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Published September 17th 2018

Interview: Canvas8’s Tony Clement on Data, Analysts and Creativity

If there was a box in which to think about the connection between data analysis and creativity, Tony Clement would be as far out of that box as possible. In fact, he'd probably be levitating above it in a cross-legged pose looking really zen. Catching up mid-way through his tour of Europe, we were keen to chat with him about the perspectives he's developed on data analysis in his varied career.

“The way you’re taught data and analytics in high school and college does more damage than good,” declares Tony Clement.

We’re discussing the boxes we put ourselves into when we leave school – analytical or creative, good at math or bad at math.

“It’s not church and state,” Tony explains, as he shares his view on how analysts can flourish in creative environments.

Tony is on a whistlestop tour of Europe, a long way from his current base of Sydney, Australia where he’s a Managing Partner at Canvas8. He’s also the co-founder of a project called The Dojo, a training program that helps people who think for a living to get out of their heads and help them become “full-body thinkers.”

When I approached him to see if he’d be interested in an interview, he said the intertwinement of data, creativity and discipline, especially at agencies, was a huge topic of focus for him at the moment. We couldn’t wait to hear more.

How non-analysts become analytical

Tony’s clear that you don’t need to be a mathematical genius to solve modern business problems. For him, it’s about finding the question, gathering the information and then displaying it in a visual, experiential way.

When data is displayed in drawings and visuals, in a way that can be interacted with and discussed, Tony says, “These non-analysts will become analytical very quickly; present the information in a way that makes sense to our human brains.”

Describing his previous role at Big Spaceship, Tony talks about building “an analytics practice without any analysts.” He encouraged his team to find questions within data and then try using different sources to answer those questions. In essence, to approach the data creatively.

While people identifying as creative shouldn’t fear data, self-identifying analysts shouldn’t be afraid of trying new tools and exploring information in new, innovative ways.

Discipline in a creative space

The concepts of discipline and creativity seem at odds.

Creativity – new ways of thinking, color, throwing out ideas with child-like abandon.

Discipline – structure, limits, boundaries, rules.

Too much of either isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. But is it possible to combine the two? According to Tony, that’s exactly what’s needed to help agencies where unbridled creativity can do more harm than good.

In his essay on Mixed Martial Analytics, Tony describes what’s needed to get a handle on all of the insights buzzing around in a world where big data, data science and digital transformation are shape-shifting beasts. The conventional methods are no longer sufficient to handle the amount of information we have access to today – this is where the five T’s come in.

  • Tools
  • Technology
  • Templates
  • Teammates
  • Training

With the right training gear, sparring partners and ‘go-to’ moves, Tony says, creatives can get a handle on the information that matters as a disciplined team, enabling them to develop questions and save time, which can be used to come up with creative solutions.

Mindful thinking and data analysis

One of the stand-out parts of our conversation was our discussion about mixing data sources and trying to remove biases when we come across different data points.

He brings up the meditation technique of noting thoughts before letting them go. Like when meditating and a thought beings to materialize, when we come across data points, we shouldn’t latch on to the first thing we see or think – instead, we should note the points and the questions they provoke in our minds and then let them go in order to explore other areas of enquiry.

It’s a way of thinking that can easily be discounted as “airy fairy”, but the value of adopting a stance like this when doing research is obvious – allowing the first data point we see to create an impression on us that clouds our judgment of data points from other sources makes no sense at all.

Whether you’re a mindfulness skeptic or a meditation master, there’s certainly a lot to be said for Tony’s mission to destroy the myth that we are all either creatives or analysts. Where the lines are blurred, magical things can happen.

You can find Tony on LinkedIn here and on Instagram here.

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