The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau

A speakers bureau that represents the best original thinkers,
writers, and doers for speaking engagements.

New Videos: Jordan Ellenberg Runs the Numbers

Jordan Ellenberg sees math everywhere. Behind each of our decisions are unseen forces, equations with tangible, real-world outcomes, and Ellenberg lays them bare in fascinating keynotes. His book How Not to Be Wrong (named to Bill Gates’s summer 2016 reading list) unearths the mathematical underpinnings of some unlikely subjects—everything from the obesity epidemic to the Massachusetts lottery to what Facebook can (and can’t) figure out about you. And in our newest set of videos, Ellenberg proves just as engaging live, on stage.

In our first clip, Ellenberg tells the story of Hungarian mathematician Abraham Wald. During WWII, Wald was employed by the US air force to help minimize bomber losses. Specifically, he was charged with determining where to allocate planes’ armor, keeping them light enough to fly yet still adequately reinforced. His strange recommendation—which seemed counterintuitive and baffling to his superiors—in all likelihood saved many lives. To Ellenberg, this illustrates that in math, asking the right question is just as important as knowing how to solve it. 


Jordan Ellenberg: Math Is About Knowing What Questions to Ask


Here, Ellenberg is more theoretical. “When you’re trying to prove something,” an academic advisor once told him, “you should try to prove it all day, but disprove it all night.” That is to say, don’t become blinded by your own biases or assumptions. The theory or concept you’re trying to prove may not, in fact, exist. Remain neutral, examine both sides, and always question your assumptions—excellent advice for all of us, regardless of whether we’re working with numbers, language, ideas, or people. 


Jordan Ellenberg: Want to Find the Truth? Question Yourself


What does predicting the weather have to do with predicting human behavior? If we accept that there are certain unknowns in anticipating rain or shine, we must extend this assumption to our own behaviors, decisions, and actions. What does this mean for politics? For sales? Marketing? Ellenberg’s insights span myriad industries.  


Jordan Ellenberg: What Formula Could Predict Human Behavior?


Speaker Jordan Ellenberg is the author of  How Not to Be Wrong, which Bill Gates calls “funny, smooth, and accessible.” To book Ellenberg for a keynote, contact The Lavin Agency, his exclusive speakers bureau.

What’s on Bill Gates’s Nightstand? Jordan Ellenberg’s How Not to Be Wrong

Every year, Bill Gates releases his summer reading list—the books that influence him, and in turn, shape thought in the wider world. He’s praised books by Lavin speakers in the past (Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday), and gracing the list this year is Jordan Ellenberg’s How Not to Be Wrong. Gates calls it “funny, smooth, and accessible—not what you might expect from a book about math.”

Whatever he’s describing, be it Baltimore stockbrokers, bullet holes in American planes circa WWII, or the three unlikely groups that decoded the Massachusetts lottery, Ellenberg is always perceptive and entertaining. In his books and keynotes, Ellenberg reveals the math behind your everyday actions—and how to leverage it to your advantage.

Here’s what Bill Gates had to say about How Not to Be Wrong:

“Ellenberg, a mathematician and writer, explains how math plays into our daily lives without our even knowing it. Each chapter starts with a subject that seems fairly straightforward—electoral politics, say, or the Massachusetts lottery—and then uses it as a jumping-off point to talk about the math involved. In some places the math gets quite complicated, but he always wraps things up by making sure you’re still with him. The book’s larger point is that, as Ellenberg writes, ‘to do mathematics is to be, at once, touched by fire and bound by reason’—and that there are ways in which we’re all doing math, all the time.”

For the full review, head over to Gates's website.

Math touches everything we do, and no one knows it better than Jordan Ellenberg. To hire Ellenberg for a keynote on the power of mathematical thinking, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau today. 

Jer Thorp on Data for More Than Just the Elite in Gorgeous New Video

Check out this new thought-provoking video with data expert Jer Thorp. Thorp uses data to help us understand the human condition. “We’re in this very weird situation where more is known about the human experience than ever before,” he says, “but not by the humans who are experiencing it … Right now, the conversations are really only happening among the technologically elite, mostly Silicon Valley, the NSA—groups of well-educated white men who are using this technology to do specific things. What I think needs to happen is we have to put that technology, that knowledge, the power that comes with it, in the hands of everybody else.”

Big Data Vs. “Cool Gurus”: Jeremy Gutsche on Market Research for the Digital Age

As the founder of Trendhunter.com, speaker Jeremy Gutsche relentlessly tracks and finds The Next Big Thing—that valuable but elusive commodity—for a global audience that generates millions of views a month. But how can businesses jump on board? In a major article, Profit Magazine features Gutsche and his work with big data at Trendhunter.

