Data-Driven Creativity. Seriously.

Mickey Mantle once said, “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing your whole life.” Any number of big hitters on Madison Avenue could have said that. They followed their intuition with little understanding. And for a while it worked because they worked at the intersection of art and science. These disciplines were often at odds, and the social scientists were used to validate the artists in advertising, after the fact. It often compromised both, leading to pseudo-science and really awful art. That’s the reason data-driven creativity sounds like an oxymoron. It sounds unnatural because of the baggage we bring to it. Let’s unpack those bags.

Let’s say you have a business, and the competition is outspending you by a factor of three to one. You just can’t spend anymore. Not only that, but they’re stealing your top performers. That’s a problem. Somehow you have to be more effective. Of course, using the same playbook as the competition would be insane, but that’s the only playbook your organization knows. What do you do?

In 2002 the Oakland Athletics had this exact same problem. A book was written and a movie, “Moneyball,” was made about the solution. It was about playing with more understanding and more insight than your competition. And it comes from more little pieces of data; it’s not about big-data, it almost never is. It’s about getting the answers to questions like: What percentage of his first pitches are balls? How many pitches does it take to wear him down? The data changed the way they saw the game and made every at-bat more intentional and more effective. To the casual observer, it was still a baseball game; the players still had to hit the ball. But much more thinking went into it. It was a strategy of Data-Driven Playing. Of course, no one would see a movie with that title.

In much the same way, data-driven creativity demands that science inform the art up front. Science is simply a desire to understand, and an insight can only come from understanding, from asking the right questions in order to even frame the problem correctly. Do you know everything there is to know about the product? Who uses it? When do they use? How often? How did they find out about it? Why do they use it? Why don’t they use the competition? Who does? What if, and why not…?

At Barefoot Proximity, we have a practice that asks the right questions for the right problem. It’s called Creative Intelligence. And it’s designed to make connections that otherwise would not have been made. There’s a new chef on the scene who is doing just that. From mountains of data come amazing and creative recipes that beautifully explore different flavor profiles. He has a new cookbook out. It’s call Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson. That’s right, the supercomputer from IBM. Of course, humans from the Institute of Culinary Education were involved. They were mostly the artists who validated the science that went into Watson’s recipes by tasting them. How the tables have turned.

Yeah, we think we’re onto something with data-driven creativity. It’s a phrase that in 20 years will sound perfectly natural. We’re just not sure which is a better metaphor. A recipe, or a playbook? Perhaps a little Content Darwinism will tell us.