My prediction record for 2012 was pretty good. I was dead on, ahead of the pack and stood alone in predicting that companies would be using the product strategy lens on APIs to drive business outcomes. I did not predict that it would result in an all out API war resulting in the mass proliferation of "walled garden strategies", but even Nostradamus didn't bat 1000.

I wanted to challenge myself this year in making a highly bold prediction that could, somehow, be more singularly unique than last year's prediction about something that was at that time so obscure as APIs. So here it is -- Big Data will find its Andy Warhol.

Warhol Transcended Banality 

Yes. I know. You're saying: "Big Data? Andy Warhol? WTF?". Please remember two things: First, the most unique predictions are not necessarily going to be the most crazy sounding predictions, Second, the crazy ones are also the most entertaining! So with these in mind, please do me the honor of allowing me to explain this heretofore unsaid thing.

Many people are familiar with Andy Warhol's work, given that it is tremendously valuable, iconic and meaningful in a way that defies a simple description. Casual fans however, are not aware of who and what inspired his work. Jasper Johns, a big influence on Warhol, was a pioneer in finding beauty in the mundane. Johns believed that even a plain chair could be viewed as art in the right context. Warhol was the one who took this esoteric concept and made it resonate with people all around the world, most importantly for people who had no real interest in art what-so-ever.

You don't have to be an art lover to know a Warhol on site, or to rattle off the famous pieces of work like the campbell's soup can or the screen paintings of Marilyn or Mao. Warhol very eloquently found and communicated transcendent meaning in the most banal of objects and images. This sustainable resonance that spread around the world is Warhol's legacy.

Examples Abound

Many people are familiar with Michael Jordan's basketball career. It was his grace and fluidity combined with his dominance that entranced so many people around the world. Jordan and Warhol were kindred spirits spread across time and domain. Warhol made the most mundane objects and images interesting to people outside the art world. Jordan made basketball relevant and meaningful to a global population that did not have any real regard for the sport. Whether it was his last season with the Bulls or his Dream Team performances in the olympics, the tickets to see him fly to the rim were the objects of desire around the world.

Steve Jobs is looked at as being among the most influential men of the last decade and I agree. Where I separate from the hordes of adulatory masses is that I believe that, in the worlds of computing and IT, Bill Gates was far more influential. Gates, more than any other single person, brought the IT industry out of the back room and into the board room. Gates, more than any other single person, was the first to bring computing power to the masses -- most notably including those individuals who had no interest in computers. 

Steve Jobs differs from Gates in the domain of his influence. Gates made computing matter to people who had no interest in computers. Jobs, on the other hand, made design matter and it just so happened that computing devices were one of his canvases.

Warhol did not invent Pop Art. Jordan did not invent the slam dunk. Gates did not invent personal computing. Jobs did not invent UX design. What they all have in common is that they took their banal domains so far into the territory of greatness that they made them not only matter to people, they made them matter to society at large.

Transcending the Numbers

If data is boring to the general public, big data is soul crushingly boring. Big data is the ultimate tsunami of banality. Petabytes upon petabytes of numbers, words, clicks, paths and URLs. You want mundane? Big data is mundane on an unimaginable scale. The data stores are so vast, that they beg the quintessential question of our day: What does it all mean? 

This is the prediction. The Warhol of Big Data will arrive. I do not predict we will recognize him or her when they arrive. It took many years for each of the aforementioned transcendent figures to make their impact felt around the world. There are however, some hallmarks that will help identify him or her.

  • They will apply a qualitative lens to a topic that is currently defined from without and within by quantitative parts.
  • Their solutions posed to the problem of understanding the meaning of all the big data will not be solutions at all, they will reveal that the problem never existed as we thought it did.
  • They will at first be dismissed as an inconsequential iconoclast and only later be hailed as an intrepid pioneer and inspiration to future possibilities

The biggest hint of all will not come from the person themselves, from big data itself or from its use. The factor that will hearken the coming of a new dawn will be when people around the world, regardless of background or education, start talking about and appreciating the value of all data and how it impacts their lives for the better. Get ready. He or she is coming.