“Trend Hunter, [Gutsche] explains, is more than a website: It’s a market research firm for the digital age, with a data-driven model that contrasts with more traditional 'cool gurus', who identify trends and dispense insightful pronouncements based solely on observation and 'gut instinct', writes Profit. “Every article view and click on Trend Hunter’s litany of listicles and galleries is fuel for its data machine.”

And the data machine is what companies are after, in the hopes that it will yield market insights that will shed light on consumer behaviour and provide a competitive advantage. But raw data can be unwieldy and chaotic. That's what Gutsche and his company have set out to do—to filter out the chaos. “Just as it takes a master craftsperson to cut, polish and give a rough diamond its shape, raw data ultimately requires a human being to make it shine,” says Profit. “Data might add scientific sparkle to the business of finding the next big thing, but there’s still an art to telling us what the numbers mean. And that too is what companies pay people like Gutsche to do.”

Curious about which trends are really going to skyrocket in 2015? In the video embedded above, Gutsche presents next year's top trends, from responsive retail to everyday robotics to multisensory marketing and virtual reality.

Jeremy Gutsche is one of the world's top innovation speakers and the author of Better and Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas. To book Jeremy Gutsche for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

The Same Old Songs: Is Big Data Saving (or Destroying) the Music Biz? Derek Thompson

Why do new hit songs sound exactly like old hit songs? Is the music business allergic to artistic innovation—or just savvy about what its customers really want? And why does the top 1 percent of bands now account for nearly 80% of all revenue from recorded music? In a major Atlantic article, Lavin speaker Derek Thompson looks at how the music industry—once a haven for intuitive decision-making—is being upended by statistics. Focusing on the Shazam app, Thompson renders a vivid portrait of how consumers now stumble upon, share, and buy music. On the business side, he examines how companies are using big data tools to map user behavior and turn profits.

Appearing on MSNBC, Thompson notes: “All this information that we're spitting about our relationship to music online is being used in order to determine the future of music.” Companies, he writes in the Atlantic, are “using it to figure out which songs are going to be hits before most people know they're going to be hits.”

Thompson's piece touches on a wide range of topics: How Shazam tracked the spread of Lorde's hit song “Royals” around the world. How concert promoters use Spotify to route tours. Why Wikipedia is better than Facebook at gauging a band's popularity. And why radio—which itself is becoming more big data-fied—is still so important.

Here's Thompson, in the Atlantic, getting to the consumer choice aspect of the matter:

“What do people want to hear next? It’s a question that label executives once answered largely by trusting their gut. But data about our preferences have shifted the balance of power, replacing experts’ instincts with the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, labels have gotten much better at understanding what we want to listen to.”

But, perhaps thankfully, not all aspects of the art are undergoing this data-centric revolution. “Producers and artists pay close attention to trends,” he writes, “but they’re not swimming in spreadsheets quite like the suits at the labels are.”

So why do people want to hear the same old song, over and over again? Thompson—who also speaks often on millennials—has an answer for that, too. It's a psychological term called “fluency.” As he told MSNBC, we are simply predisposed to like “ideas that are more familiar, songs that are more familiar, movies, characters that are more familiar.” (See Lynda Obst's similar argument on how this familiarity is ruining the movie business.) And here's the scientific answer to why we like what we already like: “They don't require as much cognitive energy to think about.” So the songs, truly, remain the same, even as the industry around them is shocked by seismic changes.

In his talks, Thompson breaks down trends, reveals the habits of millennials, and explains how these things are churning America's economic engine right now. To book Derek Thompson as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

Data on the Delta: Jer Thorp’s Experiment in Live-Data Tracking

Data artist and current Lavin speaker-at-large Jer Thorp just let us know that he’s about to take his work off the continent—specifically, exploring the Okavanga Delta in Botswana with a team of scientists, artists, and engineers. The most exciting component of the trip will be the live-data tracking, which Thorp is making available to anyone and everyone. “Every observation we’re making and every photo we take will be published online immediately, via a public API which scientists, data-vizzers and artists are free to use.”
Named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2013, Thorp is combining his prowess in creativity and data cultivation to make this rich source of wildlife accessible in an entirely unprecedented way. He describes, “The central goal will be to count species, but we’ll also be deploying remote water quality sensors, taking habitat photos, recording audio, and tracking biometrics like heart rate and calorie consumption.”

Working closely with the BaYei, who live in the Delta and will be helping his team travel by traditional mokoro, Thorp is operating the expedition relying on solar power, favorable currents, and human strength. Call it expedition by proxy for all the nascent data-vizzers out there, who Thorp invites to visit to the expedition site virtually and follow his trajectory moment-by-moment. Thorp’s team will also be doing a Google Hangout live from the Delta on August 22nd, which you can find out more about by tracking his Twitter @intotheokavango.

