Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends

By Brandee Plott, Director of Marketing, Medical Education Resources

In recent years, continuing education providers have focused on how electronic medical records (EMRs) and “big data” can aid us in better understanding healthcare professionals’ practice gaps, educational needs, and assessing educational outcomes. The problem is, big data doesn’t necessarily answer the “why” behind clinicians’ care decisions and patients’ behaviors. Although EMRs have come a long way in uncovering trends, its limitation is that it does not provide context, which is what intrigued me about global branding expert and bestselling author Martin Lindstrom’s newest book, “Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends.”

Lindstrom’s approach is simple: Spending time with real people in their own environments, combined with careful observation, can lead to powerful insights that answer the why behind consumers’ behaviors and beliefs. Spending time visiting consumers in their homes, and even following them around in their daily routines, can help us better understand hidden needs and desires, and what consumers really value. From Lindstrom’s perspective, no detail is too small. As an example, observations about the placement of refrigerator magnets in Russian families’ homes helped him to partner with Russian mothers to develop a successful e-commerce business. In another example, interviewing an 11-year-old boy and asking him what he was most proud of in his bedroom to which he answered, “Worn-down sneakers,” lead to an epiphany that helped toymaker Lego turn their company around.

In “Small Data,” Lindstrom also discusses the importance of being present. He suggests that instead of immediately grabbing our smartphone when we are bored, we allow ourselves “moments of boredom” because that is generally the time when we are the most observant and creative. Bringing this back to continuing education, am I suggesting we follow physicians and patients into their homes and offices to observe every detail of their lives? No, but what I am suggesting is that applying strategies used in other industries, such as interviewing and observation of healthcare professionals and patients, could help us put some of the available data into context. It may better answer the why behind provider care decisions and patient behaviors, enabling us to design more effective, relevant continuing education and outcomes measurement strategies.

Find "Small Data" and other Almanac-reviewed titles in the Alliance's Amazon store

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