Is Big Data a ‘nonsense’?

Anyone who’s had the good fortune to work with Sir John Hegarty will agree that what’s so brilliant about him is how he manages to be one of the greatest creative leaders the ad industry has known without ever going all precious or wafty about it. At Cannes Lions in 2014, he referred to Big Data as a ‘nonsense’. Now this may have been an exaggeration. Big data clearly has huge potential, and it’s exciting to think about how it can bring us closer to the facts of customer behaviour at massively reduced levels of investment. Where Sir John is spot on, though, is in his observations on its limitations. As he noted:

‘there are no facts on the future’

So ‘data gives the answer to what has happened, not what is going to’. For this we need to get underneath and beyond ‘what is’ to what could be better in the future. Why this matters for insight work is that it points up the relative value of online versus person-to-person methods. We love online methods for their immediacy and the way they can encourage a different kind of honesty in people. Bring it on, we say. There’s loads that online can do for us, but let’s be clear about what it can’t do, too. With the best will in the world, the best ‘future’ stuff is not going to happen with everyone sitting alone at their pc’s. It’s going to happen via the alchemy that occurs when people (clients as well as customers, and preferably both) are together and firing off one another, tapping into the un-obvious, looking forward rather than looking back.

Creating this future-focused alchemy is what gets us at Lucid out of bed in the morning

And we have a rich toolkit of ways and means to do it. We’re best known for our hallmark movement-based techniques, which help both literally and metaphorically to move things on. We also use image work, improv work, music – whatever it takes to unearth the best from people and create the sparks. So let’s milk Big Data it for all it’s worth, but remember that moving into the future needs real people, working together, making the magic that enables the big ‘ah hah’s, and births the new stuff.

Maddy Morton

Maddy is Director of Lucid. She has been described as a 'maestra' with groups of people and is appreciated for her passion and commitment as well as the clarity of her strategic thinking, insight and expression. Maddy began her career in advertising at Ogilvy and BBH and then worked at the Arts Council, English National Opera, AEA consulting and Stimulating World Research before setting up Lucid.

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