“I’ll try to arrange for an interview with an elephant or two,” says Thorp—and if that isn’t incentive, we don’t know what is.

Speaker Jer Thorp is co-founder of the Office for Creative Research and the former NYT Data Artist-in-Residence. In his keynotes, Thorp discusses the ways in which we can make data more human, every day. To book Jer Thorp for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

Jer Thorp: We Need a New Bill of Rights for Data Privacy [VIDEO]

According to data artist and big data speaker Jer Thorp, we’re getting a raw deal when it comes to our raw data. With increasing ease, we give up our personal information to sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest without knowing what’s going to happen with it.

“Right now it’s like a 12-page user agreement that nobody reads. That user agreement in no way tells you what they’re going to do with your data, they just tell you they’re going to use it—which is kind of weird,” says Thorp during a chat at Lavin’s Toronto offices (video embedded above).

Thorp suggests society should be working towards adopting a data-privacy bill of rights for all users. He stresses that people need to have informed consent, know what their data is actually being used for, and be able to have a copy of what’s being collected from them. As it stands, we don’t even know what’s going on.

As the co-founder of The Office for Creative Research, which looks into new ways of engaging with data along scientific and artistic avenues, Thorp also discussed the various levels of privacy breaches we collectively face. They range from being watched by advertisers on a daily basis during our time online, to broader NSA-type collection, and finally gathering data on people of interest in ways that still only exist in the realm of speculation.

Here, Thorp lays out the three stages of information privacy he believes we should adopt:

In eye-opening talks, Thorp adds meaning to the vast heaps of data that flow around us daily and shares beautiful and moving data visualization projects that offer human context to faceless facts. To book Jer Thorp as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

Make Big Data Use More Transparent: Speaker Jer Thorp

Have you ever wanted to explore the Okavango Delta, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa? Big data speaker Jer Thorp is working on a new project so you can do just that—without leaving the comfort of your own home. Thorp, a newly chosen Emerging Explorer, will be charting the Percy FitzPatrick Institute’s research team's experience as they navigate an untraveled route through the grueling, yet beautiful, terrain. “Soon you will be able to see what we are seeing, hear what we are hearing, track our heartbeats…Be part our live experience!” the National Geographic's Steve Boyes (a partner in the project) explains.

Every evening, the team uploads all their plant and wildlife sightings, sounds they've heard, their heartbeats, and comments on the experience via satellite. A GPS locator also tracks their location throughout the journey. Thorp, drawing from his extensive research as a data artist, plots the data in a meaningful and visually appealing way. As Boyes says, “No one before has been able to get into these areas to census birdlife.” And, thanks to Thorp's work, the groundbreaking journey will be available for the world to see.

This project is but one example of the benefits of visualizing big data. In fact, many investors and businesses are likening big data to big oil thanks to its potential value. But, as the keynote speaker of CLSA’s annual investor conference in Hong Kong, Thorp warned that this valuable resource could be extremely promising or potentially dangerous if it's not used properly. “The challenge is how to share public data with all stakeholders,” he said. If big data is to be the next big oil, then we must approach it with a less cavalier attitude, he explains. “Companies that become data-ethical may gain a competitive advantage as consumers become more aware of what’s being done with their data,” he said in his talk. That means ensuring your consumers have a clear understanding of how their data is being used, and, ensuring they consent to it. Big data does have big potential, but, Thorp stresses, only if we use it responsibly.

In his talks, Jer Thorp shows us how his beautiful and moving data visualization projects are humanizing the influx of information surrounding us. Thorp teaches audiences how adding meaning and narrative to huge amounts of data can help people take control of the information that surrounds them, and revolutionize the way we use data. His talks can both apply to the consumer wishing to better understand the data they are producing, and, companies who wish to better use this practice. To book Jer Thorp as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

Humanitarian Hackathons: Big Data Speaker Jake Porway In The Economist

By now, you've probably either hired someone for a big data-specific project at your organization, or, you're figuring out how big data can work for you. Jake Porway, a big data speaker, wants you to think outside the box about what data mining can bring to the table. With DataKind, he brings data experts together to use their talents for philanthropic purposes. One of their most recent “data dives” was featured in The Economist this week.

Most of the participants at Porway's data dives have highly specialized skills but are looking to do more with their abilities than designing apps or helping ad companies amass more clicks. While these things are useful, Porway believes that big data mining can also help solve social issues. At an event in London this week, 80 statisticians, computer scientists, and data-visualization experts helped charities see some of their most pressing concerns in a new light. These “data geeks,” as Porway calls them, uncovered new information on which countries cared for their elderly the best, created infographics showing which disorders are the most commonly misdiagnosed, and presented new correlations that can help to better predict food price increases in poor countries. None of the work was definitive, however. It's important to note that these events are often starting points that get people thinking about bigger issues.

