Stories and the natural selection of data

Glen Rabie, CEO of Yellowfin
Glen Rabie, CEO of Yellowfin

The problem with data storytelling, Yellowfin CEO Glen Rabie said to me the other day, is this: What happens to the story if the data tells a story they don’t want to tell? The data just gets wiped away. “The people who’re putting the story together will pick and choose what data to use.”

“Has it always happened?” he said. “Yes it has. Data is just another component. As purists we say that’s outrageous, but as a storyteller you say that’s legitimate.”

That’s what scares some people, mostly those who’ve led business intelligence to where it is today. Their dream of pristine truth pointing magnetic north, if not true north, turns into a bête noire as stories approach.

Later, though, they awake to a brighter day for data. Stories may not be pure, but data’s no virgin, either. And more people understand stories than they understand data.

Glen’s first job after university was preparing data and commentary for a group of executives. If they didn’t like the data, he recalls, they just excluded it from their reports. He also discovered that the commentary was the important part, not the data. He left off the commentary one day and was told to put it back.

Has it always happened? Yes, it has.

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