“We have so much data, but no answers.” This phrase echoes down the halls of all of the larger clients with whom we meet. In a quantitative world, where there is every dimension of research and analysis available, unreality multiples.
The business world is drowning in data and, by the level of panic and anxiety, lost its rudder.
The ability to have machines figure out existing systems, such as playing chess or optimizing a logistics supply chain, is a great boon to humanity—and it is the role of proper and attentive management. But even the smartest predictive analytics cannot provide answers that move customers or consumers, nor can they re-imagine an industry, nor can they redesign a service experience.
Yet, we expect Big Data to act like Santa Claus with a Calculator, granting us every greedy wish we can conjure and to answer our unexplored and unmet needs as well.
We have entrusted the most ingenious and inventive humanity to a faster processor rather than to a whole-brained mix of human intuition, creativity, tempered with reason and business savvy.
No machine can empathize with clients and prospects. For this obvious reason, human-centric design is the foremost competitive leverage any company can employ. A machine, at the end of the day, will work off the inputs you provide, whereas real people will convey depth, feeling, trust, preference, and imagination.
Big data quantitative modeling has its place at the table, but don’t expect any of the “insights” to tell you how to grow, how to innovate, and how to make critical new product decisions.
You can drown in the ocean of big data looking for such answers. These answers will not present themselves fully as the output of a machine.
Therefore, ensure that these steps are part of your overall strategic process:
- Employ people who know how to interpret data on behalf of your organization. Ideally, a team of number crunchers, marketers, and social scientists should review the trends together. With this mix you can spot the trends, create concepts on how to capitalize on them, and understand some of the factors at hand. Figure out what questions to explore more deeply is the key work at this stage.
- Talk with consumers (customers in a B-2-B world) about the trends you are discovering. Once you have ferreted out the right questions and have some heuristics indicating a shift in buying patterns and behavior, it is best to talk to real people about the trends and how they are affecting them. Try a mix of consumer empathy intercept interviews, co-creation workshops, and group conversations about the changing landscape. Respect them. Empathize. Not force a point or agenda at this stage.
- Sketch new concepts, new products, and new experiences. After you break down what the data is implying from various viewpoints and get a real sense of the market, new concepts of products and services can be generated, tested, refined, then measured and brought to the market. This is a human act of creation. Getting user feedback and making adaptive revisions is part of the cycle.
In the wonderful, recursive, messiness of our humanity, there is an unlimited resource of creativity. Tap into it to spark something new to life.
Big data is a great asset, but becomes more valuable when coupled with the messy creative process that has to power to transform people and companies.
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Michael Graber is the co-founder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis. Follow Michael @SouthernGrowth