As the founder of DataKind, Porway connects data scientists with not-for-profits to help solve social problems. He believes that big data is about so much more than number-crunching. “Data isn't just a spreadsheet or a database: It's us,” Porway writes in a recent interview. “It's the people we care about. It's our world.” In his talks, the data scientist teaches us the power of big data and how we can harness it to make the world a better place. To hire a keynote speaker like Jake Porway for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

The Human Face Of Big Data: Speaker Jer Thorp

Big data is the new oil. That's a phrase that Jer Thorp, a data artist and popular speaker on big data, has been hearing a lot lately. Many organizations are now hiring employees who are trained in big data utilization with the expectation that this movement is poised to revolutionize business. They also see dollar signs. Many believe that harnessing the power of big data will help to shoot profits through the roof in much the same way that the oil boom did. Thorp explains that a large focus of his work is looking for a counterbalance to this data-as-oil line of thinking. He agrees that there's money to be made from working with big data. But, in a keynote speech he gave at the IAPP conference recently, he explains that he sees the dangers of big data, too.

“Let’s try to not make the same mistakes with this new resource that we have with the last ones,” Thorp warned in a conference speech he gave at PopTech earlier this year. To tread carefully with big data use we must truly understand what information is out there and how it's being used. “I think a lot about what it's like for the everyday person to be in this new world of data,” Thorp, co-creator of The Office for Creative Research, explains. And, as he points out, a big part of that is being cognizant of privacy concerns. The data that is being monetized is much more than numbers and stats—it's our conversations with friends, the photos and videos we upload, and the information we share via social media. At its very core, data is human interaction. It is crucial, Thorp stresses, that we humanize big data if we hope to avoid the perils of big oil.

Thanks to the increased prominence of the big data movement, Thorp is an in-demand speaker for events of all kinds. As the former Data Artist in Residence at The New York Times, Thorp has proven his aptitude for using the data that surrounds us to tell intriguing new stories about us as people. If you are interesting in hiring Jer Thorp as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

Jake Porway: “Data Isn’t Just A Spreadsheet—It’s Us, It’s Our World”

“Most companies think that if you can just get hackers, pizza, and data together in a room, magic will happen,” big data speaker Jake Porway laments. “This is the same as if Habitat for Humanity gathered its volunteers around a pile of wood and said, 'Have at it!'” Porway is the founder of DataKind, an organization that connects data scientists with not-for-profit companies. Big data promises to deliver a wealth of applicable information for solving pressing problems in society. But there's more involved in cultivating that data than simply hosting a 48 hour hackathon, Porway points out.

He admits that hackathons have their merit. But, in his post in Harvard Business Review, Porway shows that there are other ways to harness the data poised to transform the way organizations address social issues. At DataKind, they focus on gathering people together in “data dives” rather than traditional hackathons. These involve a collection of individuals working together who not only know how to harness the data, but can also understand the data itself. It's also crucial, Porway says, to set out clear problem definitions in advance and to be sensitive of the data that's uncovered. Without all of these elements in place, it's easy to lose sight of the goals of the data scouring. What's more, the data itself can be misconstrued or misused if it isn't put into the proper context.

“Data isn't just a spreadsheet or a database: It's us,” Porway writes. “It's the people we care about. It's our world.” Data scientists and experts in the data (those who know what that data means) have to work together. Otherwise, you're left with a social problem and no data. Or, an abundance of data that doesn't really apply to the social problem at hand. “Let's lay the foundation for their success by bringing together world-class teams to ask the right questions, collaborating on the best interpretations of the data, and striving, always, to be sensitive,” Porway advocates. “Let's not just hack it.”

Don’t Play It Safe: Big Data Speaker Jer Thorp On Starting Your Career

Jer Thorp didn't get to where he is today by playing it safe. The big data speaker and National Geographic Emerging Explorer carved his own path and took chances along the way. “It all started out of an act of rebellion,” Thorp says in National Geographic of how he started his career visualizing data. He was formerly the data artist in residence at The New York Times and is now pouring over data at The Office for Creative Research, which he co-created. Part of working in the big data industry means accepting failure, he explains. Because “if we all just do safe things all the time, we’re going to succeed a lot more but those successes aren’t going to be as interesting,” he argues.

In the National Geographic profile piece, Thorp recalls how he became a data artist and shares advice for others looking to break into the field. What does he suggest? First of all, he says drawing is a powerful tool for making sense of complex data. And further, you should continuously be thinking of new questions—even when you think you've arrived at an answer. Finally, he urges you to “understand that this fake boundary that we’ve erected between the sciences and the arts doesn’t need to be there.” The two disciplines are intertwined—and those who succeed can harness the potential from each. In his talks, Thorp shares some of the stunning data visualizations he has constructed. He explains why mapping big data matters, and how it can help us to better understand who we are as people.

