Data. We can’t move for it these days. And of course it has a place and it’s important. But are we in danger of letting it stifle our creativity and instincts?
By Darren Caveney
The trend for using data seems to have built and built over the past year or two. That’s a good thing but also not a new thing. My early career was spent in marketing, where data from Acorn and CACI and Mosaic was used in understanding, targeting and segmenting audiences. That was 20-years ago. So it’s good to see that using data is back in vogue.
But data can sometimes hamper innovation and creativity – it can stop in its tracks our instinct to try something new and against the norm. I think that’s a worry.
The legendary Sir Alec Issigonis springs to mind here for two reasons. One, I’m writing this post sat in a coffee shop on a retail park where the once the mighty Longbridge car factory sat, and where he plied his creative trade. And two because he was someone who combined data (from his engineering background) with creativity (from his design background) to design the best-selling British car of all time, the iconic mini.
He understood the data, but didn’t necessarily let it shape his every move.
He once famously said that “a camel is a horse designed by a committee”. He wasn’t one to conform and was clearly confident in his own ideas.
He had a brief from his paymasters – to design a small car which required less fuel, as the Suez crisis was threatening petrol supplies and sparking fuel rationing. But he also wanted to create something new and different. Something which would stand out from the pack.
He didn’t just created a small, fuel efficient car – he created a tiny, fuel efficient car. And a tiny car which could easily fit four adults (because of the simple yet ingenious way he designed the engine layout)
Now the data didn’t tell him that a tiny car with a previously unheard of engine position, strange sliding windows and teeny wheels was what consumers wanted. But he had a vision, he designed it and he made it fly. He ignored conventional thinking.
Consumers didn’t know they wanted this car. Until they saw it. Then they really, really wanted it.
If you think of other great creatives, designers and entrepreneurs part of their back story often seems to be that they ignored convention, went with their instinct and backed it up with their creative talent.
I had an old marketing director back in the day who never knew what he wanted. Until he saw your ideas – then he knew if he loved it or hated it. Immediately.
And that’s the point to this post. If you’ve been around comms and marketing for long enough you spot the people who deliver great work. People with creativity that sets them apart and I bet a pound to a penny that ideas and instinct and courage plays a bigger part in their success than data and research alone.
Let’s not forget too that some data, it turns out, is a little bit duff (I’m looking at you, Facebook)
We can all study data and analytics – and we should, to a degree. Good communicators have been doing this with their plans for years. But we shouldn't obsess over it - it’s the big dollops of creativity and professional hunches which make the real difference and give us a chance of standing out in an ever noisier world.
That ongoing question for us: ‘Communications – An art or a science?’ It’s a real easy one in my view. We need both. Because with only one or the other we’ll never consistently hit the heights.
So my point is this: if Sir Alec had gone with data and research alone he’d never have designed the mini.
Makes you think doesn’t it?
The mini went on to sell 5.4 million across the world, more than any other British car and is still considered one of the most iconic and best ever.
And as I sit sipping my flat white, pretty well exactly where his office would have been, I salute him for reminding me of an important work lesson: Don’t ever ignore your instinct or your creativity and don’t let data stop you from building something great.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd
image via Alchetron