The Answer is 42

It’s been a long, long time since I read Douglas Adam’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“.

But I’ve been trying to dive deep into understanding this “big data” craze more…pragmatically. At present, my brain feels pretty scrambled on the topic – but lots of associations and analogies keep coming to mind – a riff on “Maslow’s Hierarchy”,  Hitchhiker’s Guide…

So I did some searching to try and figure out why these things were coming to mind, thought I’d share this tidbit.

“O Deep Thought computer,” he said, “the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us….” he paused, “The Answer.”
“The Answer?” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to what?”
“Life!” urged Fook.
“The Universe!” said Lunkwill.
“Everything!” they said in chorus.
Deep Thought paused for a moment’s reflection.
“Tricky,” he said finally.
“But can you do it?”
Again, a significant pause.
“Yes,” said Deep Thought, “I can do it.”
……

[Seven and a half million years later…. Fook and Lunkwill are long gone, but their ancestors continue what they started]

……

“Good Morning,” said Deep Thought at last.
“Er..good morning, O Deep Thought” said Loonquawl nervously, “do you have…er, that is…”
“An Answer for you?” interrupted Deep Thought majestically. “Yes, I have.”
The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not been in vain.
….
Both of the men had been trained for this moment, their lives had been a preparation for it, they had been selected at birth as those who would witness the answer, but even so they found themselves gasping and squirming like excited children.
“And you’re ready to give it to us?” urged Loonsuawl.
“I am.”
“Now?”
“Now,” said Deep Thought.
They both licked their dry lips.
“Though I don’t think,” added Deep Thought. “that you’re going to like it.”
“Doesn’t matter!” said Phouchg. “We must know it! Now!”
“Now?” inquired Deep Thought.
“Yes! Now…”
“All right,” said the computer, and settled into silence again. The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.
“You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought.
“Tell us!”
“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question…”
“Yes..!”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything…” said Deep Thought.
“Yes…!”
“Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Yes…!”
“Is…”
“Yes…!!!…?”
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.”
― Douglas AdamsThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Pretty funny, huh?  Get it?  I laughed out loud.

I’m a fan of data (love, love, love it … the more the better). But in this passage above, can’t you imagine that “Deep Thought” would be the poor, unfortunate team you’ve hired to make sense of your big data  – so many times without a guiding question at all. So it strikes me that perhaps this old book came to my mind because, well, if you’re going to make a big data investment  – it’s not going to give you a useful answer by itself, it is still kind of important to know the question.

Susan O’Neal Gear has over 20 years of experience at the intersection of consumers, marketing and technology. Passionate about all aspects of a consumer’s relationship with brands and retailers, we’re spending the next year looking for new, groundbreaking thought leadership  – if not disruptive solutions – with the potential to redefine the parameters of consumer loyalty. If you also want to see some game changing happen -then follow Upstream Insight, contribute your voice, share this post…do something! 

The Answer is 42