How many times have you heard “start with data”? It’s a ubiquitous rallying cry with good intentions: better decision-making through prior measurement and social proof. Analytics and behavioral science are movements, and valuable ones at that. They aren’t rules however.
Starting with data works only as well as the data itself and it isn’t always a friend to fresh thinking or an innovative approach.
What if, at your next problem-solving meeting, you an you team use the first section of the meeting to talk about “what have we never done about this problem?” This is not an attempt at brainstorming and finding new ideas — yet. Instead, it’s an exercise in “naming the unnameable” and defining what the (imaginary?) boarders may be for the team. In naming the unnameable, you are giving team members permission to speak up and remove barriers to future ideas and the flow of original thinking.
To look at it another way, it builds the “truth” muscles of your team. Being able to say or suggest what needs to be out in the open for frank discussion and better decision-making. Once a few unnameables pop up, the natural follow-up question will be “why not?” This leads to a deeper understanding of the problem as well as the team and the organization. At the outset, it’s less about finding fresh ideas and more about identifying the biases and barriers that hold back breakthrough work.
This is a classic art vs. science situation. Starting with data is starting with science. Starting with the unnameable is starting with art. There’s no reason the two can’t take turns driving. A smart leader comfortable with both mindsets knows this.
Don’t let the data worship destroy art appreciation.
Founder, The Idea Enthusiast. Speaker, Trainer, Facilitator, and writer about all things creative consulting. DC-based consultant to individuals who want to be more creative, teams who want to collaborate without fear, and anyone who wants to deliver the best pitches and presentations.