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Can Big Data Based Intelligence Substitute Human Creativity?

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HUman creativity Big Data

Some time ago BBC published an article titled, “Calculated Risks: Will Algorithms Make Business Boring?” In the article, the author related this story:

When Netflix (a TV and Movie streaming site), decided to create their own original TV shows, they turned to data for inspiration. Combing through their data, they identified three aspects of reliably-loved shows – actor Kevin Spacey, director David Fincher, and political dramas produced by the BBC. Seeing this, they took a bet. Netflix secured Spacey and Fincher and set the series to be a remake of the old BBC political drama by the same name. In fact, they commissioned an entire season…a huge cost, considering not a single line of script had been written.

Netflix hasn’t come to India yet, so this does need to be said: House of Cards not only took off, it became a sensation. Rightfully too. Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Frank Underwood, a politician as charismatic as he is power-hungry, was richly compelling. And the director’s brave decision to break the fourth-wall continues to pay dividends. I could rave about House of Cards for pages, but this post is not about that. The point is this: one of today’s most brilliant, creative works of popular art owes its very existence to data.

The story above is just one example of an increasing trend in the world. The days when big decisions were spawned in the guts of men and women are coming to a close. A television show today won’t be commissioned without survey-data. Similarly, a campaign, whether business-related or political, won’t begin without a focus group.

This trend is here and it’s here to stay. Big data today is tremendously easy to collect. Every time you rate a movie, publish a post, or write a comment, you’re adding to it. And with the wealth of data out there, it’s insane to expect businesses and organizations to avoid using it. Data offers guidance in a world that too often seems chaotic. Any organization which totally ignores it is at an immediate competitive disadvantage.

But can data ever be a complete substitute for human creativity?

Stories like the one above make that question ever more relevant. Theoretically, I worry it could. Thankfully however, that day has not yet come. Data today offers valuable insights into the elements of past successes. But creative endeavour requires so much more than that. It requires creative leaps, and stunningly-good intuition.

Perhaps the House of Cards story points to a necessary compromise. The series may not have been created without the input of data, but that was the extent of data’s involvement. Data didn’t draft the script. If it had, the show would probably have been much more formulaic and trite than it turned out to be. Instead, Netflix took a dual-approach. For the general strategy, they put their trust in data. But when it came to the process of actually creating genius work, they left the decision not to data and algorithms but to individuals.

For those looking for a business lesson, this is it: Use data. It would be insane not to. But when you’re scrutinizing analytics, make sure to go beyond data. Businesses which ignore data are likely to fail, but business which over-rely on data will never achieve more than mediocrity. In today’s data-driven world, human creativity is still a necessary ingredient.

About the Author: Zachary Sisco is a communications associate at TINYpulse. He spent five months living in Hyderabad/travelling through India and loved every minute of it. In fact, his twitter profile picture is in front of Golconda Fort in Hyderabad. And yes, in case you’re wondering…it is a selfie. He can be reached by email at zachary@tinypulse.com and his twitter is @zacharysisco1

[Image: Shutterstock.com]

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