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What data can’t tell you.

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So it’s 1962 and my father is in a small band in Rhodesia. They leave for London and by a series of strange events ends up being the only South African band ever to be given a Lennon and McCartney composition to record. The song doesn’t do much in the charts but it transforms my fathers life. He goes onto have 7 albums and a TV show in Australia.

So what does this have to do with data. Everything and nothing. What has always struck me about this story is the bravery and slight madness 5 guys had to go to London and give it a go. I am sure if they had looked at the data it would have told them not to go.

But they were brave.

Don’t get me wrong data is the new oil and will change our business forever. Data finds human patterns that we can use to great effect. What it doesn’t do is break patterns. It’s not great at helping you do the wrong things. Picasso once said computers are useless, they only give you answers.

Questions are always how you go somewhere new.

So here is a question. Once we all more or less have the same data and algorithms, what do we do then? How will we differentiate ourselves? How will we stop ourselves all landing in the same place?

Creativity perhaps?

Data can tell you what has happened or is happening. And this is vital. Yet, some of the greatest work in our business is totally unexpected. Great work is surprising. And the work is normally surprising because somebody went where nobody had been before. Where sometimes there is very little data.

And that’s what great creatives do. They take risks by going where others wouldn’t go.

Take Cadbury Gorilla as an example. We are going to have a Gorilla playing the drums to Phil Collins and we think this will be a good ad for chocolate. Today, everyone loves that ad and all of them can explain why it’s great and why they would have bought it.

Bullshit.

It must have taken enormous bravery to make that commercial. And enormous bravery to buy it at the time.

Data is going to help us in ways we can only begin to imagine. It will tell us so much. Who to reach, how to reach, when to reach, personalisation etc.

Yet, there will come a moment when you know all these things and you will still have to leap if you want to do anything great. Data might get you to the edge but you still have to look over it. Because human beings love wondrous things they have never seen before.

They love to see what they could not imagine. What they thought couldn’t happen.

And data can only tell you about what has happened.

And to do the wondrous, the unexpected, the impossible and most importantly the new, you have to be brave.

And data cannot tell you to be brave.

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4 thoughts on “What data can’t tell you.

  1. Pingback: What data can’t tell you. | Damon's Brain

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