Tidbits from Stephen Few’s well-revered book, Now You See It
Ever since we began including a section on data visualization in our formal training, we’ve only gotten one negative piece of feedback. The particular attendee suggested something like “I could have done without the content on how to make a PowerPoint slide.”
We welcome and take all feedback very seriously of course, but the comment came off as ironic given that in the training, I discuss the Dunning-Kruger Effect and its importance in successful data visualization in business today.
Early in his book Now You See It: Simple Visualization Techniques for Quantitative Analysis, Stephen Few talks about specific attitudes that a data analyst might have that would help them excel in their field.
We actually don’t think about what might be the proper attitude for a certain role or activity in business. At least, I don’t ever recall having been asked about my attitude toward what I might be doing in an interview. Nor have I experienced a company whose culture fosters certain attitudes. But it makes sense, right?
Although Few is focusing in on data analysts, my personal feeling is that several of these attitudes are also something that our audience should attempt to call upon in order to best absorb the information being presented:
Open-Minded and Flexible
Here, he quotes the physicist Alan Sokal who said “science requires two fundamental attitudes:
- Willingness to accept what you find
- Willingness to discover that you are wrong”
I think we can pretty easily adapt this to business. Our plans are always changing, and often the entire direction of a project might need to be altered to account for significant realizations, as the initiative evolves. Humility helps here.
How many executives have you encountered that were open to new ideas? “If I had a nickel…” certainly does not apply here, although it does happen. As Few says, “We don’t have to be creative geniuses to blaze new…trails.”
Although you may be skittish about this one (because we want our audience to trust us) think about what healthy questions and skepticism will inject into the effectiveness of delivery of the information or the project overall? More collective thought usually equals better solutions.
Aware of What’s Worthwhile
The must-have follow up trait to Skepticism. I once had a Director berate me in a large meeting because some of my bullets were slightly larger than the others. It’s important to be detailed, but was that really worthwhile and relevant? Maybe not the best example, but you get the idea. As Few says, “Not all the questions that we might ask about data are of equal value.”
How to foster these attitudes if they don’t currently exist is something different altogether. It’s not your job to coach your leadership or colleagues, and working to impact attitudes falls squarely in that category. Leading by example seems like the only approach that might be within your power.