European Insights

Share:

Curation: Less, but better

23 October, 2020

Insights banner

“No one living can give a guess of what is coming along this line, much better than anyone living could conjecture the final outcome of Columbus' experiment . . .”

My Flying Machine Story, Gleanings in Bee Culture, 1 Jan 1905.

Perhaps the most momentous scoop in press history was reported in the apiarists' journal of choice - Gleanings in Bee Culture - in Ohio early in the 20th Century. In 1903 garbled reports had appeared in local newspapers about an event in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but had garnered little or no attention. It took the restless curiosity and energy of Amos Root, founder of the Gleanings publication, to put that right. On 20 September 1904 Amos travelled to Dayton, Ohio and watched Wilbur Wright fly the first complete circle in an aeroplane. Root wrote an article but delayed it until the following January at Wilbur's request. When it was published this report, and several follow-ups, were the only distributed eyewitness accounts of the flights and it took a considerable amount of time for the wider world to become aware of the achievements of the Wright Brothers.

Since the beginning of the last century, things have changed beyond measure in terms of the level of information available, and the idea that a story as big as this took so long to break now seems absurd. The problem we currently face is actually the reverse of the one that existed before: there is so much information available that in 2011 each American consumed the equivalent of 175 newspapers a day.[1] In December 2016, IBM wrote a report in that offered the fascinating insight that 90% of all the data in the world at that time had been created in the last two years. More recently, the company estimated that the world now produces over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day and that the rates of data growth are in the region of 60% per annum[2].

This problem of data creation and overload is familiar to anyone with a work email account, and the wonderful metaphor 'drinking from the firehose' has been adopted by office workers everywhere to signal their concerns. Rather than being more informed we are finding ourselves on the verge of paralysis.

An online search confirms that there are 848 pages of Jeans available on Amazon.co.uk and a similar search reveals that the average Walmart Supercentre holds over 140,000 SKUs (a type of scannable bar code.) The modern industrial model is built on offering choice and now companies are finding that consumers are unable to make decisions in the face of the tyranny of this choice. This problem of material abundance has perhaps been best described by the writer and forecaster James Wallman who coined the term 'stuffocation'.

For consumers, the antidote to this problem is the development of a more selective model by the corporate sector and this can perhaps be best described as a form of 'curation'. Initially this might sound like it solely belongs in some highbrow sphere like museums or the art world, but the blogger Maria Popova has said that “the art of curation isn't about the individual pieces of content but about how these pieces fit together”. Thought of in this way, curation is a type of filtering that many business models will need to move towards. Luxury companies have understood this for a long time. Ferrari's 2011 decision to cut production numbers of cars was based on an insight of its then CEO, Luca Di Montezemolo, who said, “We don't sell a normal product. We sell a dream”.  For Ferrari scarcity helps build the dream.

Not everything can be premiumised though, and amongst the failures of the big box retail sector, discounters such as Aldi and Lidl have continued to do well, so price continues to be a fundamental driver. Nonetheless we do expect to see both a reduction in SKUs, more refined filtering, and a conversion to what has been termed 'experiential shopping' to be the key themes in the survival of physical retailing.

For digital retailing then it is clear that curation is both a major component of the disease of overload and also its potential cure. The amount of digital data is doubling every three years or so — growing more than four times more quickly than the world economy, and the rate of change is constantly increasing. By the end of 2013 there were 1,200 exabytes (1018 bytes) of stored data in the world[3]. Less than 2% of this was non-digital, whereas in 2000 75% of information was analogue[4]. Eric Schmidt, in his book How Google Works, stated that Google 'curates the internet.' The company is both harbinger of the deluge and an elegant response to the need for it to be managed. Remarkable things can be achieved by big data but only if it is framed and used effectively.[5]  

One of our investments, and an exemplar of a commercial enterprise that offers solutions to the problem of the scale of data, is the Anglo-Dutch publisher Relx. One of the services the company offers is legal, regulatory and business information and analytics, under a product called LexisNexis. The product database contains 119 billion document records to which 1.3 million new legal documents are added every day.[6] The system allows busy lawyers to search and curate the huge wealth of data into something entirely comprehensible and useful.

The company also recently made an acquisition of a fast-growing data analytics business that enables pharmaceutical companies to make better decisions about research and development. This is a classic big data sphere that we expect to undergo radical change. The cost of finding - and then getting - a drug past phase III clinical trials is estimated to be US$2.6bn and the annual research spend for the industry as a whole is over US$100bn. The odds of taking a drug from discovery to marketing are very small; from over 5,000 compounds, fewer than 5% will make it to pre-clinical trials, and for every 10 of those, only one will make it to approval.[7] Greater efficiency is desperately needed and we believe digitisation and a subsequent marshalling of big data will provide the solution to the problem.

When Dieter Rams, the renowned industrial designer - perhaps best known for his work at Braun - was asked for his design philosophy, he replied, 'Weniger, aber besser' or 'Less, but better'. This might well be a good slogan for the growing sustainability movement. However, it also describes how the industrial model is changing in almost every sector, and how digitisation can help, but must also itself be managed. For those who have understood this there will be many investment opportunities along the way.


[1] Daniel Levitin The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, 2014,   
[2] IBM Marketing Cloud, “10 Key Marketing Trends for 2017”, 2016
[3] Big Data, A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, And Think, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, 2013
[4] Science, The World›s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate and Compute Information, 2011
[5] We owe a debt of gratitude to the book Curation by Michael Bhaskar for helping us gain insight into this topic.
[6] www.relx.com
[7] The Pharmaceutical Journal, Drug Development: the journey of a medicine from lab to shelf, 2015

Back to articles

WANT TIMELY NEWS AND UPDATES STRAIGHT TO YOUR INBOX?

