5 Tips for Creating Value from Raw Data

Here are five ways to successfully combine your gut instinct with raw data to unlock value.
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Our world is obsessed with data, but run by human emotions. However, data and creativity don't need to be at odds with each other. Here are some tips for successfully combining your gut instinct with raw data to unlock value:

1. Data helps you define the problem; it doesn't give you the answer

"If I had one hour to save the world I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution." - Albert Einstein

Too often people look for data to provide the "silver bullet" insight and end up frustrated. We're taught that math equals fact, and that to measure something is to understand it. But the reality is data is a lot more uncertain than we think. Where many go wrong is that they only work with the data sets their organisation is good at collecting, and that only represents one view of the world.

To understand and frame the problem, you need to see the world from as many angles as you can. Add qualitative to your quantitative, learn how to read a financial statement or crack open an economics book to give you a new perspective. The best ideas often come from seeing relationships between previously unconnected concepts and connecting them in a new way.

2.Be a data skeptic

Data comes with its own biases, sometimes intentional (such as most polls done by PR agencies), sometimes not (humans come with all sorts of built-in biases). In the pre-digital era we lived in a world of data scarcity, where the value was in creating data. Now we live in an era of data over-abundance, coupled with plenty of cheap and free tools, so the challenge is in figuring out which data is meaningful data.

We think of data as "hard" facts, but our digital data is noisy and unstructured. Take the output of most social media monitoring software: Just because it churns out a pretty graph doesn't mean it is useful. Don't be a data pessimist, but don't trust it blindly either. Keep a healthy dose of skepticism

3.Ask 'why'

Data tells you the 'what. It's your job to ask: 'why?' This is the key to understanding the reasons behind data, leading to useful results.

Data: One-half of all women in the aging populations of America and Europe dye their hair at least once every two months.

Insight: Dying their hair makes the baby boomer generation feel younger.

So, if people use hair dye today and age preventing moisturizer tomorrow, you'll be well served by that insight in adjusting to that change.

In addition, when designing your data collection or working with a researcher, make sure you think creatively about what you can measure.

4.Strategy provides boundaries

"When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its upmost and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl." - T.S. Eliot

A great strategy should inspire, filling your brain with ideas. You should read it and think "yeah! That's interesting. How about this....."

But at the same time, a strategy must provide constraints. As strategy guru Michael Porter says, strategy is as much about what you shouldn't do as it is what you should be doing. Done right, it focuses the creative mind.

5. Start with a hunch, then test and refine

A hunch is in many ways a baby hypothesis. Only you probably have just spent a bit more time articulating the hypothesis than the hunch. Start with your hunches and turn them into hypotheses, test to validate, and then refine the hunch based on the results.

If you collaborate properly between researchers and creatives, beautiful ideas can be made much stronger.