Data’s not the answer (It’s what you do with it)

This blog is part of our conversation on big data, which includes our professional journal GMNsight: Advancing Grantmaking


There’s no doubt that the buzzword of the moment is data. Every day there is a new infographic visualizing data in an interesting way, a new area now capable of becoming a data-set, and another story of it being the answer to myriad problems.

Data’s the answer, what’s the question?

The concept of recording and capturing information to learn from isn’t new. For a lot of people it’s just that it’s got more understandable.  Data visualization is a big driver of this. Data gets more interesting as soon as it leaves Excel. Another driver of course is the amount of information now being recorded on areas of life never before measurable. Technology has allowed this. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt famously told us we now create as much information in two days as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. We can now see, as it happens, the interest spiked by a piece of communication, crucially in actual, not reported, terms.

There is also the reassuring arse-covering nature of data. Standing in front of the board with numbers backing up your recommendation is a more comfortable sensation than a recommendation based on instinct or prediction.

The danger with all of this is that the industry becomes obsessed with looking backwards. Data by its very nature is concerned with the past. Yes, it can be used to make predictions for the future but unless the future presents a combination of variables previously seen it cannot do so alone.

It is crucial that we use insight when looking at the data and creativity and foresight when using it to make recommendations about the future. There is a big difference between innovation and creativity.  Innovation is about incremental improvements. Creativity is about changing the game and unsettling the expected course. Innovation is faster horses and Apple MiniDisc players.

That’s why at MediaCom our Strategy and Business Science teams work so closely together. It’s also why Hyper Island have just launched a course for the role of “digital data strategist” identifying the need to bridge the gap between data analysis and investigation, and the communication skills of creativity and design.

We must see data as an inspiration not an answer. Looking forward, making predictions, constantly looking to change the game should always be our aim. Data is just one tool available to us.Will

Will Worsdell is group strategy director at MediaCom. This post originally appeared on B& Re-posted with permission.


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