THE INTERSECTION OF GENIUS
At the end of a 2011 Apple special event, Steve Jobs stood on stage and pulled up a slide with a photo of a street sign showing the intersection of Liberal Arts and Technology. He paired it with the following words:
“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us with the results that make our hearts sing.”
Steve Jobs had been inspired by Edwin Land of Polaroid, who spoke about the intersection of humanities and science, we learn from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. This intersection was where Steve Jobs found his genius. Where, at Apple and Pixar, he paved the road for innovation. Isaacson states in an article in the Harvard Business Review, “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs,” that this intersection was the theme of Jobs’ life—and the essence of who he was.
As Isaacson shares, this intersection “is the essence of applied imagination, and it’s why both the humanities and the sciences are critical for any society that is to have a creative edge in the future.”
And like technology, this intersection is where the future of data analytics will “sing.” Where it will thrive and become the agent of business change and the driver of innovation.
Because analytics alone are not enough. When analytics are paired with creativity and combined with a powerful narrative, analytics can drive innovative business change.
Much like Steve Jobs changed the way people thought about technology through this convergence, the time has come for analytics leaders to change the way organizations perceive data analytics by merging analytics with the arts.
We’ve put together a 3 step playbook to drive business change with data at this intersection of genius, inspired by Steve Jobs, to help you make analytics a part of the key narrative at your organization.
WHERE ANALYTICS MEETS CREATIVITY
We often think of creativity and science as separate, but as Steve Jobs demonstrated, intersecting the two is where you drive business change.
In Steve Jobs biography, Isaacson reminds us that Jobs had the unique goal of creating a company that “was so imbued with innovative creativity that it would outlive them.”
Creativity was at the forefront of everything Jobs did. He combined imagination and empathy to find out what clients wanted before they did.
Through creativity Jobs reimagined simplicity. He established the efficiency people didn’t know they needed.
Innovation is when creative solutions are implemented. Steve Jobs wasn’t afraid to be different. To act on his creative ideas—even when there was no precedent to stand on.
When Apple felt behind while PCs were allowing people to download, swap, and burn their own CD’s, as Isaacson shares in his article in the Harvard Business Review, Steve Jobs didn’t just create a similar system, he helped invent a creative solution: An integrated system that combined the creation of the iTunes store and the invention of the iPod, revolutionizing the way music was shared.
Data analysts often see problems before others do. They have the numbers and the data that reveals core issues. But when a data analysts combine information with creative problem solving, they become powerfully informed and can transform business operations with creative solutions.
How do you infuse creativity into data analytics?
As Steve Jobs told Isaacson: “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.” Jobs didn’t believe in networking or developing ideas through chat or email. Isaacson goes on to share that Jobs even designed the Pixar Building to promote collaborations and encounters. Jobs believed collaboration was designed to be at the heart of creativity and innovation.
Conduct a Creative Solutions Collab:
Convene with your analytics team and have a Jobs-style whiteboard collab creative session (Jobs was known to love whiteboards Isaacson shares.) Talk about a problem, and together brainstorm creative solutions. Give your team creative freedom to brainstorm and come up with ideas on how to solve issues. Then, as Steve Jobs would do, narrow down the ideas to a focused solution that would best integrate analytics and drive business change.
Discuss with your team the following questions:
What are the problems our team is addressing for stakeholders?
What are some creative solutions that could solve these problems?
Are there solutions that stakeholders don’t know they need?
How can we focus in on executing one or a few strong creative solutions?
CREATIVITY IN PRACTICE
Once thought to be a separate section of the humanities, storytelling has been reawakened in the recent decades and now pervades nearly every industry from marketing to thought leadership. Steve Jobs saw this early on. He didn’t just create products, he ensured every product was intertwined with a narrative. Most well-known, was iPod’s “1000 songs in your pocket” campaign. Apple didn’t say: “here’s a device where you can play music.” They created narrative people could relate to.
And as a data analyst, simply saying “here are the numbers,” won’t drive business change. But weaving the numbers into a narrative will.
From the very beginning, Steve Jobs had a mission rooted in story. The first Think Different campaign in 1997 laid out the protagonist that he was creating products for:
“Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently — they're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do."
WHERE SCIENCE & STORYTELLING MERGE
STORYTELLING IN PRACTICE
Create a main character: Decide who the solution is for. Like Apple’s Think Different Campaign, know exactly who the main character is, and the protagonist you’re driving innovative change for.
Create a villain: As Carmine Gallo describes in The Storyteller’s Secret, Jobs knew how to introduce villains and heroes in product narratives and did so in the campaign for the iPod. Painting the picture of the villain, the alternative to the iPod, (i.e. downloading music at an incredibly slow speed, not to mention unethically), he demonstrated how the iPod would be the hero in this narrative, and how it would triumph over the villain of inefficiency and unethical issues.
In this case, your data driven solution will help solve your main character’s problem.
Make stories the heart of your products and your analytics division. Build a story you can stand on as a solutions provider. Focus less on the numbers and more on the narrative those numbers tell, and use that narrative to drive business change. When building a product, solution, or relaying data, ensure you’ve built a narrative around the work that you do. Like Steve Jobs and Apple did, try to sum up every product or solution in 8 words or less.
Learn about integrating your narrative into and Data Story Pitch here.
Questions to discuss with your team:
Who/What is the protagonist (hero)
What is the villain (what values are being challenged?)
What innovation is the driver of business change in this narrative?
What problem do these numbers reveal?
What narrative does the data tell?
WEAVING DESIGN INTO ANALYTICS
Steve Jobs helped people reimagine the way they perceived design. Not as a separate entity or isolated division of fine arts, but as an integrated practice layered in everything he created. In a 2000 Fortune article he shared:
“In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”
When you look at design at the core of every layer of what you build, you aren’t just creating a solution to your stakeholder’s problems, you’re designing an integrated system that will be an extension of their work.
Like Steve Jobs understood, every layer should be designed with the stakeholder in mind. Every layer should be a part of the narrative of the solution you create.
DESIGN IN MOTION
Look at the solutions you’ve created for your stakeholders. If you created an application that serves to integrate data into decision making, look at each layer of the application. Does each layer, down to the user face, the simplicity, the number of clicks (as Jobs would think of) the colors etc., make it easy for the user? Discuss with your team the following questions:
What is the intention behind every decision made around the creation of this product?
Is this solution as simple as possible for the stakeholder?
Is the detail of every layer designed for the stakeholder’s ease of use?
Does every layer express the narrative of the product?
Could anything be eliminated to simplify the solution?
Steve Jobs showed us that in order to drive business change, science and the liberal arts should never be separate. Data analytics on its own cannot create the solutions needed to drive business change. Data combined with creativity, innovation, storytelling, and design is where powerful solutions will emerge.
The genius of your analytics division lies at this intersection of science and liberal arts. Learn to lead your organization at this creative edge of innovation and make data analytics the leading agent of business change.
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