A Need for Artists and Scientists

In the digital sphere, measurement currently reigns over all things.

We like to think we can measure everything, and that those measurements help us make better decisions. However, of late there's started to be a bit of a push-back against this, and I think it's happening for three reasons:

  1. Much of our industry lacks the level of knowledge of statistics, probability and general mathematices required to make sense of the data we gather
  2. Tools and numbers make people feel more informed than they are, with no safety net of someone to correct, teach and advise
  3. Blind trust in metrics has led to a depreciation of to the artistic, creative side of what we do

I personally like this analogy:

The Wonky Football Team

A football team manager sits down at the end of the season to review his team's performance. He uses various models to see who results in goals being scored. With the last kick model, almost all the goals are from the striker. "Great", he thinks, and goes to fire all the other players.

However, he stops for a minute and decides to look at where they all start. It's always the person with the kick-off, he realises, and so decides that person can stay as well, and all the rest can go. Then he thinks maybe he should use linear model - mostly now it's the mid-field players who are doing all the work. So he changes to a time decay - now it's the strikers and midfield, but so far the goalie has done basically nothing to score a goal, so maybe he can be efficient by firing them instead.

Finally he realises that he has no idea which of the different models to trust, picks the ones that give the numbers they like, and reports those to the board.

Science and Art

Let me be clear - I'm not saying data is a bad thing. As long as the people using them understand what they're looking at, and aren't engaging in cargo cult consulting (doing work that looks and feels like intelligent, without understanding what makes it work) then it can be great.

But often what you get is this:

We've ended up here, I think, because our industry is like people looking under a streetlight at night for a ring they've dropped 200 yards away, because that's where the light is. We trust in what we can measure, even when it's wrong, because it's a number. We distrust what we can't. And when we add in that we tend to work short term, as businesses often care more about what will happen in the next quarter, rather than the next ten years, this type of thinking gets reinforced.

As digital marketing and strategy professionals, what we do is equal parts science & data, wedded to art & experience. But of late, as an industry, we've not thought enough about the second part, because it's hard to quantify. And yet it's arguably the more important part. It's where we can go about building brand loyalty, creating differentation in market, and experiences that delight and amaze.

Maybe it's time we started focusing on getting back to the creative side of our industry, whilst we work on doing the science better. I can't imagine data played a big role in these creative ideas...

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