What does the first step of this freeform approach look like? Well, how about this squiggle?
Damien Newman used this squiggle to describe the design process. Does data exploration follow the same path?
The start is going to be fast, messy, and unpredictable. You’re failing fast and moving on. And over time, you’ll focus on the insights you’ve found and gradually hone in on the best articulation of the data.
Unfortunately, most of us are reluctant to approach a problem or task with a squiggle-first mentality. Yes, some level of process and order is naturally important, but too much apprehension causes us to be conservative in our thinking, which creates a bottleneck for creative breakthroughs.
Lots of people observe something they feel might be important, then don’t go beyond being surprised. But the creative process, especially when it comes to understanding data, is all about exploration. It’s about sailing into unchartered waters.
Exploration has paid off in other industries, too. Consider Alexander Fleming, who discovered antibiotics. Fleming was famous for the disorganized way he worked. He loved to leave everything out in a glorious mess so he could periodically look for the unexpected. In fact, he wasn’t looking to discover antibiotics or something similar. But he was open to improvisation and one day noticed what turned out to be penicillin.