An over-reliance on data has led companies to believe they should start personal conversations with their customers, but that makes them like the creepy guy at a party that no one wants to talk to, according to Luke Chess, Creative Director of Sydney agency Mammal, and the final speaker For Is Data Killing Creativity?
The creative process doesn’t start with looking at a sea of numbers and hoping that Matrix-like it suddenly turns into an image of what you want. That’s not the way creativity works at all. You throw out a crazy idea that you know make no sense, but with a bit of intuition can reveal some interesting facts.
Here’s an interesting fact from Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO and Executive Chairman of Alphabet: We now create more information every two days than from the dawn of time to 2003.
That’s amazing. We are not being swamped by data. We’re drowning in it. We’re not drinking from the fire hose. We’re sipping from Warragamba Dam. In fact, what we’re really doing is wrapping our mouth around the outlet pipe of Fukushima. Because while the quantity of the data we’re expected to absorb is astonishing, the quality is incredibly suspect. With that amount of data you can say and prove anything you like.
The problem is we don’t even have time to stop and pay any attention to the quality of the data we’re working with. The truth doesn’t matter. We’re after the illusion of truth. That’s what makes us all feel better with data.
Data tells us that Pepsi tastes better than Coke, so we’ll invent New Coke. And we all know how well that went. Because when you have a single sip of course Pepsi tastes better than Coke. But no one has a single sip. Everybody guzzles it – just like data – and Coke wins when you’re drinking it by the litre.
More information every two days than from the dawn of time until 2003. Now that was an impressive figure when Eric Schmidt said it in 2010. It’s probably more impressive now. It’s probably every two hours, or every two minutes.
But the most impressive thing about that “fact” is it isn’t true. Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, got his facts wrong. We produce such a staggering amount of data now that the CEO of Google can’t even confirm the veracity of the data that he’s giving in talks.
Data gives you information, but it doesn’t give you truth. The way we behave with it confuses the two, and this is a real problem because we’re no longer applying proper thinking when problem solving. Data is killing creativity, and it’s even corrupted the language. Insights, findings, etc. Data doesn’t give us insights. Insights should be blinding. They should be jaw-dropping. And you don’t get that by looking at a spreadsheet full of numbers.
Data at its best doesn’t tell us what is coming. It tells us what is or was most likely. Beyond that, you’re extrapolating beyond your data set, which is a dangerous thing to do. Data determines what was, while creativity determines what could be.
Does creativity always get it right? No it doesn’t, but it’s got a far better chance than data, which is often poorly interpreted, inaccurately extrapolated, and then tries to logic its way into your heart.
For every bad ad that you’re exposed to there is research that said it would work. The god awful commercial you accidentally watched last night wasn’t conceived by an advertising writer or art director like that. It was massaged. Your market segment was identified by statistical analysis. The message was fully researched. The claims were reinforced by data. The concept was tweaked after some focus testing, and as a result they decided that blue liquid will demonstrate ultra-absorbency.
Data tries to make its way into marketing and communication, turning our heads away from universal human insights, big things that we all have in common towards even more fragmented market segmentation instead.
Exponents of data aren’t interested in expressing universal truths. What they’re interested in is learning more about you so they can start a one-on-one conversation between you and a brand.
And brand expecting a conversation like that is a bit like a creepy guy walking around a party. So if you like creepy guys at parties trying to sell you things then by all means allow data to continue killing creativity.
Luke Chess is Creative Director at Mammal. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeChess