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Is data killing creativity?

For marketing and communications managers there is a marked challenge in unleashing brilliant ideas whilst ensuring impact, and value generation. In today’s world, creative cannot sit in isolation, if it isn’t delivering against objectives – it’s as good as a chocolate teapot!

Data can help. 

Netflix is an archetypal example of using data to take the risk out of delivering (and funding) creativity. With their vault of data and savvy algorithms, they have made an art of distilling the drives, likes and habits of users. Time and time again predicting cultural drivers and shifts that result in popular content. Even data pessimists can see that they have churned-out hits with eerie success.

A narrow view would see data processing as ‘constantly looping-back to what worked and replicating it’. On the surface; applying such parameters to creativity would appear at odds with ‘bringing original and new ideas to life’. After-all, if you give creativity bordered confines driven by data, aren’t you simply restricting the freedom of abstract thought?

There is an undeniable tension between data handling and creative thinking. But, it isn’t one without resolution. Recognising that there is a tension is the first step, the second is deciding when and where to lean on data or not.

Often, the information garnered from data is not for idea generation, but for feedback. Ann Lewnes, Adobe’s EVP and CMO, believes that data is likely the best thing to ever happen to creatives. She cites the sharing economy, using the example of Adobe’s Behance platform where talent can get noticed and sell their work. Not only that, but they can also assess the impact of their work and see how it is being perceived.

The importance of data for feedback has its merits, as does using data for the genesis of an idea. Recognising that creative thinking in marketing and communications can be as much about ‘making connections’, as can be about ‘radical originality’ allows us to recognise the value of data as something that can inform or spur the creative process, but also that it is not the bedrock on which all concepts are contrived.

Data helps with making valuable choices, forming narrowed criteria for selection, and gathering important assessments of impact. Real creativity is not about selecting within caged options, it is about creating entirely new unchartered options and connections. Perhaps even the more novel the idea, the more unexpected it is, and the less data there will be about how people might respond to it.

The core of creativity is the idea. Ideas come from insights. Insights are informed by data. 

Data is materially linked to today’s creative process. Yet, for all the data in the world; the origination of a winning idea is more than running the numbers. Instinct always has its role too and so the creativity-data paradigm persists.