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Becky Norman


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Book review – Seeing Around Corners: How to Unlock the Potential of Big Data by Graham Hogg


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Title: Seeing Around Corners: How to Unlock the Potential of Big Data

Author: Graham Hogg

ISBN: 9781911498483

Reviewer: Sarah Storm, HR consultant

Reviewer’s Rating: 2.5/5

I picked up this book as someone who is not an expert on Big Data and wishes to learn more about a subject that is, justifiably, a hot topic.

My current perspective is that data, used creatively and responsibly, has the potential to make a massive difference for the better in organisations, including in the people function, and that I feel the need to know more. This sentiment would probably apply to quite a few HR professionals.

‘Seeing Around Corners’ wasn’t what I’d expected. Graham Hogg makes many valid and important points about the organisational culture and leadership style which he believes are essential to creating a “data driven organisation” which is able to leverage the insights from that data.

He argues that it’s about more than introducing technology and the processes around it. For him, it’s critical that information is shared freely with those who can best use it to create valuable insights and that data collection has to be linked to the organisation’s purpose.

Anyone who has read any recent books or articles or viewed a TED talk on leadership or innovation will find Hogg’s philosophy familiar. What he does here is to link those ideas with achieving a data driven organisation. The difficulty is that there is scant practical advice about how this can be achieved.

There are numerous references to the importance of breaking down silos, but there’s no advice on how this can be done. We’re told that it’s important to ask the right questions but not what these might be.

We are not so much ‘seeing around corners’ as being led up multiple cul-de-sacs that look quite similar to each other.

There are some good questions tucked within the text and occasionally at the end of chapters, marked as ‘key considerations for teams’. Are these the questions that Hogg means?

There is a chapter on ‘framing the questions’ but it doesn’t explain how to frame questions. It tells the story of a hospital where the electronic data was inaccurate and which is now supported by a company that scans records and uses data to create activity patterns. We don’t know whether the source information is more accurate or how the activity patterns are used to the benefit of the hospital or patients.

Case studies of companies who have got it right are very high level. We’re told what they got right but there’s little or no information on how they got there, and it’s not clear whether the example is a good illustration of the point that the author has been making in the preceding chapter.

It’s clear why Hogg’s experience as a Royal Marines Officer highlighted for him the importance of sharing intelligence with the right people at the right time, but not all of the military examples work as well.

If you have a CEO or CDO who raves about the book then it would be useful to know what they’re talking about. 

He writes about 2am inspections of the accommodation block when he was a young officer that meant that he and his fellow officers looked out for each other. It’s not clear what similar experience could be created to replicate the same camaraderie within the corporate sector.

The structure of the book could be frustrating to some readers. There are very short sections within the chapters, interspersed with quotes from the likes of Simon Sinek and Daniel H. Pink. The author often makes an important point and then stops without going into the level of depth that I would expect from someone with his experience.

Early on there was some hope that there would be more detail later in the book but it didn’t materialise. We are not so much ‘seeing around corners’ as being led up multiple cul-de-sacs that look quite similar to each other.

It’s possible that data experts will get a lot from this book that I might have missed. There are plenty of effusive quotes from Chief Data Officers (CDO) on the dust jacket and flyleaf, to such an extent that I wonder whether we read the same book.

There are a couple of reasons why, as an HR professional, you might want to read this. If you have a CEO or CDO who raves about the book then it would be useful to know what they’re talking about. If you are working with managers who think that by investing in technology they’re going to create a data driven organisation you can give them a copy of this book to support your argument that there’s more to it than that.

After reading this book, one has great respect for Graham Hogg’s army experience and, especially given that profits from the sale of his book will go to veterans’ charities in the US and UK, I only wish that I could recommend ‘Seeing Around Corners’ more positively.

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Becky Norman

Managing Editor

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