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SOCIAL PHYSICS


Black Box Partnerships’ Raj Sachdave thinks the insights from social physics could be powerful for travel buyers. “Social physics tells you what is really going on,” he says, adding that the theory can lend itself to making more informed business travel buying decisions based on the needs of the traveller.


WE TAKE SOCIAL CUES


FROM EACH OTHER BECAUSE WE ARE SOCIAL CREATURES


CHALLENGES AHEAD However, Boswell points out that apps, such as Waze and Strava, provide a reward to the user and this drives social physics, but business travel may struggle to find the same behavioural benefit. “There is a value exchange for those giving up their data, for example with Strava it is about the competition. People have to see a benefit from sharing data.” Meanwhile, Sachdave is concerned that the travel sector is too far behind to take advantage of social physics, as it has only just discovered big data. “People in travel are taking historic data and mining it for patterns and saying it is the future. The challenge is that the travel industry doesn’t have a close enough relationship with the traveller to look at the data to derive insight.” Then there is the question of privacy; as the negative media coverage of Facebook and other big brand data breaches leads to people being wary of the data they share, so social physics could become a tougher sell. But as Pentland points out, “in order to understand the total pattern of interactions within an organisation, it is vital to capture all data”. The task for travel buyers is to figure out how the parts of the data puzzle fit together.


ALEX PENTLAND – the godfather of social physics


ALEX PENTLAND DIRECTS the Human Dynamics Laboratory at MIT, as well as leading the big data and personal data initiatives at the World Economic Forum. He has advised businesses, including Motorola and Nissan, and co-founded predictive analytics firm Endor with Yaniv Altshuler. It applies the principles of social physics to business, such as Coca-Cola, which wants to predict


buyingbusinesstravel.com


customer trends and adapt its products accordingly. “Most of our behaviour is


shaped by the ideas we are exposed to,” Pentland writes, indicating that digital and data are what shape modern behaviour. “We are now coming to realise that human behaviour is determined as much by social context as by rational thinking… people’s desires and decisions about how to act are often, and perhaps typically, dominated by social network effects.” Pentland’s social network is the wider society, the business we work in, the town we live in and not Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


2019 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 127


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