From “Bourgeois” To Benevolence: Jake Porway Uses Big Data To Do Good

Big data has big potential. But Jake Porway, data scientist and new Lavin speaker, thinks there's been too great a focus on the “bourgeois” applications of data science. “The things that people would do with it seemed so frivolous—they would build apps to help them park their car or find a local bar,” Porway tells Wired. “I just thought, 'This is crazy, we need to do something more.'” Porway wanted to use data to do good. So, he posted a call-to-arms for data scientists around the world to join him. His idea went viral. He soon formed DataKind (formerly Data Without Borders), which is a non-profit committed to using data in the service of social good. “I think it was when the White House called that I [realized] there was something there,” he recalls. 

Most NGOs don't have the resources, or simply don't have the know-how, to analyze the hoards of data at their disposal. Porway, a National Geographic 2012 Emerging Explorer, is working to change that. He tells National Geographic: “Data is like a bucket of crude oil. Potentially great, but only if someone knows how to refine it (data scientists) and someone else has vehicles that will run on it (the social sector).” Porway and his team take meaningless strands of numbers and transform them into meaningful insight on changing lives. He also helps organizations adapt to the growing open data movement. (This something David Eaves, another Lavin speaker, discusses at length). Understanding the connections that organizations have with each other, and sharing data between them, can lead to possibilities never before imagined.

In Wired, Porway shares his “vision of a global network of data scientists rushing in from around the world, any time they are needed for some humanitarian cause or crisis.” DataKind isn't quite there yet. For now, he hosts “data dives” on weekends that pair NGOs with data scientists. He also works on longer-term projects with various international organizations. In his talks, he discusses the work he does with DataKind and what the future of big data holds. Porway teaches audiences what big data is, why they should care, and how they can use this valuable resource to make the world a better place.

Seek Questions, Not Answers: A Big Data Keynote by Jer Thorp

We all have big hopes for what big data can do for us. But before we can put these metrics to good use, we must humanize and understand the context of it all. That's what Jer Thorp, a prominent speaker on big data, does with his data visualizations. At a symposium held at Caltech, the data artist discussed the “emerging science of big-data visualization.” As data metrics become more intensive and complex, we'll need to see data in a new way to interact with it. Pie charts and bar graphs are simply not enough—we need something different.

Traditionally, data visualization has been a reductionist practice; it is used to seek answers rather than ask questions. This strategy almost does a disservice to the complexity of big data. That's because big data often contains hidden knowledge and insights you didn't even know you were looking for. So, as Thorp explains, data visualization should be a means to cultivate and generate new questions. It should not simply be a means to an end. The goal, he explains, is question farming rather than answer farming.

Thorp, who was recently chosen as one of National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers, also says data visualization should be interactive. Being able to see and manipulate the data opens the door for deeper discovery. Thorp recently co-founded the Office for Creative Research (OCR) and was formerly the Data Artist in Residence for The New York Times. In his work and his keynotes, Thorp explores the way that data reflects our humanity. In its raw form, the data available to us may seen useless. But visualizing the information is key to unlocking big data's potential and applying it to our lives.

Big Data Can’t Replace Human Insight: Adam Bryant Talks To Google

Business speaker Adam Bryant knows about the challenges of being a successful leader. Twice a week, he talks with some of the top executives in the world about leading and managing in his New York Times column “Corner Office.” In his popular book of the same name, he drew out the broader lessons he's learned from his hundreds of interviews. This week, he talked about big data with Google's Laszlo Bock. What did he discover? Big data is helpful, but it can't replace human judgment, inspiration, or creativity.

While Google does use data metrics to gauge how successful a leader is at their organization, it doesn't always tell the whole story. Even a tech giant like Google has to put their data into context. And, as the interview shows, you have to cater the data to your specific organization. What works for Google may not necessarily work for your company.

In his keynotes, Bryant elaborates on the tricks of the trade he has uncovered through interviews with chief executives at companies such as Disney, LinkedIn, Dreamworks, and Ford. He pulls out five key qualities shared by top leaders across the board that separate the true stars from the rest of the pack. Bryant's speeches are fully customizable and immediately practical, and deliver a wealth of information that leaders from all industries can benefit from.

Cascade: Big Data Speaker Jer Thorp on the Secrets to Viral Content

Viral content: It's an internet buzz word that many claim to understand—but few actually do. Big data speaker Jer Thorp may be bringing us one step closer, however, to truly grasping the anatomy of viral content. And, through the use of his data visualization tool Cascades, the data artist is using Twitter to learn how content spreads across the web. Once we can pinpoint how  a piece of content moves throughout cyber space, we can better determine which content will become a sensation. Thus, we can craft content that will be more engaging and learn to cater certain content to the audiences who will enjoy it the most.

