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Asking how something is better than Hadoop is not the right question. For strategic thinking around big data companies need to figure out what they want to achieve, not what tool to use.

Justin Sheehy Basho Structure Data 2013
photo: Albert Chau

Basho CTO Justin Sheehy, whose company supports the Riak database, wants people to get beyond thinking that they can implement some kind of “big data strategy,” in order to drive success. In a rapid-fire talk at Structure:Data 2013 in New York, he explained the concept of cargo culting and how organizations today seem to rely on that as opposed to really figure out what they want data to do.

Cargo culting is derived from the behavior of people in the Pacific Islands during World War II who watched U.S. airmen drop cargo from planes on the islands. They would see someone walk out into a field, wave some batons in the air, and then boxes of clothing and food would fall on the runway. Sheehy said that to this day on certain islands, someone will walk out onto old airfields and wave sticks in the air in hopes that some food and clothing might fall on them.

He used that analogy to argue that people in business are behaving the same way around big data. They don’t have a real strategy or even goals, but are just hoping to copy the technologies that others are using to wrangle their data. He ended with a bit of a diatribe:

“Strategy is not about how you do things. Strategy is about why you do things, and why you do things is about you. So if you stop asking about ‘How is this better than Hadoop,’… and instead you start asking questions about why your business should take a specific course of action or not, then you have a chance to stop being a cargo cultist and start being a strategist.”

Check out the rest of our Structure:Data 2013 live coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

A transcription of the video follows on the next page

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  1. I agree with this, I’ll even go further, from a strategy point of view the “why” question is not enough. Business must actually have a strategy in place to respond to the answers from big data. The technology is just the enabler, business must still have the strategies and processes in place to get benefits from big data.

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