Thus far this year, Sizmek Chief Visionary Nikos Acuña has explored the broader implications of how:

  • Technology transforms us
  • How we connect with one another, and
  • How innovation emerges at the intersection of data, technology, and customer experiences.

Now Nikos shifts gears to look at the role of data-driven analytical thinking and how it is necessary to drive marketing’s competitive advantage, while exploring the delicate balance between art and science.

At Cannes Lions this year, the idea of how Math Men are taking over the world once ruled by Mad Men seems more prevalent than ever. Can you elaborate?

We definitely saw this idea gain traction—ideas about the role of data were everywhere. However, what I’m exploring in this episode of Symbiosis doesn’t quite assert that data scientists and automation will rule all in the future. “The Analyst and the Artist” explores the age-old duality of art and science as a collaboration, and why it’s necessary to apply both skill sets to be successful in the modern world.

What if businesses are more keen to science more than art, or using your words, what if a person is simply more artist than analyst?

As Joseph Campbell once wrote, “Follow your bliss.” That said, everyone is born an artist in my opinion. We just differ in the mediums and palettes we choose to express our art. The most successful entrepreneurs, artists, and scientists have all found a balance between right brain divergent thinking with the rigorous discipline of craft, scientific method, or artistic constraints that the left brain manages. I wanted to examine this balance, because it’s so prevalent to the big shifts taking place within our roles today.

Would you go to the extreme and say that data science is an art?

It’s art and science, right? When you are using machine learning algorithms to represent a real-life occurrence in a simulated environment, it’s like you are sketching your interpretation of a human subject, fruit bowl, or landscape. The only difference is that you are modeling the past to make a prediction about the future. Your palette in this case draws from linear algebra, probability theory, and computer science rather than oil paints, brushes, and easels. In order to understand what types of people are more likely to churn, purchase across categories, or become lifetime-value customers, you need to combine data from a wide variety of places so you can  compose and model after those valuable individuals and make predictions about others who look or act like them.

Doesn’t the analyst vs. artist conversation also resemble the controversy about humans vs. machines?

Yes, indeed. This push-pull situation continues to highlight why I launched Symbiosis. If you’ve ever taken an improv class, the first thing you learn is to never say, “No, but” when your partner tees up a scenario off the cuff, you say “yes, and” which strengthens your connection and allows you to explore a wider range of possibilities. I will always be a proponent of humans augmenting our own capabilities. It’s a reciprocal relationship. We innovate to build better machines, and those machines in turn raise all ships to make society more abundant.

What would you suggest to brands and agencies seeking to build new capabilities in the future?

Brands and agencies need to train more hybrid skill sets that augment human intelligence through technology platforms. This includes encouraging childlike playfulness in architecting ideas. We work with the most advanced technologies the world has ever seen, but to me, we are all just kids playing with legos. Looking at the platforms we build in this way not only ignites innovation, it makes our jobs more fun.  

Watch The Artist and the Analyst:

What’s next from Symbiosis

Every two weeks, discover a new Symbiosis video. Stay tuned—upcoming titles include:

  • The Singularity
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • What AI Teaches Us

Want to know more about what inspires Nikos’s topics for Symbiosis videos? Check out these behind-the-scenes blogs:

Keep following the latest about Symbiosis (and more) on Sizmek’s social channels (see below) or on Nikos’s channels at LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram