Epic fail: imagination & data - Part 1


“If we’re all thinking the same, none of us is thinking.”

Apparently this was one of the great American Football coach Bill Walsh's mantras. It comes to mind every day – every time someone says “we need to be more data-driven” and everyone just nods.

Reluctantly Brave, and I personally since it is one of my major bugbears, keep trying to educate people that “the data” doesn’t make them smarter if they asked the wrong questions in the first place. Or if they asked the wrong questions of the data, later. You need imagination first, then data.


As Bill Walsh might have expected, most people just look at you blankly when you say that. If they’re a marketing/brand/commercial person at least. (Strangely, data people don’t…funny that.)

So, imagine my joy when I saw this opening line to a Campaign piece by Pepijn Rivers, CMO of booking.com:

What ifAs a chief marketer, these are two of the most powerful words in my arsenal. They represent the kernel of imagination that leads to a testable hypothesis and raise the questions that push us to find the clarity in mountains of data. [my emphasis]

I kept reading…but imagination appeared not one more time in the piece. It fell back into the usual “we’re getting more into data science to get smarter” schtick.

In fairness, Pepijn may just know the Campaign audience and realise he’ll just get the same blank looks we do if he talks more about imagination. I don’t know what goes on inside booking.com either, so they might be super-imaginative. Also, love the closing remark:

Be brave. Ask yourself what if and let the data be your guide.


Read the next part to see how just thinking "data" and ignoring imagination affects you, and what to do about it...

Adam Papaphilippopoulos, Partner, Reluctantly Brave