Category: in media

How old spin becomes new

This week a longtime consumer of news, blogs, articles, whitepapers, and other content issued by the data industry said this to me.

After reading stories about big data and data quality for years, I think you’ll agree that everything [the data business] has wanted to say, they’ve said. They’re just trying to put new words and spin behind it.

Yes, but why? Is the old stuff all the issuers of old spin know? Are they like a geezer who’s forgotten he’s told the same joke for years? Or do they hold their noses, hoping that no one notices? After all, the “old stuff” is still current stuff, even though it’s not as much fun anymore.

A good way to make it new is with stories. It takes work, but if you ask around long enough you can usually find a novel problem or novel fix. Old stuff doesn’t have to be boring.

Stephen Few: data’s “harmful ways”

Visualization guru and data-industry skeptic Stephen Few in has a worthwhile review of Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil.

Data can be used in harmful ways. This fact has become magnified to an extreme in the so-called realm of Big Data, fueled by an indiscriminate trust in information technologies, a reliance on fallacious correlations, and an effort to gain efficiencies no matter the cost in human suffering.

Read his review here.

Qlik asks what a difference a device makes

Donald Farmer, Qlik Inc.
Donald Farmer, Qlik

When I first heard of Qlik’s research into use of mobile devices, I thought so what? It’s an engineering problem, I said. Just figure out how to make charts work on a laptop, a Mac, an smartphone, and a tablet and be done with it.

That was months ago, when Qlik released its study of mobility use. Then I started watching my own use of these things and finally decided Qlik may be onto something. There may be more to this report than meets the eye.

Read more

Andy Cotgreave on data without emotion

Tableau senior technical evangelist Andy Cotgreave
Tableau senior technical evangelist Andy Cotgreave

Tableau’s senior technical evangelist Andy Cotgreave has boarded the data storytelling wagon. Actually, I don’t know how long he’s been there, but an article he wrote caught my attention today. He says that data without emotion is “worthless.” I agree!

Consider also the terrible Syrian refugee crisis affecting the Middle East and Europe. This tragedy had received a lot of attention from data journalists (e.g. The Economist back in Jan 2013), but the public didn’t truly engage until we saw the shocking photo of the drowned toddler on the beach. The impact of that single photo transformed public awareness in a way thousands of charts in news stories had not.

Does this mean our efforts with data are always doomed to be ignored? No, but it does mean we need to focus on making our data connect with people. If we want to drive change, we need to bring in emotions, narratives and the personal.

His passion and his lessons for data mongers makes it worth a read. Read the rest on Linkedin.

“BI for the other 80 percent” at
Information Management

How can business survive without data? Well, 80 percent of eligible users, according to most surveys, do seem to go without. The industry salivates in anticipation of someday colonizing that territory, and it shudders in frustration because they haven’t done it yet.

That topic came up last summer at the annual Pacific Northwest BI Summit. I’ve written here before about the session led by industry icon Claudia Imhoff and IBM vice president Harriet Fryman. Now I’ve published a column about it to a bigger audience at Information Management.

The column offers a strategy: storytelling. Humans are wired for it. The industry might as well take advantage.

The trick is to learn how to do it. Or even before that, the trick might be to accept storytelling as legitimate business practice. Though it’s widely practiced in the C-suites, those below them, the middle managers — so prone to insecurity — seem queasy about it.

See the Information Management column here.