The Creativity vs. Data Debate: Unstereotyping Begins at Home

Not only is the creativity vs. data debate creaky and tired, it perpetuates stereotypes. People who make a living from the application of math and logic hold no monopoly on marvels; neither do those who cannot explain how they arrive at a solution wrapped in a story and yet, there it is. This false binary serves no one but those who have already profited greatly from stereotyping women, mothers, millennials, any target du jour.

I’m glad data supports that unstereotyping (supporting and speaking to the diverse, complex, and real) makes for better business. Surely what works for our clients will work for us.

“Oh, you’re a woman creative leader, were you art or copy?” Yes. Both. Neither. More. I have a degree in Management Economics. I view page source. I cross-reference data sources. I also forget to update my WordPress plugins, take too long between making how-to videos and really need to get back to that conductive paint project. And I know many who resist the stereotypes, even as colleagues and bosses cannot unsee what culture and outdated job titles have trained them to expect. (“Creatives don’t understand numbers!” “Oh, they’re a creative agency.”)


Stereotypes in our output will persist if we don’t fight stereotypes in our input.

Billboard around Cannes (Photo by Leigh Reyes)

We need to leave behind the baggage of “creative,” its history of only-good-for-commercials and reclaim it for the transformative, inclusive, intelligent, evolutionary power it is.


Logic and imagination share a garage, and the sign laser-burned above the door says “creativity.” Logic and imagination can learn each other’s languages. Design is a language like Python is a language like music is a language. Fluency can come later, just spend the time.

Logic and imagination also share tools. What’s crucial? Know enough to wield the tool. Know the process enough to ask better questions of those who know their tools so well they forget they aren’t the tool. A tool can be a nonlinear regression technique or a harmonica or a plot line or Quill by Oculus. The more tools we understand, the more unexpected the connections we can make, and the more original our solutions have the potential to be.

“One has to have the imagination to think of something that has never been seen before, never been heard of before. At the same time the thoughts are restricted in a strait jacket, so to speak, limited by the conditions that come from our knowledge of the way nature really is. The problem of creating something which is new, but which is consistent with everything which has been seen before, is one of extreme difficulty.”

(That could be a response to a client brief, but that’s Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner, talking about quantum physics.)

For an industry that prides itself on thinking differently, we have a long way to go when it comes to how we see one another. We don’t need fancy titles or fancy caucuses to explain what we do to clients and industry stakeholders. We need to believe that creativity and rigor are inseparable; to behave following that belief; and to invest in people who already live that belief and will take it, and all of us, forward.