Delivering Facts about Human Behavior

By John Hoffmire; Pankaj Upadhyay | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), December 4, 2014 | Go to article overview

Delivering Facts about Human Behavior


John Hoffmire; Pankaj Upadhyay, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


With an exponential increase in the ability to gather, store, access and analyze data, our societies have entered a new phase of "self-expression," feedbacks and decision making capabilities.

From dearth to an unending torrent of data, the march has been exceedingly swift.

In fact, we are submerged in digital networks, consuming and creating data at the same time. Our digital signatures routinely capture our lives. This ever-multiplying heap of resource when mined in imaginative ways can transform our understanding of ourselves, our social groupings and our society.

Often, genius lies in taking an impossible problem and making it almost trivial. This makes the implications of new understanding both blindingly obvious and easily actionable.

It is with this zeal that Alex Pentland and his Human Dynamics research group at the MIT Media Laboratory are tackling issues of individual and team effectiveness.

Executives and management theorists have for long lurched in the dark as they could only conjecture about such "soft" dimensions. However, the scientific, data-driven approach of the Human Dynamics group has brought remarkable precision to our understanding of these puzzling issues.

The use of pervasive sensors allows studying people in real situations, along with the dynamic flow of their "lived" experiences. This paves the way for a lot of reliable and directly, predictive relationships.

The real beauty, however, lies in that only a handful of common, social signals can help predict outcomes in a wide array of settings.

For instance, individual effectiveness and group performance can be assessed with reasonable precision by capturing individual behaviors, such as the amount of face-to-face interaction, speaking patterns and non-linguistic social signals.

Given our evolutionary origins, it should not be surprising that a lot of social influence takes place non-verbally. Without any of our linguistic capabilities, primates - our evolutionary cousins - lead very organized and sophisticated social lives. …

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