Data science is filled with mystical algorithms reminiscent of spells chanted by wizards of yore. Armed with this arsenal of magic tricks, zealous leaders eagerly present their market with new and improved widgets, powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

The leaders often take an egocentric view of the world, relying myopically on their internal capabilities for advanced analytics. If you flip this around to a customer-centric view, you’ll see intelligence doesn’t need to be artificial to be valuable. To get the most value from your AI application, combine it with a wealth of valuable data I call superficial intelligence, which you can obtain right now from involved communities.

The wisdom of the crowd

When I was in grade school, my neighborhood friends and I would occasionally start a pickup football game in the middle of the street. We would post some kids on the corner to signal us when a car was coming, so we could move out of the street. Without the benefit of this superficial intelligence, a wide receiver might be tackled by an unwelcome, automotive defensive back!

Superficial intelligence is a great addition to your bag of data science tricks, as it adds to your existing base of AI and it represents a more customer-centric marketing approach. This primarily applies to leaders who are using big data analytics to support their core products and/or services — similar to Progressive’s Snapshot device, where analytics supports a traditional product (insurance) to gain a competitive advantage.

A great example of combining superficial intelligence with AI is an application I just downloaded on my iPhone called Waze. If you haven’t tried it yet, you really should. Like Google Maps or MapQuest, Waze helps you navigate the streets of your locale. You provide an address and mount your phone in your car, and then Wave gives your real-time navigation directions to your destination. What’s different about the app is the Waze community, which is actively involved in feeding you superficial data. For instance, with the help of your local community, Waze tells you where there’s an accident, construction that requires a detour, or even a cop hiding out under a bridge. Waze combines this information with real-time analytics to determine your best route. It’s amazingly powerful and accurate and puts Google to shame. That’s what the wisdom of the crowd can do for you.

The human machine synergy

To apply this principle of combining AI and superficial intelligence, consider the evolution of data into wisdom. Superficial intelligence gives you a good base of data to start with. Remember, data is just raw, uncultured insights. Information is analyzed and applied data.

If there’s an accident a half-mile away or a car around the corner, that’s really good data. You can combine this with non-crowdsourced data. Waze obviously has geographic data at its immediate disposal, and I’m sure the Waze team curates a wealth of other information as well. When Waze analyzes all the stock and superficial data coming from the Waze community and tells you to “turn right,” that’s information.

Information tells your consumer what to do with all this data based on their objectives. So again, you must transcend the pure data paradigm and think about what your customers might be trying to accomplish. Then, using a mix of base data and superficial data, perform a real-time, big data analysis to prescribe their next step. This strategy puts you at a distinctive advantage, but you can take it to even one more level.

Information evolves into knowledge, which further evolves into wisdom. Knowledge is when you take information from disparate sources and combine them for new insights. With superficial intelligence, you’re already going down this path; however, for more impact, you’ll want to explore related but very different sources of information.

For instance, I used to live next to an arcade, which would sometimes host special events that drew a lot of traffic. So, it wouldn’t be a good idea for a pickup game on one of these days due to the traffic. Wisdom comes from maturing knowledge over time. The first time we tried a pickup game at 5:00 PM when everyone was coming home from work, we learned our lesson.

If you apply these ideas to your next product or service, you will probably be approaching breakthrough territory.


AI is great, but when combined with the superficial intelligence of the crowd, your product or service goes to a whole new level. Take some time to consider how your existing data can benefit from additional, crowdsourced data, and what your analytics would look like at that point. Then, survey your customers and see if they would be willing to form a community around your offering. With the wisdom of the crowd on your side, you can’t go wrong.

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