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Data artist: the business world’s newest sex symbol

Technology & Data

Data artist: the business world’s newest sex symbol


It seems I’m part of something the business world finds popular. No, I take that back – they find it downright sexy. But like all sex symbols it is enigmatic at arm’s length and difficult to quite put your finger on what makes it so. We’re talking about data – ‘big’ data to be exact.

I’ve found out that I don’t need to be a data scientist, analyst, computer programmer or statistician. Bill Franks, author of Taming the Big Data Tidal Wave, tells me I should be a data artist. I’m wondering whether I should be donning a beret and placing my computer on an easel to show my new found status.

To be honest, I love the picture it creates. Data is not rigid; it flows in complex shapes like paint on a canvas. Like paint, by mixing different colours of data we can turn what appears a random array of lines and brushstrokes into a masterpiece. But people are now saying we need bigger canvases and brushes as data streams are being created from everywhere. The rise of big data has meant that people tell us we need to go large.

The question is: do we really? We have more paint at our disposal, but the masterpieces we wish to produce are still the same. They are still the same business decisions that we need to get over the line. Could Van Gogh have improved on Sunflowers by having more colours at his disposal? He painted different versions, but he applied the same paint with slightly different brush strokes (and there’s still controversy about which ones he did paint). In the same way, it is more important what we do with the right data, than the amount of data itself.

The challenge is to be able create different masterpieces that we couldn’t create with our previous lack of materials and do so in a fraction of the time. The rules are still the same though – that as we walk through the gallery, in a single glance we can take in the clarity of the image and, without having to understand the underlying brush strokes or hues of paint, realise the power and majesty of the combinations we have created. Like all great art, people can interpret it in different ways to give different meanings to the same picture – some with a quick glance and some providing deeper insight into the painting’s meaning. We will still rely on people to therefore not only to paint, but to critique and provide insight into our data masterpieces.

So you want your data with sex and sizzle – it seems that Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is only a few terabytes away. If you can find the right artist.


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Lee Naylor

Managing director, TLE Sydney. Lee Naylor joined The Leading Edge in December 2010 as global head of disciplines. Previous roles include two years at The Nielsen Company as executive director, Consumer Research Australia, and 11 years as a research director at Research International.

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