Driving data to the average

Data is such a hot topic now.  There are many good examples emerging of where it has been used to improve businesses as well as plenty of examples of when things have gone wrong.  I was at a Digital Strategy and Business Intelligence Breakfast Meeting in Newcastle last week and one of the speakers, from PWC, told the story of Netflix and its very successful production of ‘House of Cards’.

Now I have never seen the show.  I don’t have Netflix and I’m not sure that I fall into their target market but the story interested me for another reason.  The speaker told us how the clever use of data allowed Netflix to identify the kinds of programmes that its audience would like and so it was able to invest in this and other productions.  They have been an enormous success (House of Cards is onto its fifth series) and netted the company huge revenues.  It was a great data story yet I was left shaking my head.

We need to be mindful of pulling ourselves towards the average.  If we only use data to identify what people have liked and provide them more of the same then it will become a game of diminishing returns.  Me-to is the curse of the creative.  People are fickle and what they like today is not guarantee of a preference tomorrow.  Our tastes evolve and what one wants is not what another does.  Meat, poison and all that.

Companies like Netflix rely upon the innovation of the creative arts.  Indeed, all companies rely on innovation.  Even those that plagiarise other’s ideas rely upon that initial idea in the first place.  The parasite requires a healthy host and if companies don’t invest in things that ultimately fail then they are not pushing the boundaries of their own experiences and talents.  We owe all of our success to our failures.

What I am saying is that it is dangerous to only look for success from your data.  It is a much richer source than that.  It contains the interesting, the beautiful and the downright weird.  It is there that the ultimate success of our ventures will lie.

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