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The explosion of data, automation, tools, and the sheer possibilities of machine learning have led some to question if technology is destined to edge out creativity. But the past, present, and future of advertising will always be about creativity and the creative minds who dream up new products, campaigns, and ideas every day.

Here, creative leaders from around the world weigh in on how they’ve moved beyond the whole “creativity versus technology” debate. It’s not “either or,” but “and.” Below are insights into how top creative minds are employing “data-inspired creativity” — using data and technology to imagine new ways of thinking, working, and creating.

Using data as creative compass

“Creativity will always be our superpower. But data is our compass. Compelling narratives and storytelling will remain paramount. But rather than limit ourselves to a single universal thought, data used well enables us to unlock the full potential of an idea. It can extend an experience into places we may have previously overlooked or help us validate audiences and indeed all the nuances within them. Importantly, it can also help prove the case for creative. Too many wonderful ideas have died in the bottom drawer of creative agencies all because there wasn’t enough ‘evidence’ to support a bold creative approach.”

Kimberlee Wells CEO TWBA\Melbourne

Pushing us out of our norms and expectations

“Data to me is the same as standing in a museum and watching how people move between the art pieces. Or looking on as people grocery shop on a Tuesday evening. It’s being with parents on the sidelines of their kids’ soccer games. If we let it, data takes us to meet people and places we might not otherwise experience. It pushes us outside of our social ecosystem that only reinforces our current values and beliefs. Then, when we add art to the science, we can create experiences for people that are truly meaningful, motivating, and valuable.”

Jordan Doucette  ECD Leo Burnett Chicago

Moving from ‘I think’ to ‘I know’

“Using data to support our positions removes subjectivity and allows us to focus on delivering disruptive work. We use data to provide insight, to validate a creative idea, to measure the impact our work is making, to optimize for even greater results, and to learn and build greater intelligence. In other words, data helps us reframe the conversation with our clients from ‘I think’ to ‘I know.’”

Noah Khan Regional President of Digital & Innovation - CEE, Middle East and Africa, TBWA & DAN

Reducing drudgery and complexity

“The opportunity of machine learning and AI for creativity is enormous. It can take away some of the drudgery that surrounds the process, serve as interesting stimulus, and reduce production complications and costs. All that means we can be more experimental and less constrained by the practicalities of our ideas.”

Justin Pahl CEO, VMLY&R London

Becoming stewards of the knowledge data provides

“Data isn't powerful on its own. Our work as creatives is now to mine the data to ensure relevant, strategic, and creative work. As creatives, we have to be the best users of the knowledge the data gives us.”

Joanna Monteiro Chief Creative Officer, FCB Brazil

Technology as a canvas

“As a coder and an artist, technology has been the most amazing canvas. For myself and the creative people I work with, to tell award-winning stories gives people a chance to see into the future.”

Perry Nightingale Executive Creative Technologist, Grey London

Telling more personalized stories, but still trusting our gut

“Data and tech are critical, particularly for a country like India, which is a world by itself with a great diversity of cultures, religions, and languages. Data and tech help us to tell more personalized stories — and those are the most potent stories of all. What we need to be careful about, though, is overreliance on data. It shouldn’t make us forget our gut instinct because, without that, our stories will be soulless. Ideas and storytelling that move people are the bedrock of all communication and will never go away.”

Sonal Dabral

Fuel for emotional storytelling

“Data is fuel for what great creatives do — move people in the most emotional way possible. Understanding data’s limits and possibilities will take curiosity and a willingness to learn. Data isn’t the goal; it’s a means to an end, and an incredibly exciting new playground for creation.”

Stefanie Kuhnhen

Explore creative inspiration, tools, and best practices on Google’s creative hub