When a huge American healthcare provider asked the agency IDEO to help them reimagine the emergency care experience they started in the usual place.

With data.

Lots of it.

Spreadsheets, graphs and charts.

As much information as they could possibly give on their customers’ experience.

They probably weren’t expecting the agency response they got.

When IDEO came back with their ideas, they displayed all the data they’d been given.

And then they showed a video.

Not a hype film.

Not vox pops.

But two minutes through the eyes of someone lying on their back in a hospital bed, where the only thing in view was a polystyrene ceiling tiles and fluorescent tube lights.

The board of the healthcare provider was stunned into silence.

The experience of their users couldn’t be captured in data.

The insight that IDEO brought to the table was that if the company they were pitching to wanted to change things they had to see the emergency ward experience through the eyes of the people who used it; through the eyes of people who were probably scared, lonely and emotionally vulnerable; through the eyes of people who could only see ceiling tiles.

Brilliant.

We’ve been talking here a lot about the role that data plays in what we do.

What data do we need?

How do we use it?

How does it inform our decisions?

Are we fundamentally a ‘data-driven’ business?

There is no doubt about it, data is important.

Getting great data can help us get under the skin of a client, a brand or a project.

Intelligently interpreted data can help us see something we couldn’t see before.

Surprising data can prompt us to rethink an approach.

And in our industry it’s high time that things were more measurable.

But data in itself is not a cure-all or a magic bullet.

If data is going to be useful we need to get active with it, not just regurgitate it or use it to substantiate what we were always going to do. Data cannot be the proof point to simply validate whatever creative flight of fancy we want to justify.

It has to be engaged with, questioned, challenged, understood in context.

Because data is not what we’re aiming for.

Insights are.

Data just helps us get there.

Genuine human insights are the things that mean our work strikes a chord, stop people in their tracks and change behaviour.

Insights are what stun the board of a healthcare company into silence and help them see the tiles on the ceiling.

Insights are what change things.

And real insights come from real people working out what matters to other real people.

So, are we a ‘data-driven’ business?

Truthfully, no matter how in vogue being ‘data-driven’ is, or how important it is that our work has the right information to underpin our decisions, I’d rather we were thought of as being insight-driven…because insights are something real people can understand.

This article is inspired by Owen Rogers’ talk ‘How do you measure betterness not biggerness’ at the 2013 Do Lectures.