Data vs. human chemistry: It's all in the edges

"Data pushes us to the middle. Creativity lives on the edge."

There she is, on the other side of the room. The most beautiful girl in the world. Time to holster hesitation and self doubt and make the long walk over. Introduce yourself. Take your shot. 

In that moment, there is no debate between your left-brain and right brain. The right brain is in charge of your actions. Left-brain might be saying she’s too tall, doesn’t speak the same language as you, has a tattoo with another guy’s name on her shoulder. Data is pouring out of the left-brain trying its very best to inform your decision. And the right brain doesn’t care. Your feet keep moving. Data be damned. There is just something about that girl you can’t define or explain. You heard her laugh, saw her smile, and off you went. No debate. You’ve made a human decision, a superficial decision, an emotional decision.

Because you are human, superficial and emotional. 

Listen, I know all the four-letter words. Used many of them. But "data" is perhaps the most polarizing, popular four-letter word being used these days. There’s lots of it. There’s insight in it. There are whole new fields dedicated to it. But over-reliance on data marginalizes human decision-making. 

We do stupid things. Data can’t explain or predict those stupid things.

I like data. I really do. But the reality is that data singularly shouldn’t give us all the answers, but rather it should be used to inform better questions. Technology that influences and inspires human thought is powerful. Technology that replaces human thought is waste.

Sacrilegious! Heresy! Luddite in the house! Dinosaurs DO walk the Earth and one is named Steve. 

I understand. But let me share three thoughts with you:

Data is a lot like dating apps.

Without human chemistry, they don’t work. People look, swipe, embrace data to find "perfect" matches. To find someone with whom you have much in common. But on occasion opposites attract. Red Sox fans have been known to marry Yankee fans. Democrats sometimes get hitched to Republicans. Chemistry baby, chemistry. Powerful stuff.

I wonder if I had been boiled down to bits and bytes, would my wife have married me? The thought scares me. 

Technology is amazing, but algorithms don’t buy stuff. People do.

A dating app is amazing technology. Technology that actually compensates for how technology has created a whole generation of people lacking basic interpersonal social skills. 

But what dating apps also do is guarantee that more people will go on more bad dates than ever before. Data can’t predict chemistry, spark, or how the perfect person makes your whole body go numb. 

People buy stuff. And while life would be a whole lot simpler if we could predict behavior with certainty, it would also be a whole lot more boring. I love illogic. I am the beneficiary of illogic. There is no logical reason why my wife picked me.  

Right now procurement departments and technologists love the simplicity of a life where data puts everything in black and white buckets. But people are not black and white. We are illogical, forever making right brain decisions that are not fully thought through. The divorce rate is almost 50%. Case closed. 

If you want to live without risk, live in a bubble.

People love data for a whole lot of reasons, many of them great reasons. But people also love data because data is a binky blankie. Makes you feel safe. Some willingness to take a risk and trust gut and experience. We all want to have someone or something to blame if things go south. Data is the perfect foil. Sales didn’t rise? It’s not your fault, you trusted the data. 

Hey, this is marketing. An inexact science if ever there was one. Ours is a business of risk/reward because ours is a business of predicting and influencing human behavior. People always gravitate to the middle, because it’s safer in the middle. But life happens on the edges. That’s where the action is.

Data pushes us to the middle. Creativity lives on the edge. Rediscover your edge.

Unless you’re a robot. Then forget everything I just said. You robots are already in the process of taking over the world. You certainly don’t need my help.

Steve Connelly is the founder of Connelly Partners.  

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