Creativity & Data Analysis

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Problem-solving is the essence of what a data analyst has to do, and creativity is a fundamental ability to solve problems. Broadly speaking, creative thinking means exploring a problem in a different way and finding alternative solutions that solve it effectively. Several theories and techniques have been developed to help boost creativity, but almost all are based on two theories about how the brain works.

The first theory concerns the way our brain processes information. It is a machine programmed for the creation of patterns based on external information. Thanks to this network of patterns, the brain can identify a known person in a fraction of a second, can solve more complex problems using an analogy with similar situations, and can infer why something has happened because of the stored information about cause-effect relationships. When a new piece of information comes in, our patterns are altered, but there is a general tendency to filter or perceive information according to our principles (our deepest existing patterns). For example, a religious person would filter or alter new information that potentially undermines his or her beliefs. Since the brain prefers status quo over change, creativity can be a very difficult task since it means questioning assumptions and existing patterns.

The second theory concerns the different abilities that different parts of the brain have. Either it is logic versus intuition, verbal versus spatial, or the different “intelligences” (logic, mathematics, motion, interpersonal, etc.), creativity arises when different parts work together to reach a common conclusion.

The data analyst can approach a problem-solving issue by using the “Six Thinking Hats” technique. Invented by Edward De Bono, this technique aims at separately addressing different aspects of the problem. This prevents us from underestimating some of them and forces us to see the problem from different perspectives. More specifically, this technique tackles an issue by analyzing it from different points of view such as logical, emotional, or negative. Usually, each person is assigned a different perspective, and they are asked to develop an argument coherent with their perspective. For example, if someone has the negative hat, he or she will identify all the cons, problems, obstacles etc. related the issue. Besides, to better visualize the different perspectives, each person/perspective has a hat with a specific color. The symbolic act of assigning a specific color to them is a strategy to objectively analyze each of them (avoiding that the strongest aspect affects the analyses of the other ones). Suppose you are asked to evaluate why your premium product is not selling as well as your standard product and what aspects we can improve to sell it more:

Six Thinking Hats
Example of Six Thinking Hats

White: This is the fact-driven perspective and when you wear this hat you look at the problem with an analytical, logical, and mathematical point of view. Example: “Since over time we changed the price of these two products, we can analyze the price sensitivity of consumers and identify the optimal price gap between the two in order to maximize revenues.”

Green: The issue is tackled with a futuristic point of view, using creativity to suggest unusual and provocative ideas. This is when you leave space for pure creative thinking, for example considering other possibilities or alternatives. Here, you can use several creative thinking tools. Example: “We should make several experiments to test the reaction of consumers, not only changing prices, but also introduce a third product, or selling only one of the two products for a certain period, or we can even reinvent both products.”

Yellow: With this hat, you have to look at the problem from a positive point of view, reasoning why it will be solved (or in case of an idea, why it will work). Example: “With some adjustments we can improve sales of our premium version; probably we just have to increase the perceived difference between them to justify the premium price.”

Black: It is used to criticize the proposed idea (or vision of the problem) by identifying all the barriers, issues, and details that are against it. It is quite a pessimistic perspective, but a very valuable one. This hat has to be used only in specific times, for example when you need to assess an idea, but avoid using it excessively and being negative all the time. Example: “Analyzing current data you can’t understand consumers’ price sensitivity since there are many other factors affecting their choices, experiments are quite expensive and introducing some changes can produce negative reactions by our customers. Probably, the simple reason is that there is not enough demand for our premium product and we should just stop producing it.”

Red: With this hat, you explore the emotional aspect of the problem using intuition and feelings instead of logic. Example: “We must talk to our clients, not only with surveys, but in person and ask them why they chose one or the other product, to understand the real reason of their choices.”

Blue: Overview, control, and recap are performed using the blue hat. Example: “Even if there is a possibility that there is not enough demand for our premium product, it is worthwhile to explore all possibilities before giving up. Some experiments can be expensive, but we can propose some that imply little risk and cost, such as planning specific and limited price changes during the next few months. With this new data, we can enrich the price sensitivity analysis. It is also important to undertake some in-depth interviews to qualitatively explore the real reasons for customers’ purchases. With better price-sensitivity information and new insights thanks to in-depth interviews, we can perform a conjoint analysis through an online survey to current and potential customers.”

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