The data visualization project takes an isolated social-media event such as a a Tweet and shows you how and when the content caught fire. It can do this in real time, allowing you to track the movement of your own tweet and compare the way that the audience engages with other stories. “What we wanted to do was see the sharing activity happening in a really active way,” Jer Thorp tells Fast Company. Essentially, they are creating a tool that takes some of the guesswork out of proliferating their content. Using this tool could eventually help editors and other web markets to shorten the route that a piece of content takes to get to an interested party. The project is, as Fast Company writes, “journalism’s most ambitious social-media data viz to date.”

It is projects like this where Thorp shows us how we can humanize the data all around us. As a co-founder of The Office for Creative Research and a repeat lecturer at New York University, Thorp experiments with data in creative and meaningful ways. While he believes that data visualization is a process that doesn't need a definitive goal, his work exhibits the potential that effectively harnessing data can have. Whether it's displayed as art, or simply as a vessel for expanding our thinking, Thorp's work connects us to the data we produce—showing us that there's more to big data than just numbers. Because at the heart of the big data movement, he says, is people.

Discovery Through Data: Jer Thorp, A National Geographic Emerging Explorer

“Often my work stems from a question in my mind or an interesting data set,” Jer Thorp, a big data speaker, tells National Geographic. “I look at it from as many conceptual and mathematical angles as I can, searching for a pattern. For me, it’s a visual way of analyzing a problem. I think in code and build open source software that lets anyone get in the driver’s seat and explore.” It is his unique approach to mining the mountains of data surrounding us that has put him at the forefront of discovery in his field, and why Thorp was recently chosen as one of National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers.

As outlined on the program's website, Emerging Explorers are “uniquely gifted and inspiring adventurers, scientists and innovators who are at the forefront of discovery, adventure and global problem-solving while still early in their careers.” Further, they are “dynamic personalities who are making a significant contribution to world knowledge through exploration.” Thorp certainly fits that description. He takes the data we constantly produce and consume every day and makes it human. He does so by translating numbers and figures into beautiful visual projections of the information directly impacting our lives. And, he helps us grasp a more cohesive understanding of the world around us through his unique exploration of data visualization. Sometimes, he presents correlations between data that we might not have even expected.

Thorp's revolutionary and award-winning software has been featured worldwide. He was formerly the Data Artist in Residence for The New York Times, and recently co-founded the Office for Creative Research (OCR). He treats data visualization as a process—not a product, that can be used as a tool to expand thinking on social issues. Whether he's working with the OCR, teaching at New York University, or giving an eye-opening keynote, Thorp explores the way that data reflects our humanity, and shows us the tremendous possibilities that exist when we discover how to effectively harness the data all around us.

Photo Credit: Thatcher Cook, Courtesy of National Geographic

Solving Unique Problems With Data: Jer Thorp’s Office for Creative Research

When big data speaker Jer Thorp's tenure as the Data Artist In Residence at The New York Times ended, he felt both excitement as well as fear. He was worried that his new venture, a company he co-founded called The Office for Creative Research, would either get no work—or work that he wouldn't be passionate about. Luckily, as he explained in a Creative Coding Podcast Google Hangout, that hasn't been the case. The data artist says that he has been fortunate to work on some really fascinating projects since launching the company.

“I love any conversation about a project that starts with: 'I'm not sure if this can be done, but…'” he says in the podcast. Thorp and his co-founders only work with a limited number of clients, and he quips that he doesn't like to take on projects that are too straight-forward or are easily done by anyone in the business. Rather, he advises potential clients that he'd rather they go with a different company if they can think of 100 other people who could accomplish the task at hand. “If it's a job that you can't think of anybody else who can do it—then it's probably something we can help you with,” says Thorp. “It sounds really cliche but I guess our bottom line choice about a project is [whether] this project is going to, in some way, make the world a better place.”

As he explained in the podcast (which was filmed in The Office for Creative Research's new location), there are a lot of different ways to make a good living using data visualization tools. There is a great deal of potential, he says, for what we can create when we organize the abundance of data at our fingertips. In his fascinating keynotes, Thorp argues that data is so much more than just numbers and figures. In fact, the human experience is at the very heart of our data. And, with the right techniques, we can create beautiful and informative visualizations that humanizes data and changes the way we see the world.

