Big data alters the questions we ask, and kills creativity as a result, according to Dr Fiona Kerr, the Systems and Neural Complexity Specialist at Adelaide University, and second speaker For Is Data Killing Creativity?
The reason people notice curiosities – like the fact that two thirds of the cows standing in fields across the world orient themselves to magnetic north – is that we are idiosyncratic. Humans are curious and creative, and we achieve this through our ability to abstract. That is, notice things that aren’t connected and connect them in interesting ways.
Creativity is non-linear, which is why the introduction of data, something that is very much linear, can be so detrimental to the creative process, as it causes us to enter an analytical way of thinking.
So what happens in the brain when we enter this analytic mode? One of the interesting things is that it causes us to become task-focused. And with that, a number of things follow. If we’re under pressure then cortisol rises and we start to worry and cannot abstract nearly as much. That starts to push into what’s called a script track – we start to rule out everything that’s not really involved in the specific issue that we’re looking at and our way of thinking becomes very narrow.
So we change the way we look at things, which also means we’re not as strategic. Good strategists use intuitive creative knowledge as well as quantitative data, and it’s the way they marry these together that’s so important. Because it is linear and it is analysis-focused, if you are driven by data alone, then it minimises your ability to bring in that intuitive knowledge, which is abstractive. It actually changes the process.
Often when people look at big data they find it difficult to engage. This creates an issue for creative virtual teams, as it limits their ability to work things out together. Amazing things happen in our brains when we look at one another. We have neurons going off, a number of chemicals engage our parasympathetic nervous system, and our brains can actually grow if we become really curious and engaged in something.
This speeds up the brain enormously, making it easy to grow abstract ideas very quickly. But when people are confronted with big data they feel swamped. Too often the way data is shaped alters the questions we ask, so when we wonder if big data is changing the way that we think, then the answer is yes, big data moves us away from creative thinking.
Dr Fiona Kerr is the Systems and Neural Complexity Specialist at Adelaide University. You can visit her website here.