The other day I was reading this post which suggests that “big data” is the enemy of creativity. First, big data is a hot term these days; it’s thrown around a lot and it’s used in many different ways. I won’t go into the individual nuances of what is and what isn’t big data, but suffice to say that big data is any data set that allows you to make sweeping, actionable decisions and forecasts based on the big picture of various market sectors, user behavior, and so on.
The post discusses how big data and creativity intertwine; the simplified basis of the argument being that Netflix created the show House of Cards based on data collected from their user base, and by doing so somehow surrendered creativity in return for the known unknown. Whatever.
To an extent this is true. Yes, they’ve examined what they know performs well and used that information to create something new. But just then I used the words “create” and “something new”. Of course, the show wasn’t exactly a shot in the dark, an is expected to be a success because it’s based on the behavior and interests of those who use the service, but that doesn’t mean it’s not creative simply because it was based on data…
…and what’s so wrong with giving people what they want?
In my line of work we use data every day to create a multitude of things that benefit our customers. We also use data to develop tools that allow us to be more efficient at serving our customers. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to say “oh, these things just came out of the data”, but in reality the data is just a bunch of arbitrary information that only comes to life when analyzed and used — and it’s all about how you use it.
First, one must not only know how to extract insights from data, but must also have an idea to create something useful as a result. This could be a tool, an advertising strategy, or even a show. I know there’s a lot of profit to be made with this sort of stuff, but…
…the end goal is to create a better experience for the customer.
We’ve used big data to create many things. For example, matching a home-buyer to a home based on the alignment of search intent, history, and activity with attributes of current inventory. In the past this sort of stuff was messy (see search engine results), but today it’s extremely accurate and in real time. Data didn’t do that. People did, through creativity.
…but this is nothing new.
We’ve always been able to do these things, it’s just that the scale is larger and the response time is, well, immediate.
Because of this, our potential to create new things grows exponentially. Creation also depends on and breeds inspiration. As we continue to use data to create new things that people actually want, we inspire others to to create ideas that may or may not be realized later on. And you know what those ideas generate?
…more data, more ideas, and more amazing things.
The positive side of better understanding the intricacies of our users is that they ultimately end up with a better experience that is tailored to them. I think they appreciate that.
Also, I think House of Cards is great.