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Is Big Data Killing Big Ideas?




I have been listening to a HBR podcast about the plan of Gap CEO Art Peck to use big data to replace their creative directors. I am not an expert in the fashion business but I am sure it is probably in top five most competitive and rapacious industries.

Fast and disposable fashion, changes in retail trends and the end of the retail industry as we know it, are the big monsters here. Survival is the primal instinct and Gap has been in trouble for a long time. Gap’s CEO, described as a “quant guy’, arrives at the Gap after being President at Growth Innovation and Digital; a great believer in hard data in the world of creativity. Peck immediately identified that a few wrong bets trying to anticipate trends are responsible for the decline in sales and decided to replace the “false messiahs” of the fashion industry using the more predictable data to understand the trends. Quite revolutionary and forward looking one would argue.

What does this tell us about the state of Gap and future of the fashion industry? We know fashion is a multibillion-dollar business and the reason we spend big money on it is because it makes us dream or better it anticipates our dreams. When this visionary sense of direction ceases and it has to rely on big data to continue to survive, it cannot be defined as fashion any more.

The long-term consequences for any company that loses its vision are more severe. Any business that cannot create a brand that is authentic and original loses a value for the customer, and decline and death are inevitable. In Peck’s mind, there is obviously a desire to succeed and keep the company alive but this success can only come with a big and bold idea and not big data. If profit and profit-share are the only drive for some companies, and I suspect this is the case for Gap, they will also lose the interest and the passion of their customers, who will see in that pair of denim nothing other than a piece of cloth.

Listen to the podcast

https://hbr.org/podcast/2018/11/could-big-data-replace-the-creative-director-at-the-gap

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