Jeremy Lee
Aug 23, 2016

Opinion: Win like Team Fiji: How big data obsession can drain passion

The author draws parallels between Team GB's cycling team and big data...

Opinion: Win like Team Fiji: How big data obsession can drain passion
While Rio 2016 was always going to struggle to live up to the intense excitement of its predecessor in London four years ago, it hasn't done badly at all. The medal tally saw Team GB pushed into a staggering second place, ahead of China.
So, well done us. But the event has still been marred slightly by empty stadia, accusations of bribery, doping, lying American swimmers, and some peculiar scheduling (and commentating) by the BBC.
Nonetheless the achievements of our athletes are obviously something of which we as a nation can be proud – a triumph of human endeavour. Oh, and £350 million of National Lottery funding.
But still I have mixed feelings about our success. As something of a purist, a personal highlight was watching Fiji completely trounce Team GB in the Rugby 7s, a universal sport, to win the little Pacific island’s first ever gold – and first ever Olympic medal.
It showed that while chucking money at the best equipment, training facilities and data analysts might have helped Team GB do so well in the velodrome, for example (where the latter were attributed as a factor to the team’s success and in which access to large sums of training money is essential), there is still a place where the best, most passionate team wins regardless of capital expenditure.
Without wishing to appear antediluvian, that seems truer to the original Olympic ideal than the lavish use of Lottery funds (and even more so at a time when public services are so strained and in desperate need of readies). The counter argument goes that if big medal hauls inspire more young people to become involved in sport and lead healthier lives then it’s money well spent. Well, maybe.
If the Olympics has become an arms race where the biggest spender (usually but not always) is declared the winner, perhaps there’s a tenuous parallel between the industry’s obsession with showing just how much data they too can get their filthy hands on that they claim will give them a competitive edge.
As an exercise in willy waving, rather than demonstrating true craft skills, maybe it’s something that resonates well within the client community. But I can’t help finding it rather uninspiring – despite so much chat from all quarters, not just the somnolent CRM sector – of data-driven creativity, real life examples seem hard to find.
Our preeminent awards show – the Cannes Lions – had a couple of good examples but there remained the suspicion that anything that had a slight technological or data bent (Harvey Nichols notwithstanding) would be judged more favourably than those that relied on real consumer focus, married with creative obsession.
Nothing should be taken away from the remarkable achievements of the Team GB athletes and of course the Olympics is nothing like Cannes. But I just feel that winning like Fiji is more meaningful than winning in niche categories and at all costs.
(This article first appeared on
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