Data dumps are often the biggest obstacle to finding an innovative story that works.

When I worked as an HIV educator in rural Thailand during the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, we had a name for data dumpers:


Seagulls were typically Westerners – academics, government officials, aid agency representatives, or donors – who flew in to our location and “pooped” all of their great insights over the work we’d been doing.

The worst part was, there was always a veiled suggestion that they believed this new data would be the silver bullet to solve all our problems.

Sometimes, they included an incentive, such as funding, technical support, or more specialists flown in to help us for a few days or weeks.

And then, the Seagull would fly away.

The trouble was, the data dump the seagulls brought with them typically had no connection to the community we were working with or what was most important to them…

Meanwhile, the seagulls never hung around for long enough to see whether their insights had made a difference. Instead, 6 months later, a new seagull would show up with a different data dump, and the cycle would begin again.

While I’m sure there was gold in some of those stacks of reports the seagulls brought with them, we lost those nuggets, because they couldn’t wrap a story around the data that made sense.

The seagulls wanted to make their data the center of the story so that they could be the hero, but they had it all wrong…

They needed to move the spotlight to the people who were already on the ground and being most impacted, and make them the heroes.

In other words, they needed to tell the story of how their insights would transform the lives of those people we were working so hard to help.

Then, maybe, we wouldn’t have seen them as seagulls at all, but as partners who were there to help us bring home a message that would inspire people to act in a way that would make all the difference.

It’s a simple shift, but an important one.

When’s the last time you got data dumped? Or are you the one tasked with mining the data for gold, and need to share a story that sticks?

Don’t be the seagull, just schedule a call with me and we can work on it together.

This Week’s Best Articles on Innovation

How to Build a Positive Culture That Drives Innovation & Success – Fast Company

How to Improve the Odds of Breakthrough Innovation – Kellogg Insight

Identity Protection is Key to Metaverse Innovation – MIT Technology Review

Making AI Accessible Leads to Greater Innovation – CIO

Sustainability Isn’t Holding Back Innovation, It’s Accelerating It – World Economic Forum

When Experts Play it Too Safe: Innovation Lessons From a NASA Experiment – Harvard Business School