When Chuck - mentor and role model to bloggers throughout EMC and beyond - first suggested I consider blogging about my journey in Corporate Sustainability, we discussed potential topics. One of his many pieces of useful advice was to avoid too many "book reports". After all, they are impersonal, often boring, and readily available in quantity from Amazon.
To date, I've managed to follow his advice. But it's been a struggle, because I read a fair amount and often what is foremost on my mind is a thought, question, or revelation that was planted by my latest read. Or not "planted" so much as "stuck" - something that has adhered to my thoughts like one of those little burrs that sticks to your socks when you wander through a field.
Sometimes it's an epiphany, or an smaller "epiphanette" (i.e., a realization that inspires a forehead-slapping "doh!"). More often, it's something that I already knew, but reading about it in a different context or from a different perspective makes me feel it deserves more mental cycles than I have given it; that it might be a concept to be more thoroughly mined for new ways to view, perform, or talk about my job that could make me more effective.
Take this morning. I was planning to blog about some amazing women that exemplify the incorporation of sustainability into other fields, but first I jumped on the elliptical machine for a little exercise. Because I am constitutionally unable to just relax mentally while exercising, I propped up my Kindle and picked up where I left off in The Viral Storm, by Nathan Wolfe. And for the eighth time - I kid you not - came across the phrase "interconnected world" in his book. (For those of you who have lower situational awareness than others, that is the name of my blog.)
I've always seen the world as a single, complex, awe-inspiring system - I think most sustainability folk are system thinkers. And so, since I've never thought of us as disconnected from one another or what goes on around us, I perhaps haven't given enough thought to the implications of many of the new ways in which we have become connected. For better (access to education, healthcare, economic opportunity, people who enrich our emotional lives, and cultural diversity) and for worse (microbial networks, security vulnerabilities, information overload). Even more to the point, though, is that the connections themselves are generating new knowledge. And this is where Big Data comes in - looking at large volumes of information for correlations and trends that not only enable us to understand what has happened (e.g., the cause of a new epidemic, based on huge repositories of genetic information) but also predict how it might happen (e.g., to whom it might spread based upon mapping of our social linkages).
EMC belongs to a couple of organizations that have been looking at the role of IT not only in its negative impacts (material use, energy consumption, waste management), but also the positive contributions to building a sustainable society. Digital Energy Solutions Campaign, the World Economic Forum, The Green Grid and others have collected many examples of the latter. They often focus on efficiencies, automation, and networking - using IT for more energy-efficient infrastructure, building the SmartGrid , intelligent logistics, virtual meetings, tele-health, remote education, etc. And they're all good examples. But since EMC got into the world of Big Data, it's become clear to me that this is a tremendous source for new ways to create value. Yet I haven't really spent the cycles I should on finding ways that Big Data can address the issues most material to our business.
While the Viral Storm is full of fascinating, and frankly disturbing, information about the potential of pandemics, the burr that's stuck in my mind right now is the opportunity to use Big Data to make a better world.
And so I've decided that talking about these burrs in my blog is OK. After all, they may not even be about the main topic of the book. Nor are they necessarily correlated with the quality of the writing. And unlike a book report, they are always intensely personal - they stuck to me because of their relationship to my job, my sense of self, and my worldview.