Subscribe to our newsletter here

European Equity Strategies

Learn more

This website and its contents (the “Site”) has been provided by RBC Global Asset Management (“RBC GAM”) for informational purposes only and may not be reproduced, distributed or published without the written consent of RBC GAM or its affiliated entities listed herein.

In Canada, this Site is provided by RBC Global Asset Management Inc. (including PH&N Institutional) which is regulated by each provincial and territorial securities commission with which it is registered. In the United States, this Site is provided by RBC Global Asset Management (U.S.) Inc., a federally registered investment adviser. In Europe, this Site is provided by RBC Global Asset Management (UK) Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the UK Financial Conduct Authority. In Asia, this Site is provided by RBC Global Asset Management (Asia) Limited to professional, institutional investors and wholesale clients only and not to the retail public. RBC Global Asset Management (Asia) Limited is registered with the Securities and Futures Commission in Hong Kong.

RBC GAM is the asset management division of Royal Bank of Canada (“RBC”) which includes RBC Global Asset Management Inc., RBC Global Asset Management (U.S.) Inc., RBC Global Asset Management (UK) Limited, RBC Global Asset Management (Asia) Limited, and BlueBay Asset Management LLP, which are separate, but affiliated subsidiaries of RBC.

Nothing contained in or on the Site should be construed as a solicitation of an offer to buy or offer, or recommendation, to acquire or dispose of any security, commodity, investment or to engage in any other transaction. This Site is not intended to provide legal, accounting, tax, investment, financial or other advice and such information should not be relied upon for providing such advice. RBC GAM takes reasonable steps to provide up-to-date, accurate and reliable information, and believes the information to be so when produced. The information, including layout, of this Site, may be wholly or partially suspended, withdrawn or changed at any time. We also reserve the right at any time to immediately suspend the provision of all or any part of this Site to you and/or block your access to this Site.

Information obtained from third parties is believed to be reliable, but no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made by RBC GAM, its affiliates or any other person as to its accuracy, completeness, reliability or correctness. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of RBC GAM and are subject to change without notice.

Any investment processes described in this Site may change over time. The characteristics set forth in this Site are intended as a general illustration of some of the criteria considered in selecting securities for client portfolios. Not all investments in a client portfolio will meet such criteria.

Past performance is not indicative of future results. With all investments there is a risk of loss of all or a portion of the amount invested. Where return estimates are shown, these are provided for illustrative purposes only and should not be construed as a prediction of returns; actual returns may be higher or lower than those shown and may vary substantially, especially over shorter time periods. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Interest rates, exchange rates and market conditions are subject to change.

The Site may contain forward-looking statements about general economic factors which are not guarantees of future performance. Forward-looking statements involve inherent risk and uncertainties, so it is possible that predictions, forecasts, projections and other forward-looking statements will not be achieved. We caution you not to place undue reliance on these statements as a number of important factors could cause actual events or results to differ materially from those expressed or implied in any forward-looking statement. All opinions in forward-looking statements are subject to change without notice and are provided in good faith but without legal responsibility.

Certain names, words, titles, phrases, logos, icons, graphics or designs or other content in the pages of the Site are trade names or trade-marks owned by RBC or its subsidiaries, or trade names or trade-marks licensed to them. The trademarks are distinguished from one another and accompanied, at first-time use, with the appropriate trademark symbol: ®/TM. These symbols are keyed to their respective legend which describes the owner or licensee of the trade-mark. The display of trademarks and trade names on pages of the Site does not imply that a license of any kind has been granted to anyone else. The information is for your personal use only. Any unauthorized downloading, re-transmission, or other copying or modification of trademarks and/or the contents of the Site may be a violation of any federal or other law that may apply to trademarks and/or copyrights and could subject the copier to legal action. The information is protected under the copyright laws of Canada and other countries. Unless otherwise specified, no one has permission to copy, redistribute, reproduce, republish, store in any medium, re-transmit, modify or make public or commercial use of, in any form, the information.

Cookie Policy
What are Cookies?

A cookie is a small text file containing a unique identification number that a website sends to your computer's web browser. When you visit a website, a cookie may be used to track the activities of your browser as well as provide you with a consistent, more efficient experience. Cookies cannot view or retrieve data from other cookies, or capture files or information stored on your computer. Only the website that sends you cookies is able to read them.

How do we use Cookies on this website?
1. To Improve Functionality

This website uses cookies to monitor and improve operations and functionality. These cookies do not contain personal or financial information. They gather statistical data such as the average time spent on a particular page. This kind of information provides insight on how to improve the design, content and navigation of the website.

2. Site Personalization

This website uses cookies as a means of offering visitors a personalized experience for future visits. For example, a persistent cookie is used to record if you have accepted the use of cookies on the website. This cookie allows you to browse the website in future without being shown our cookie notice every time.

Declining Cookies

It is possible to still browse this website even if you decline cookies. However if you choose not to accept cookies, some aspects of the website may not function properly or optimally. Cookies are widely used and most web browsers are configured to accept cookies automatically. If you prefer not to accept cookies, you may adjust your browser settings to notify you when a cookie is about to be sent, or you may configure your browser to refuse cookies automatically. If you would like to learn more about your cookie options, please refer to your browser's documentation or online help for instructions. To learn more about cookies, including information on what cookies have been set on your computer and how cookies can be managed and deleted, visit www.allaboutcookies.org.