Data Visualization Is A Process—Not A Product: Jer Thorp In HBR

Jer Thorp, a big data speaker and the Former Data Artist in Residence at The New York Times, doesn't think data visualization always has to be the end result of a project. Rather, as he writes in a guest blog post in The Harvard Business Review, he sees data visualization as a process, not a product. “If we set out to visualize, instead of making a visualization, we can end up with any number of outcomes,” he writes. “In fact, many of those outcomes may not even be visualizations, but rather solutions, new ideas, and better questions…if we allow ourselves to think more about the value of the branching points of that process than we do a single result, we leave ourselves open to many more possibilities.”

This isn't to say that data visualizations can't become works of art made for public consumption. In fact, Thorp is well-known for his ability to translate complex clusters of data into meaningful illustrations that tell us more about the world that surrounds us. However, he says that it is also key to remember that sometimes, the process of visualizing data is just that—a process. It doesn't necessarily need to have an outcome. Instead, we should think of it as a way to crystallize the thought process and expand our thinking. “By thinking about visualization as a process instead of an outcome, we arm ourselves with an incredibly powerful thinking tool,” that makes “[data visualization become] much more than just the end of a sentence.”

In his stunning talks, Thorp explains that the numbers and stats all around us have meaningful applications to our lives. While data seems artificial in nature, it is rooted in the human experience—something he argues is incredibly important. Thorp lectures at New York University, and has also launched The Office for Creative Research with a group of his peers. In his many roles, he explores the way data reflects our humanity—and finds ways to showcase the tremendous possibilities that exist when we know how to effectively harness it.

From “Vanity To Utility”: Big Data Speaker Jer Thorp Turns Tweets Into Art

You can learn a lot about people in 140 characters or less. Millions of tweets of that length are sent on Twitter every day. Big data speaker Jer Thorp, the former Data Artist in Residence at The New York Times, was curious about would happen if he combined all of the valuable data lingering on the social media site into a massive visualization. What kind of information could he learn about people's lives and the commonalities they share with one another? If you compile all the “Good Morning” tweets that people send on any given day, for example, you can then extrapolate that data to get an idea of how many people wake up at 8 am. To take that idea further, you could also see what part of the world those early-risers were from, and whether more males or females wake up at that hour. As he showed at a recent TED Youth talk, organizing this data in the right way makes it not only interesting, but eye-catching as well.

Twitter is a self-bolstering site where users mainly post what they are doing at a given moment. Or, as Thorp jokes, the users are showing off that they are doing something cooler than you are. “How can we take this vanity and turn it into utility?” Thorp then asked the audience. He decided to focus on tweets that had to do with travel. So, he collected all of the posts that had to do with where people were going (for example: “Just landed in New York!”), matched that up with where they were from (easily found on their profile) and created a dynamic map that showed where and how people were getting around. Although the project could stand alone on aesthetic merit alone, Thorp notes that this kind of data has tremendous potential. Scientists, for example, can use this information to figure out how disease spreads from one place to another. By putting small data sets together, he says that we have the potential to do really exciting things. We can use that data towards solving some of the world's biggest problems.

In Thorp's talks, he shows audiences that data is more than just numbers. It's a very human experience, as the data itself is generated by us and has the potential to dramatically change our lives when harnessed the right way. Thorp lectures at New York University, and has also launched The Office for Creative Research with a group of his peers to study the implications of big data and how we can use them to our advantage.

Let’s Harness Data Better Than We Harnessed Oil: Jer Thorp At PopTech

As Jer Thorp explains in his recent PopTech keynote speech, big data could be the next big oil—which, depending on how we manage this valuable resource, could be extremely promising or potentially dangerous. At the The Office For Creative Research (which Thorp recently launched), the artist and educator explores the problems associated with the abundance of information available to us today. “Let’s try to not make the same mistakes with this new resource that we have with the last ones,” he says in the speech. He argues that since we didn't do very well with big oil, we need to learn from our missteps and make better use of big data. As he explains in the talk, this means taking a subjective view of the issue by seeking to understand the human implications of harnessing and utilizing data in business. This includes taking everything from data ownership to data ethics into account as we start to make more intensive use of the detailed information trail that now follows us everywhere we go.

The breadth and potential power of this resource is tremendous, and it is vitally important that people understand what information is out there, how it is being used, and what that means for the average person. Including, he says, answering the question of “what is it like to be us living in this ever-more complicated world.” By transforming massive networks of data into creative and visually appealing artwork, Thorp hopes to put data into a human context. He is the Data Artist in Residence at The New York Times and has created award-winning software that utilizes massive data sets in creative and innovative new ways. In his talks, he explains that data is much more than just numbers. Instead, as he explains to his wide array of audiences, it is becoming an increasingly important part of who we are and how we live our lives.

