Big Data ocean: navigators wanted

Big Data ocean: navigators wanted

The world is data. We know that.

Everything that uses data, separately, is now coming together and converging. The application of data at every level can revolutionise what you know, how quickly you know about it and how you can change things to improve behaviour, processes, technology and productivity. Yep. We know that too. So what’s new?

In our industry, unless you’re really immersed in data, it’s easy to tell yourself you know these things without actually looking at them. We are living in an unanalyzed state – in a world richer than ever with the tools and processes of analysis, this seems strange. It’s just one of the problems of a wider one – which is that as Big Data comes to dominate the world, the nature of every industry, every economic movement and every interaction will shift.

The problem for marketers is that we’re using words to describe something that reaches beyond words and into the nature of business, the economy and into the inner nature of the world – because we can now ‘open the box’ of any dynamic, industry or movement and understand the numbers that underlie, define and embody it.

Does that mean we can’t use words and creative approaches to describe the Big Data world? Obviously not. But right now, we’re seeing a false split between quantitative and creative. It’s a nonsensical schism, produced by a misunderstanding about what Big Data can do and what it is: truth, at a finer grain – so long as you don’t worship it alone. And as Tom Morton of Euro RSCG NY makes clear, creative and quantitative people have always worked best together and must do again. His point is neatly reinforced by some thoughts on Quora. But at the moment the perception of data+creativity is that it = infographic, which has led to an overload of data visualisations, which often serve to mask, not illuminate, the data they describe.

The split however is real. It’s forced by increasingly complex data on the one hand (and therefore sophisticated people to run it) and simple interfaces that make it easy to see, select, decide and act without thinking. Perhaps ironically, the more we become addicted to the devices that drive simplicity at the top level (because more and more data is created and shared, and creating simple interfaces is of course extremely complex in itself). So the general populace and the data manipulators get pulled apart – and because ‘creatives’ more easily talk the language and use the tools of the former, they get pulled in that direction.

Big Data is often compared to an ocean – it’s the cliché of choice. But maybe we should consider it anew and look at what it might really mean. It is like an ocean in the sense that it is infinitely wide and deep, we utterly depend on it, and most of us have no concept of what extraordinary entities and objects lie under it. And getting deep into it requires real specialists, real training, and preparation.

And while we’re rich in ‘creatives’, increasingly the engine of forward motion is the data. And our economy – that of the US and Eurozone countries – is currently falling behind in terms of attracting the skilled coders to drive big data forwards. Which is odd, in a world where clever = sexy. However, many coders are being hived off to the more attractive worlds of gaming etc (which of course rests on its own pool of ever-more complex data) rather than BigData itself.

So as Jonathan Wai states here (aggregating a bunch of resources nicely) we need to market the data as sexy in and of itself – to stop coders choosing the route of gaming, UI, etc. A nice attempt is made here on the Behance Network – old now, but still good – and there are some hints of the same call to action in this presentation. Now, it’s even more important that creatives and data get more intimately acquainted – both to mend the perceived split between ‘creatives’ and ‘quants’ and to ensure the latter gets the penetration it needs.

To release the value of big data, and discover the ever-finer grain truth about our world and into every sector of our economy (here illustrated, sorry, with an infographic) and create new meaning from it, therefore, we must think differently. We must get creative about our data, and drive good data into our creative approaches, to do our work effectively in a data-rich, creatively stimulated world.

Where is your business? Firmly in the Creative camp, completely Quant, or somewhere in between? And how do you use data to get more for your clients and yourselves?

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