Creative Process vs. Data Driven Decisions

“Follow your heart and everything else will fall into place.” But, what happens when data driven decision are contradictory to your heart’s creative process?

Big Data has unleashed a whole new world of capabilities pertaining to optimization and personalization. With Big Data, Amazon can predict the exact price point to maximize profits and Google can consistently rank the best information in their search engine.

However, when Big Data gets too involved in the creative process, your vision is blurred and your execution is skewed.

Let’s take Netflix as an example. Their humble beginnings started as a DVD delivery service. They quickly realized the potential of streaming content. So, they decided to split the entities, calling the DVD rental, Qwikster. Eventually, they cut Qwikster out of their business model. While their core audience clearly wanted DVDs, they went against their customer data, stayed true to their creative process, and brought their vision of Netflix to life. In hindsight, this was a great decision to not follow the data.

Fast forward to 2016 and Netflix is slowly falling into the trap of data driven creativity.

Netflix felt in order to disrupt the industry even further, they needed to produce their own content (shows, movies, documentaries, etc…). This year they have produced 126 pieces of original content. With 54 Emmy nominations, it is clear they are having a lot of success in giving the customers what they want.

However, I, along with much of Hollywood, sees them falling down a rabbit-hole of data driven decisions quickly. They have collected massive amounts of user data which they use to determine what genres, actors/actresses, and plots are trending among their consumers. This may seem great, and it is, but only for a few years. If they continue giving people what they think they want, tastes will never change or grow.

I mean, imagine if your mom never pushed you to try those green beans or carrots on your plate. You’d be 45 years old eating PB&J’s and chicken nuggets.

The point here is that if Netflix begins relying too heavily on data driven decisions based on their customers, they will never push the boundaries of the creative process which make the film industry so amazing.

The creative process relies on your vision

Netflix (and you) can learn a lot from Kanye West in this area.

Mr. West is known for his spontaneity. You truly never know what to expect him to drop creatively. For instance, I went to his fashion show (Yeezy Season 3) where he also debuted his latest album (The Life of Pablo) and then out of nowhere showcased a video game he had been developing called Only One. Unpredictable.

Also, if we scroll back in Kanye’s timeline to 2009, he was a rapper and a jerk – for embarrassing Taylor Swift at the VMAs. Later that year, he released his shoe collaboration with Nike, called the Air Yeezy. Now, Yeezys are the second most sought after sneakers on the market.

Customer data wouldn’t have ranked fashion among Kanye’s potential data driven decisions. Although, now he is a common name in the industry and has attracted a wider audience.

But, following his own vision doesn’t always end up positive in the eyes of his audience.

Recently, Kanye made the news for going on a rant in front of a packed stadium – bringing light to the politics which run the music industry. Kanye said Beyonce told the VMAs she wouldn’t perform unless she won. He also said that radio is very bias towards trending music. Kanye then canceled the remaining 21 concert venues in his tour.

Obviously, fans are angrier than before. But, to Kanye, it was necessary to call out the changes the music industry needs to make.

The fine line of data driven decisions

On one side, you can ride the wave of customer-centric work, but you’ll never push yourself to try new things. On the other hand, you can never listen to your audience, which in turn will anger the people that want to support you.

The healthy option is for a creative to find the balance of customer needs and personal creation. Realizing what makes your audience tick is important. But, also realizing the reason they loved your work in the first place was because you offered something new that resonated with them.

Take that initial burst of energy you got (get) from people talking highly of your work and strive for that same emotional response. But, continue to look in yourself for the next creation that will push your own creative boundaries.

Naturally, you are going to lose some people when you take creative risks. But, you’ll attract a whole new set of interested people. Your true fans believe in “You”, your creative vision, and every step you take to execute it.

I’m a huge tech nerd, but only follow the companies with visions I believe in. That’s why I create Quick Theories like these – to better explain the confluence of technology and creativity.

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3 Comments

  • 7 months ago

    Good one QuH! Definitely taking that on board with my new business: products which I see as ‘mainstream’ – but pushing the envelope with others

  • 7 months ago

    Not getting bogged down in the reeds of making money is tricky. You need the income, but you don’t want to give it the time it demands. You need time to create.There are a couple of ways of divesting the business of giving the public what they will pay for to others but keeping the money flowing in. There is entrusting the business end to someone who wants do the business end and will pay you for it, or better yet, hire someone to do the business, and someone to do the handle the finances. Patenting and selling rights to market the creation to eager companies. I don’t need to suggest more. Creativity works on how to get what you want out of an endeavor. Divesting the headache of giving the public what it wants without cutting off the income leaves you with the space to create.

  • Nick Grecco
    7 months ago

    Good insight! Marketing should never be allowed to displace creativity.

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