Six Numbers Reveal the Booming Business of Auto-Analytics

Six NumbersHere is an excerpt from an article written by H. James Wilson for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

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For millennia people have run by feel, an “art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain,” says Christopher McDougall in his anthropological study of the topic.

Many of us still run this way, of course, but for how much longer? Now we can lace up a pair of “smart” sneakers and instantly shift from running by feel to running by metrics. Guesses at how far and how fast are replaced by real time stats on pace and meters travelled.

If you think you’ll never make the switch, think again. As Nike learned from studying millions of users, the magic number of times a runner needs to see her data before becoming a more “science-based” runner is just five. Once a person crosses that threshold they are “massively more likely” to keep running by metrics than by feel alone.

That’s a great number. Here are five more I’ve come across in my ongoing study of the field of auto-analytics.

Auto analytics have a long tradition in the U.S. Benjamin Franklin was an early adopter, though his self-tracking experiments grabbed fewer headlines than his apocryphal kite-flying ones. Franklin quantified his progress toward achieving 13 personal goals, assigning himself a “little black spot” on days he failed to make progress on a particular goal.

New research (PDF

Click to access PIP_TrackingforHealth%20with%20appendix.pdf

) suggests that 69% of Americans participate in some self-tracking behavior just in areas related to health and wellness. Within this group of self-trackers there’s a fundamental behavioral switch going on from analog tracking to digital. Old-school methods requiring you to painstakingly detail your life with pen and paper are being replaced by tech that can collect data automatically or passively, and even interpret the data for you. Already 21% (PDF) of people who self-track use smartphone apps or gadgets that make self-tracking behavior more efficient and the data more dependable.

We take for granted now that, standing in a hotel lobby, we can find the quickest route to our destination, learn the name of the song playing and change a meeting time, all with a few taps. We navigate the external world this way. But have you thought much about using algorithms to discover the seemingly invisible and silent world within yourself, of cognition, physiological functioning, and emotions?

More of us will eventually do this. By 2018, 485,000,000 wearable computing devices will ship globally, including smart watches and smart clothing, according to ABI Research. And don’t suspect this just means we’ll all be wearing dorky electronic glasses. Sensors will detect everything from the number of steps we take to minutes of REM sleep per day. Many killer apps for wearable analytics probably haven’t been imagined yet.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

H. James Wilson is senior researcher at Babson Executive Education. He is co-author of The New Entrepreneurial Leader: Developing Leaders Who Shape Social and Economic Opportunity (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2011). To check out his HBR articles, please click here.

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