The Creative Collision Course: Big Data Vs. Golden Gut

I recently jumped out of the 25th floor of a “big media” company, where I specialized in strategic insights and research into the Millennial generation, and dove headfirst into the primordial soup of the start-up world.

The first thing I noticed about the emerging content frontier is how few maps and blueprints there are. (And how many new species exist there – the “re-viner”, the “social savant”, the “preditor.”)

Characteristic of unchartered territories, there is a great deal of “metalogue” – heady conversations about where the industry is headed, bets on which empires are predicted to rise and fall and competing philosophies about how to win.

To my ears, the most stimulating debate happening is this:

Those from the Valley — Silicon — who increasingly see algorithms as the secret sauce behind successful content. The oft-cited example of this approach is Netflix’s use of Big Data to greenlight “House of Cards.”

On the other side are people from The Hills – Hollywood – who grew up in a system where individual creative instincts have been applauded and rewarded. In this land, a proven track record is built on intuitively knowing what audiences want. For them, data can never replace a well-honed gut; sometimes, it is even characterized as the enemy of creativity.  

But with content and tech becoming evermore entangled, I believe a third way may be emerging: a path that synthesizes the best of both worldviews.

Creative instincts would be “sculpted” by a feedback loop of insight but never enslaved by it. In this two-way street, data would be interpreted through the lens of creative knowhow, making it more valuable and actionable.  

There are two core dynamics at play, both worth studying in greater detail. They embody a new philosophy for how content could and perhaps should be created.

1. Permanent Beta:

With new free/low cost distribution channels and lower costs of production, content developers now have the ability to create multiple, low risk, small scale content ‘bets’ (or ‘betas,’ one could say) that enable real-time feedback. This is a page from tech companies that has long championed beta launch for products, and well as thinking from the so-called “lean start-up” movement.

Content developers can now create “minimum viable content” – based on instinct – and study what unfolds. Real-time, real world feedback enables content creators to tweak and sculpt their creative vision accordingly.

2. The Super-Curator:

Never before has there been so much content and so much data. This hyper-saturation makes the content business more like other super-crowded spaces, for example the fashion industry.

In fashion retail, chief merchants (think Mickey Drexler of J. Crew) synthesize art and science seamlessly into the entire brand, product and retail experience. They hold a macro view of the creative whole that’s based on taste and gut, while also being maniacally sensitive to what’s actually selling. The role of these merchant “super-curators” is critical.

When it comes to content, the emerging young breed of content creators (YouTube, and now Vine stars, for example) are intuitively experimenting and honing their creative in response to real-time audience reaction. Like characters in Ender’s Game, they have the neophyte’s suppleness of mind and methodology.

Perhaps we’ll see master curators emerge in the world of content, a new breed that will intuitively weave gut and data into a seamless whole.

I, for one, am excited to see what unfolds in this great drama — as the tribes of Hollywood and Silicon Valley intermingle and learn each others’ ways. Like many cultural crossovers that have come before, what we’re likely to see is a “new truth” that emerges between two loudly opposing extremes.


1 comment about "The Creative Collision Course: Big Data Vs. Golden Gut".
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  1. David Giles from VH1, November 23, 2013 at 7:15 p.m.

    I'm not sure I buy big data as the mother of House of Cards, or any creative breakthrough of scale yet... To my view, that's the same ol' creative process, just a new distribution model. It all comes down to great storytelling will out ...the best creatives have always melded gut w data, and tech growth is just allowing creatives more avenues into the process. Cheers Nick,

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