Big Data And The Human Spirit

Can Big Data really substitute the human mind and spirit?


The England one-day cricket team offers a fascinating example of where Big Data sometimes does not offer all the answers.

There has rarely been a turn-around in world sport such as recently with the England cricketers.

Their previous coach Peter Moores was famously obsessed by data. He was always accompanied by a laptop to analyse the performances of his players, but after their most ignominious defeat by Bangladesh at the recent World Cup, even he was lost for an explanation.

When an experienced coach (and he was a good one) starts to believe in the power of numbers rather than what is going on in front of his own eyes, you know that you have a problem. Introduce vicious criticism such as “Moores couldn’t run a bath” and his days were numbered (please excuse the pun).

Then, something amazing happened.

His assistant, Paul Farbrace took temporary charge of the one-day cricket team, and he just let the players play cricket. There were a few changes in personnel, faith was put in youth, but when the team walked out to play a series against New Zealand (who comprehensively thrashed them a few months earlier), no one expected what was to come next.

The players walked out and played a brand of such exhilarating cricket that the whole country came to a standstill. Over the course of five games, both teams broke countless one-day records. They delivered entertainment rarely seen by the English cricketing public, and, in beating New Zealand 3-2, they completed a truly unbelievable turnaround.

They didn’t do it with a computer. They didn’t do it via analysis by paralysis. They believed in their abilities; they backed each other to the hilt, and they played the game by their guts rather than by the numbers. Something occurred to me while I was watching these athletes achieve the impossible….

Big Data is powerful, but it can never be more powerful that the human spirit.

The same thought comes to me when I read about how Big Data is going to take over recruitment. You can never teach a machine to look at a candidate as they walk into the room and get “that” feeling about them. You can never parse a CV to such an extent that you discern the subtle undertones of experience that you hear in a three-minute phone conversation. A hiring manager will always take an opinion from a trusted headhunter over a machine. Many people still wonder whether the current crop of ATS systems is fit for purpose – these are fair questions…. Data will only take you so far when it comes to the human condition.

The cricket boys scaled the heights without the burden of the data. Big Data will take over our lives one day, but not all of our lives…. and not the parts that involve the workings of the human heart.


Image: Mitch Gunn /


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