5 tips for creating value from raw data

Published on March 2, 2015

Our world is obsessed with data, but run by human emotions. But data and creativity don’t need to be at loggerheads.

Our world is obsessed with data, but run by human emotions. But data and creativity don’t need to be at loggerheads.

Here are five 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

From childhood, many are taught that to measure something is to understand it. But the reality of data is a lot more uncertain than this. Many mistakenly only work with one set of data, representing just one view of the world.

To understand the problem, you need to see the world through as many lenses as possible. Delve into economics, finance, history or technology to develop new perspectives and understanding. The best ideas often come from seeing relationships between previously unconnected concepts.

2. Be a data sceptic

Data comes with its own biases, sometimes intentional and sometimes not. In the pre-digital era, we lived in a world of data scarcity where data creation was valued. Now, we live in an era of data over-abundance. The new challenge therefore is identifying the meaningful data within the noise.

We think of data as hard facts, but our digital data is noisy and unstructured. Don’t be a data pessimist, but don’t trust it blindly either – a healthy dose of scepticism can help draw the most value from your findings.

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: Half of all women in the ageing 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.

The above insight processes the raw data (hair-dying habits) thus forming an actionable reason behind the data. This understanding is much more useful than pure data alone.

4. Strategy provides boundaries  

A great strategy should inspire. It should spark creativity in those who encounter it, drawing out ideas in the process.

But at the same time, strategies 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 refine

A hunch is in many ways an immature hypothesis. You start with hunches, turn them into hypotheses, test to validate and then refine the hunch based on your data.

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

Nils Mork-Ulnes, head of strategy and analytics at Beyond