Creativity For Data Workers

I used to think that being a ‘creative’ person meant that ideas sprang fully formed into someone’s mind. And more, that as a maths geek, creativity wasn’t part of my work. But thankfully, the further I travel through time, the more I realise that is nonsense. 

What does creativity mean when it comes to working with data? It means looking for questions in unusual places, combining existing ideas in new ways, and accepting that not every project will be successful. 

In 1926, Graham Wallas wrote The Art of Thought, outlining the four stages of the creative process as Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification. These steps are as relevant today as then, and to data as any other field of work.

But before all of that, you have to find a problem that is worth solving, a subject worth obsessing about. You can apply the creative approach above to any problem, but when you find a question you can’t stop jiggling like a loose tooth, you’re in a place where creativity can fuel breakthroughs. This TED talk from Adam Savage outlines a couple of beautiful ones from the history of science.

So maybe you’re going to ask new questions of existing data, blend disparate data sources, collect new data, apply a new technique, visualise it with different structures, or just push existing data to new teams. Whatever you choose, it’s your obsessions that give your creativity direction.

Here’s to finding your loose tooth.