Sunday, 22 April 2012

Analyzing The Alien: Lex Luthor's Biggest Mistake

Welcome back to Funding the Kryptonite, a blog that will take a look at comic book super villains and discuss them from a business perspective.

Today’s blog post will touch on data analytics and how using your data needs to be handled correctly. To illustrate this point, I’m going to go back to the example of Lex Luthor and his continual quest to uncover information about his arch-nemesis, Superman.

But first, a Crisis:

A bit of backstory on Lex Luthor. His popular depiction before the events in the maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths was that of a super-scientist who viewed Superman as an obstacle in his quest for global, and eventually universal, domination. However, following Crisis, the DC universe was rebooted in an attempt to streamline the continuity of DC Comics and several alterations were made. One of those was changing the portray of Lex as a genius scientist who would constantly be jailed into that of a genius executive who would use his brains to mastermind things from behind the scenes. His frustration against Superman now stems from his inability to view himself as the master of Metropolis because Superman cannot be bought or controlled by Lex in the manner that he does everyone else. How best to slay this dragon?

Knowledge is Power:

Lex seeks out information on Superman, attempting to learn more about his target and try to bring him to heel. He gathers all the Superman information he can find, pulling in data from public sources (cameras, photographs, etc…) and sends out agents to collect further information about Superman from Smallville, as he knows that Superman is somehow connected to Lana Lang (Clark Kent’s childhood flame) and through that connection also investigates the Kents. He takes this massive bundle of raw data and runs it through the computer system in an attempt to find the connection between Clark Kent and Superman. He suspects they are perhaps friends, or even relatives. And the computer delivers the shocking result, that Clark Kent IS Superman.

Data Analytics and You:

Computers can do amazing things, and scary ones too. A recent news story broke about how Target Corporation uses their data analysis to predict, based on shopping patterns, how likely it is that a female customer is pregnant and how far along in her pregnancy she is. They would then use that information to send targeted coupons and discounts to that customer in the hopes of drawing their business to Target for maternity items. Another similar story is that a retailer discovered that there was a strong correlation in same-basket sales of hockey equipment and plants, later shown to be because mothers prepping their children for the hockey season would also be buying indoor plants since it was wintertime.

All this is to say that there is a wealth of information that can be teased out of the material at hand, if a company puts the time and effort into managing their data and crunching it for good information. However, this information can also lead companies horribly astray if managed incorrectly. Poor data analytics, or bad or incomplete data fed into the system, can generate incorrect conclusions that, if acted upon, lead to poor management choices.

The Human Problem:

And here is where Lex goes horribly wrong with his data analytics results. He has just been handed the secret of Superman’s secret identity and he dismisses it. Brutally, arrogantly, and swiftly, he dismisses it. He sets it aside because he does not agree with the outcome. He cannot comprehend the notion that a being of Superman’s power would do anything but use it. The idea that Superman would hide himself and pose as a regular person is outside of Lex’s worldview.

And Lex is not entirely wrong. Data analytics can often turn up surprising conclusions that might seem erroneous or counterintuitive. The correct course of action would be to set aside the result and re-examine the processes and data to ensure that things are in working order. But because he doesn’t like the answer, he shuts down the project and dismisses the entire affair.

Closing comments:

Data analytics, is a huge field and used for a variety of different business functions. Forecasting your sales, understanding consumer behavior in purchasing choices, optimizing for marketing purposes in targeting an audience, or, in this case, trying to beat the one man who cannot be bought. Lex Luthor is right in using the tools of data analysis to reach his goal, but sometimes the answers you don’t like are the toughest to swallow.

I have no place in my organization for people who cannot see the obvious.” –Lex Luthor (Superman (vol. 2), #22)

Final Rating: Bad business!
Thank you for reading and please hit me up with your comments.

P.S: The scene in question can be found at Comic Book Resources.

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