Data strangling creative? What a load of BS

“Mate, of course data is important. But it can strangle creativity – you need freedom to think about ideas….”

Source: 2 weeks ago. Meeting with senior creative. Multi-award winner. Good friend. 

I’ve worked with some wonderfully creative people. People who easily empathise with human pain and come up with ideas, products and solutions that nail it. People who were doing design thinking long before it became fashionable, and others who can transform the art of language to transcend just words. I’m amazed by their skills. I’ve seen how powerful creative moves mountains. I wish I was more creative sometimes. But here’s the thing, I sometimes find my creative peers a tad more irritated by the data tsunami than I think they should be. Sorta like data is the boring friend that’s killing the mood critical to producing game changing ideas. I think that’s a cop out, and here’s why:

Data isn’t there to tell you what to do – but it sure helps tell you what NOT to do. The insights telling you the places not to play. The attributes that high value customers simply don’t have. The product behaviours that just aren’t making money. The CX interactions worth less than others. The types of customers acquired during the last Big Idea and who left shortly afterwards. The creative opportunity is then to focus and shine in the areas that do offer value and where good thinking and ideas (and the client’s business) are most likely to prosper. It’s not a democratic playground – some corners are simply worth a lot less than others.

Data shows you the story you often can’t see – ever seen a good piece of data visualisation? I don’t mean pretty colours or cool design. I mean one that in a single second just tells you everything you needed to know. Instantaneously. Boom! An entire organisation’s business reduced to an intuitive visual. Sometimes the story is so obvious that what is learnt in a single second, can’t be taught in a week of workshops. It’s this kind of data insight that gives confidence and direction to creative thinking.

Data means more creative – for samples of one  – In the age of the individual, pressure to resonate, and engage, relies almost solely on what makes each individual tick. Data and creative play such complimentary parts in this. Are they rational or emotional thinkers? What types of incentives do they respond to? What content do they consume? Creative’s role is creating a compendium of treatments, with data playing the decisioning role of who gets what, when and in which combinations. A marriage of equals, but with defined roles.

Data isn’t choking creative. In fact, it’s working its butt off to find more and more opportunities for creative to engage, resonate and inspire customers. It’s up to creative to do the hard yards to deliver on these opportunities. Are things changing? Yea, sure, but I’ve never met a creative that doesn’t love a good challenge.

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