Have you ever worked for a client where you were going to have access to data so close to the chest that you had to sign a form acknowledging you could no longer trade their stock?
That’s me, often, when I work with Fortune 100 companies.
If I have to make legal vows in order to see the data, you’d think that data is critical to operations, right?
So then why the heck was it just in a spreadsheet?
This is fake data, though everything else about this scenario is a true story about exactly what went down in a glass-walled high rise conference room in a big city on the East Coast.
Ahead of the workshop, the Senior Director sent me this dense wall of data and said “this is a typical example of what we get and it just makes my eyes cross.”
Yeah, me too! Are there patterns in this data? Is there a story? Who the heck knows.
So I entered the exploratory phase of data work, where I started graphing each column of data, sometimes graphing two of them together, to see what patterns emerged.
It took me literally less than 2 minutes (because I have saved my charts as templates) to see a super interesting story – or so I thought. I’m on the outside. Maybe this is no big deal to them.
I shifted into explanatory mode and cleaned up the chart so the story I saw was crystal clear.
Fast forward a couple months into that high-tech glass-walled room and drumroll me into…
The big reveal.
I showed the group – which included the owners of this data – the spreadsheet they’d sent and asked them to tell me the story.
Here’s what they said:
Then I showed them the data visualization I threw together in a grand total of 3 minutes:
Senior Director turns his back to me and starts a side convo with his boss (a VP in the company). Ok, maybe he’s not impressed, I thought. But I talk up the perks of a back to back chart with the rest of the crowd.
Senior Director interrupts: Is that our data? You made that chart from our actual numbers?
I click back to the slide with the spreadsheet: It’s the exact same data.
Senior Director and VP drop their jaws to the floor. 🤯
Senior Director: I can’t believe that. We actually have a Fall problem.
Me: You do.
He wasn’t talking to his boss because he was unimpressed by my chart. He was shifting into problem-solving mode because the story leapt out right into his face (aaaaaand his boss’s face).
Senior Director: Can I have that slide? I need to show this to some people.
Me: I’ll email it to you on the lunch break.
And that is why I have the best job in the world. For me, there’s no better feeling than witnessing people catch the insight and realize they have to totally change the way they’ve been communicating data.
Charts – the right charts – show you stories you’ll never get from a table.