighten our workload — not addict us to their platforms. Our techno-tether needs to be longer. Let us step away from our computers. Let us do things humans are good at and love to do. Let’s create. Let’s innovate. And let’s build human-to-human relationships.

Data is no longer the “new oil,” as Humby said. Our time is the new oil. More free time in my day is what I will pay top dollar for. 

We all go down Google rabbit holes because of FOMO that we aren’t picking the best ottoman or back massager or pencil holder. We’ve found new ways to halt the plodding progress of people already inherently indecisive. Imagine if we could use data to make millions, if not billions, of people more decisive! What amazing innovations are we missing out on now? How much more time would all those people have in their lives?

As I sit around my house day in, day out in Covid-19 quarantine with three kids, I contemplate a lot about how I can get more time to follow my passions and spend more time with family and friends. I’ve concluded that I need less data and more automation in my life. I — we — need software that focuses on human happiness — not human laziness.

We need more authoritative and filtered data in our lives leading us to trustworthy sources so we can make fast, accurate decisions. In the business world, we need companies to focus on implementing software solutions that don’t just focus on operational efficiency but also organizational happiness.

We don’t need sharp entrepreneurs and software developers to make the 200th project-management software or new app to deliver farm-to-table crackers monthly. We need them to make software that helps people be happier at work and in life. We need them to make software that will itself make better software because, frankly, our brains have better things to do.

We need tech leaders to focus on the end result for humans, not just their bottom line. Imagine if social media platforms used similar interests and personality traits to suggest new friends, then helped to plan shared experiences. Would they lose revenue, or would it generate productivity by saving us time building deeper personal relationships?

Trustworthy, highly filtered data will lead us to quicker, smarter decisions and less FOMO. In turn, this will allow our employees to spend more time keeping customers happy, brainstorming better and more innovative ways to work and spending more time with the people closest to them.

People who know me know I desperately want to help the construction industry evolve. I want to help modernize it so everyone can be excited to work in it. I want to use cutting-edge tech to make our industry a leader in promoting happiness and a high quality of life, thereby attracting the top talent to help us build a better world.

I wish there was software I could trust wholeheartedly to tell me which ottoman I should have bought with 90% certainty, so I wouldn’t need to waste hours just to remain unsure of my purchase. If there were such a program, we might get it wrong 10% of the time, but we’d also save untold hours making quicker decisions. 

Data may once have been the new oil, but being oversaturated by largely biased, unfiltered data has stolen our time and left us less healthy and even less content. Now, we personally need to prospect for that time, and we need software companies to reevaluate our time as our most precious commodity.

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