Could Analytics Have Prevented the Destruction of the Death Star?
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the universe was controlled by a powerful military force known as the Galactic Empire. During the group's tyrannical reign of supremacy, it constructed a powerful weapon of mass destruction in the Death Star. Despite the perceived invincibility of this massive, armed space station, it would ultimately be destroyed by a small band of rogue rebels; leaving its Emperor in disbelief. Which bears the question, how could a dominant empire, with access to seemingly unlimited resources and technology, be thwarted by such inferior foes? The answer is inevitably the lack of forward-thinking models - namely anticipatory analytics.
The destruction of the Death Star has been relentlessly debated by fans of the movie franchise for years, even finding its way into pop-culture lore; my favorite being this parody by Family Guy. Despite the jokes and discussions over how realistic this scenario is, I believe it is totally plausible. It's something that can be thought of as a "Black Swan" event - a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.
The fundamental reason the most powerful empire in the galaxy was stymied by the rebel alliance has less to do with the mystical "Force" and more to do with its own arrogance. In other words, the Galactic Empire did not anticipate the destruction of the Death Star and therefore never accounted for any impending externalities that would bring them down. When you have ruled the galaxy unscathed as long as the Empire, it's only natural to be exceedingly cocky; after all, it's an inherent trait of most villains.
Therefore, it is logical to believe the flawed design of the Death Star would go unnoticed by the Empire; they did not have the historical data to account for any external threats. Even though Darth Vader may find my lack of faith in historical data disturbing, it's a reality that must be questioned. In predictive analytics, such data is referred to as longitudinal data. And lack of longitudinal data can be an extremely daunting problem in developing an analytic solution. Being so dominant for so long, nothing in their models suggested any reason to worry about external threats of such a magnitude. Even if they used advanced, predictive analytics to guide their decisions, it would only be based on past trends continuing in the future. Up until this point, the rebels were nothing more than a nuisance and never demonstrated any real threat. Thus, the lack of any longitudinal data to suggest the ultimate outcome would ultimately undermine any such modeling exercise. Unfortunately for them, predicative analytics is not as accurate in identifying real-time signals that can alter future outcomes as anticipatory analytics.
Anticipatory analytics, on the other hand, builds on the foundation of predictive analytics where it can identify and adjust predictions based on inflection points such as the acceleration and deceleration of certain behaviors or sudden changes in direction. Essentially, we are looking at analytics that are not based entirely on longitudinal data. It helps to anticipate future needs before showing obvious signs in its opportunity/risk profile. In other words, it could have taken into account that the rebels would be able to find and exploit a weakness despite their smaller numbers and resources. Such a conclusion, for example, is them looking at the pace of innovation or the observance of new behaviors that signaled increases in rebel commitment. And using anticipatory analytics would have meant the Empire accepting its own mortality and planning for threats that could unfold in the future versus focusing only on the past.
With seemingly nothing to lose, the rebel alliance risked life and limb to find an advantage. By stealing the plans for the Death Star, they were fortunate enough to discover the vulnerability and plan an attack based on that weakness. No historical data was going to account for that happening because it never happened in the past. The Empire were sitting ducks; or sitting storm troopers, as it were.
Whether you're planning to build a galactic super weapon, or just looking for ways to gain a competitive business advantage, the key take-away is to ensure your business models can be adjusted for new events. Models have to always be changed and updated because outside variables are always changing. In order to make this possible, the right mixture of data, processing tools, technology and expertise plays a central role. Keep in mind:
- Although historical data is easy to obtain, it is not always an accurate indicator of the future
- The world is transforming before our very eyes at an exceptional rate; your analytic approach should take these factors into account
- Make sure that you are looking for new data trends or observations in the data not previously experienced
- It pays to make decisions that are not solely guided by historical data - as long as your process is empirical and consistently evaluated for appropriateness and effectiveness
To become a true analytics Jedi, be sure to check out the following whitepaper.
Going to Dreamforce?
Register for our session on October 6th, How Analytics Could’ve Saved the Death Star and Be A Force for Your Business – Our own sci-fi loving CMO crafts a anticipatory analytics story that will take you to a galaxy far, far away and back.