Beautiful Graphs = Fascinating Data

Last week I was with an friend and ex-colleague, attending his leaving drinks, discussing what we both learnt while working for a large BSS/OSS company, compared to the start-up we had originally joined. One of my ‘learnings’ (urgh) was the significance of how data is presented differently to professional managers rather than start-up propeller-heads.

Propeller-heads crave detail, and have sufficient domain knowledge to interpret the data quickly.

When presenting well researched and validated data to busy execs you should not stick it in a table or spreadsheet. Execs have no time to interpret it. And even if they did, proposals are accepted more on the exec’s emotion and gut instinct than a careful review of your work. So, you have to display the data, show its trends, the  message, in a nice picture, graph or map.

Long ago, I realized this was true for presenting technical concepts outside of my organization, to customers and partners. Even though they are in the same industry as me, their reference points are subtly different, and I am also constrained by the duration of your meeting. That’s why I’m pretty handy with Visio and PowerPoint…

But not as handy as this guy:

In this video Professor Hans Rosling takes some pretty mundane data (GDP, life expectancy, per country) and does a stunning job of illustrating it. I let out a ‘wow’ or ‘blimey’ a number of times.

How does he do it?

  • He keeps it simple. We already understand GDP and life expectancy. We don’t have to learn any fundamentals before he makes his point.
  • He visualizes change. Seeing the change is must more effective than being shown two figures or a static line on the graph.
  • He has an outrageous European accent, which always sounds intelligent and compelling.