We ought to tell stories with data.

Stories are hugely effective for a number of reasons. They’re easy to tell. They’re easy to remember. They’re easy for other people to remember. They’re easy for other people to tell. They’re a very fluid idea transmission device.

They’re rewarding to craft – especially with data. The antagonist doesn’t always have to be human. In fact, it might be nature itself that’s the antagonist. And you can cast whoever you want as the protagonist.

In sum – perhaps if we want some of our communication to be more effective from time to time, we ought to tell stories.

Tell me, do you think it’s appropriate for an analyst to craft stories?

2 thoughts on “We ought to tell stories with data

  1. There is a huge danger in “telling stories” – I can’t reveal the source, but here’s the first few statements from an analysis I received as part of my role in the WAA & education: “Once upon a time, in the land of Analyticadia, there was a village called XYZ where lived a little ninja, who was known to his friends as Little Ninja… ”

    I know, it’s a bit extreme! I guess someone took Avinash Ninja style to the 1st degree! I spare you the rest…

    If we trust the wisdom of the crowd, Wikipedia defines “story” as ” a sequence of events, or a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question” but other definitions includes words like “dramatization” and “fiction”…

    If this is the kind of “story” you mean… please NO!

    As an analyst, I don’t think we need story telling skills as much as we need verbal & written communication skills, presentation skills, we need active listening skills to ask the right questions and read the non-verbal messages, we need political sensibility to know how to reveal our findings and unearth the underlying power struggles that are always present in some ways or another, and on top of all, we need business skills to understand what the heck it is we are talking about!

    Cheers my friend,
    St├ęphane

  2. Christopher Berry says:

    Yes, and…

    It’s a relatively straightforward operation to write:

    “Visits increased from 410,000 to 425,000 last month” – and leave it at that. It’s fairly common to see figures in a dashboard put into bullet format. There’s no sequence of events to that.

    It’s quite another to write:

    “As a result of X (up 11%), visits increased from Y to Z (up 8%). X may become less effective this month of A.”

    Everything you say below “please NO!” is indeed correct, and a very real issue within both datamining and analytics communities. There’s a very specific communication style that passes for communication in many circles.

    So yes…and, fundamentally, nobody repeats a great dashboard in the elevator. They do, however, recite some small nugget of a story.

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