This week will be dedicated to how visualization is used as a way to form an image of data that would be otherwise lost in the numbers. Visualization is an extremely powerful tool for data scientists and business users and the marketplace has been very kind to the products that make visualization possible. It was only a few years ago that we believed that the best we could do was teach our brains to see data like a computer (think: The Matrix), but massive quantities of data is the mother of invention, and much faster software, cheaper cache memory and more powerful techniques for representing data are here in response.
Tom Davenport, writing in Harvard Business Review, made the following statement on the importance of visualization:
Those of us who believe that managers make better decisions when key data are presented visually tend to get very excited about all the innovation going on in the graphical display of information. However, if you work in a large organization and want it to make better use of data visualization, I’d argue that commonality is more important than creativity. If you can establish a common visual language for data, you can radically upgrade the use of the data to drive decision-making and action.
Davenport hits on a key benefit of data visualization that gets lost sometimes…the value of everyone having the same information for making decisions…commonality. He goes on to show the Proctor & Gamble “Decision Cockpit” that gives 50,000 P&G employees access to the same visualized data.
By putting data into an image, P&G sees exactly where their business sits at any moment, in any country. Perhaps one of the single greatest ways to align business is to simply get rid of the “folklore” part of how we run organizations and get down to the single source of truth.
Telling a story
Data also tells a story that can be far more fascinating than it sounds as numbers. Probably the best example to date is Hans Rosling’s TED talk from 2006, an enduring example of what visualization can bring.
Rosling uses data that he sets in motion to tell a compelling story about infant mortality, wealth and the danger of averaging too much data.
And who says visualization has to be digital? There’s a famous world traveler, Bill Passman, who has a world map tattooed on his back that he’s gradually filling in as he hits each country on his travels. Not quite interactive, but certainly visual. For me, I’d rather sew my French flag on my backpack and call that enough.
Throughout this week, we’ll be running pieces on some of the best examples of data visualization from various sources. Enjoy Visualization Week on SuccessfulWorkplace!
Also, we’ll be managing the Big Data Workshop at Interop in New York on October 1st. We hope you can join us there.