Using Big Data To Understand & Prevent Violent Crime: David Eagleman

“We treat incarceration as a one-size-fits-all solution,” David Eagleman explains in a recent interview about the U.S. justice system. “In America, we incarcerate more of the population than any other nation in the world—because in large part, there is no nuance to how we approach the system.” He explains that differences in people's physiologically driven behavior are not taken into account in the judicial system. Instead, every offender is treated the same and punishments are uniform even if that course of action may not help a particular offender be rehabilitated.

As the founder and director of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, and a prominent neuroscientist, Eagleman has extensively studied the way our brains dictate our behavior—and what that means in terms of obeying and disobeying laws. The work he is doing with the initiative is particularly relevant in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, and he has recently been blogging about the importance of using in-depth brain research to chart and understand violent crime. Part of his work uses Big Data analysis on crime patterns to understand the nature of criminal activity, and to make better decisions about the rehabilitation and sentencing of violent criminals.

“Our system is built on the assumption that if you’re over 18 and over the IQ of 70, you’re a practical reasoner, free to choose how you act,” he says. “But modern neuroscience suggests that those are not good assumptions.” He argues that we should be using the data available about why certain people commit certain crimes to create a more tailored system that can provide customized rehabilitation that may prevent repeat offenses. While this is a fascinating topic in the scientific community, Eagleman says he is “pleased and surprised by the interest in neuroscience outside of academia.” At one of his recent keynotes, he says that a massive crowd turned out to listen to his insights on the topic—proving that his research is really resonating with the public. “Rock stars are used to big crowds, but scientists aren’t,” he says, “yet there’s a real public appetite [for neuroscience].” Those massive turnouts can also be attributed to Eagleman's energetic and engaging approach to the subject matter, as he provides audiences with eye-opening material while keeping them thoroughly entertained throughout his presentations.

Jer Thorp in HBR: “Big Data Isn’t The New Big Oil”

Although many marketers believe big data may be the next big oil (read: enormous profits), Jer Thorp argues that “finding value from data is much more a process of cultivation than it is one of extraction or refinement.” As he writes in the Harvard Business Review, The New York Times' Data Artist doesn't believe that data and oil, despite both being valuable resources, exist in the same vein. However, he does say that perhaps the comparison between the two is beneficial in what it can teach us about how we use big data—by learning from the mistakes we made in the oil industry.

Similar to the way that oil cultivation has led to disasterous consequences, the way we harness big data could prove to be problematic as well. If we do not take steps to ensure that we humanize data, Thorp argues, “data spills” and “data pollution” could give more weight to the “data as oil” argument. It is expecially important that we tread carefully in our use of personal data, Thorp cautions. “A great deal of the profit that is being made right now in the data world is being made through the use of human-generated information,” he explains. “Our browsing habits, our conversations with friends, our movements and location—all of these things are being monetized.” The issue in this, he argues, is that it is “deeply human data, though very often it is not treated as such.” Those looking to profit from this vast collection of information see it as dollars and cents compacted into ones and zeros, when in reality, this data contains important fragments of people's lives.

One way to combat this, he says, is to provide avenues for people to understand the value inherent in the data they produce. When people realize the amount of personal information that is contained in the data they produce, they will be better able to monitor its misuse. This leads to his next point, where he explains that despite the fact that companies are profiting from the use of human-generated data, “not a single one has mentioned the rights of the people from whom the data is being extracted.” This, he says, needs to change. We need to see data not as the new oil,  but as “a new resource entirely.” As he explains in his eye-opening keynotes, and showcases in his intriguing art projects, data needs to be humanized. Data contains the stories of our lives, he says, and we need to see this resource as something deeply personal if we are able to effectively harness it and “avoid some of the mistakes that we made with the old oil.”

Big Data Speaker Jer Thorp: “These Are Not Numbers, They Are Parts Of Our Lives.” [VIDEO]

“We think about data as numbers,” big data speaker Jer Thorp says. “What we don't think about, really, is what those numbers represent.” Regardless of how meaningless, or how confusing, data may seem, Thorp presents a very human way of looking at our digital footprints. “These are not numbers,” he argues, “they are parts of our lives.” 

In a recent keynote, Thorp, the Data Artist in Residence at The New York Times, explains that data and numbers are “recording our histories.” New technologies and digital devices have given us access to large quantities of data that, if we know how to analyze it, can tell us a great deal about who we are. Thorp is passionate about transforming this data into meaningful insights about society. Not only does he bring data to life on stage, he also combines art and science into beautiful big data installations. His “Cascade” project provides a stunning visual representation of the way we share information across social media. Further, the breakthrough software he created as part of the 9/11 memorial project was able to group victims by relationship—rather than arbitrarily organizing them in alphabetical order. His software-based work has been used across the world and his lectures humanize the influx of data that surrounds us every day to help us see the personal stories that exist within numbers.