Data and Creativity: A Decisive Combination

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Click to learn more about author Michael D. Shaw.

If
we separate the signal from the noise, if we translate the signal into a simple
message, the words should speak for themselves. In so many words, the message
should say, “Proceed with caution.”

The message is not only an admonition about data but a dictum about life, for we live in interesting times. During a time of social trial and economic tumult, in which data is so pervasive as to be persuasive, we tell ourselves stories in order to defend our use of data. The stories are an attempt to excuse our dependency on data. The irony is that in creating these stories, we miss the most important point about data — that creativity is more powerful than any collection of numbers.

Creativity
is what no machine possesses, and no program can perceive, because perception
itself — a sense of awareness — is the exclusive domain of that flawed yet
mysterious entity known as the mind.

Mysterious
is the operative word because the mind is both intangible and possibly forever
unintelligible. In, but not of the brain, the mind is immaterial; it eludes
detection but is nonetheless real. It is
the god from the machine. Never mind that the brain is not a machine. Never
mind, too, that efforts to turn wires into neural networks — to transform
“Intel Inside” into the equivalent of human intelligence — are, in my scientific
opinion, a waste of time. Irony of ironies — the brain seems to be beyond human
comprehension.

On
a more practical level, the brain exploits data. The brain converts the raw
intelligence of data into the finished goods of wisdom.

According to Max Bidna, CEO of Hell’s Creative, data is valuable but deceptive. He says:

“Data is useless without interpretation; it is only as useful as the person who analyzes it. Data influences the decisions marketers make and the messages companies deliver. Algorithms and AI (artificial intelligence) can spot patterns and issue projections about the future. But creativity determines performance. Success is the creative application of data.”

Bidna understands the power of context, giving data its due without succumbing to the allure of data at all costs. He knows what it means to know something — to know what data is — so as not to fool himself. He knows Richard Feynman’s rule about science, that “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

If
we take a more modest approach toward data, if we adopt a more modest attitude
about the use of data, we can, in turn, pursue a more ambitious series of
goals. We can succeed in ways too innumerable to count and too profound to
consider. We can be creative marketers, scientists, and teachers, who also
happen to be judicious consumers of data.

We have no reason not to do these things. We do, however, have plenty of reasons to end our unreasonable faith in data.

We
have a responsibility to be mindful of what data is and what it is not. We have
a responsibility to be creative.

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