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.

One Response to Stories and the natural selection of data

The data industry thrives on conversation. Please submit a comment.

Other recent posts

Bohemian Grove a la BI

The Bohemian Grove of the BI industry convenes for the fifteenth time in just three weeks. Naturally, you ask the obvious question: Are you serious? The Grove? A summit? The answer begins with a fond recollection of the Grove. If you’ve never attended the Bohemian Grove yourself — I haven’t, though I live in the… Continue Reading

Favorite Star Trek, a data story

This story shows how elemental data stories really are. Humans come ready to tell and hear them, requiring no plug-ins at all. This young person can do a good job of it. There was a question, followed by data, then questions and answers, and and finally a conclusion. It’s all there. It’s elementary. Sure, this… Continue Reading

Bad stories stop good data at the water cooler

We agree by now that data’s a good compass. One neglected question is tougher: Which map? Everyone’s known the kind of “grouchy guy” TDWI instructor Kellee M. Franklin, Ph.D tells about. This guy knew better than most of his co-workers about how their Washington, D.C. defense agency worked. And he was frustrated. Over the years,… Continue Reading