Parlez vous Data?
Talk to a North American about football, and they will immediately have a mental image of helmets, shoulder pads and pigskin. Talk to a European or someone from Latin America, and they will have a totally different mental image.
If both were asked to describe a game, it might sound remarkably similar. However, when you delve into the finer details of the game’s pace, scoring - even the player's uniform, you will find each person describes something totally different.
How intriguing! Both games are all about moving a ball down to the other end of a field, hard-hitting body contact, scoring and especially proudly displaying team symbols and colors - and that is about all they have in common.
Yes, both are aware and know about each other. We wanted however, to draw your attention to this clear-cut example of a ‘big’ cultural difference.
Let’s move from sports to business, and possibly another cultural difference. What happens when you show a slide full of data, charts, and graphs to a boardroom of executives?
One executive might look at it and say, "how interesting”.
Another executive might look at it and find their mind immediately starts to drift elsewhere.
Intriguing again. Is this a cultural difference?
No, this time, it's not a cultural thing. There is something else at work – how the human brain functions.
Almost 50 years ago, in 1973, Nobel prize winner neuropsychologist and neurobiologist Roger W. Sperry gave a speech when he received the Passano Foundation Award. This annual award recognizes members of the medical and scientific community who have made an outstanding research contribution.
Among other things, he said:
Now, both the left and right hemispheres of the brain have been found to have their own specialized forms of intellect.
The right, by contrast, is spatial and mute, performing with a synthetic spatio-perceptual and mechanical kind of information processing that cannot yet be simulated by computers.
When one is dealing with neurosurgical patients whose left and right hemispheres have been surgically disconnected, it is most impressive and compelling to watch a subject solve a given problem like two different people in two consistently different ways, using two quite different strategies-depending on whether he is using his left or his right hemisphere.
That was over 50 years ago and many of us are aware, at least on a passing level, of the concept of ‘left brain vs right brain’ thinking.
During this time research has been able to substantiate the theory that people will tend to have either a more dominant left brain or right brain approach to processing information.
Which is one of the principal factors why some of us work better with numbers, formulas, and calculations. Why some can more easily recognize patterns, trends and meaning as soon as they see data while for others, it's almost total gibberish.
Hence our simplistic identification of ‘data’ vs ‘non-data’ people and asking, which are your “peeps”? Who do you hang with most comfortably?
You might be asking, who are these data people we speak about? Typically, they tend to be CFOs, CTOs, analysts, engineers, scientists, digital marketers, financial planners, insurance agents, medical researchers – in short, anyone who works with large volumes of numbers and data.
Who are the non-data people? Everyone else ...
In our everyday lives, the difference doesn't matter that much. Data peeps get along with data simply fine, non-data peeps know how to work their way around it and both groups can co-exist happily.
But - what happens when both groups need to communicate with each other? How well does that work? What happens when data becomes a crucial part of the discussion and an essential part of an important decision-making process?
Until roughly a decade ago, this might have passed as a minor inconvenience.
Nowadays, with the speed and ever-increasing changes in commerce, the amount of data that businesses need to rely on when making decisions is like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. To remain competitive, nimble, and continually forward moving, companies can and must source and sift through enormous quantities of data.
This evolution of data processing has created an entire new category of information workers who are tasked with collecting, interpreting, and presenting this data. Many times, companies are using this information to help them make the best possible decisions for their continued growth and prosperity. Which direction to pursue? Which products, services, commodities, etc. to promote? Which ones to phase out? Along with a myriad of other decisions affecting company performance.
That leaves us dangerously vulnerable - we run the risk of the data providers missing the mark when communicating their findings to people outside their group. When communicating to the non-data people who are depending on their information.
If not adequately skilled in how to communicate with non-data people, the risk runs high of people not understanding, misunderstanding or worse, being ill-equipped to make the best decisions. To say nothing of the impact on company morale when one group feels daft, stupid, or just generally confused and the other group is perceived as weird, geeky or with little ability to relate to ‘normal’ life.
We suggest that one of the first steps to reduce this critical vulnerability is to recognize that Informing and Communicating are two, completely different actions. Many people use the words interchangeably, and this is a mistake.
In his book, Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and Visuals, author Brent Dykes says:
"If you are determined to have your insights understood and acted upon, you must shift your approach from simply informing to communicating.
American journalist Sydney J. Harris said, “The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things.
Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”
Both approaches involve a sender (analyst) and a receiver (audience). However, there is a key difference between informing and communicating.
While the goal of informing is to ensure the information is received, the purpose of communicating is to ensure the audience understands the meaning of the data."
We have interpreted this to mean the following:
Informing – is simply showing the data. It is a one-way communication with little effort to see if people are understanding what the point is. It should be considered little more than a broadcast from one person to many.
Communicating – is a two-way process where the speaker actively engages with the audience to ensure they understand and fully grasp the impact of what is being said and presented.
One of the best tools you can use to promote effective communication is to tell stories. In our particular focus area of data vs. non-data people, that would mean be sure to tell the story behind the numbers.
Our message for today’s world is that we need to communicate, not just inform.
Better yet, we need to present insights. Not just data.
We are going to address this issue of better communication and how to present data to non-data people throughout 2021.
We will demonstrate and teach simple yet effective "tech-niques". Some will be specific software (tech) skills, some will be current and/or emerging communication techniques. We believe we can show you some of the best practices when it comes to sharing key insights and stories with "non-data" people.
Here’s a sampling of some of the "tech-niques" we’ll be covering during the year:
* How to Find and Tell the Story Behind the Data
* Various Methods to Show Numbers with Clear Context
* Showing your Insights by Using Charts & Faux Charts
* Finding and Using the Right Image to Simplify Data
* Using Animations to Avoid Overwhelm and Walk Through a Process
* How to Combine External Data into your Presentation
* Presenting Complexity with Simplicity
* DocuSlides: The Advantages of Preparing Business Reports with PowerPoint
and many more "tech-niques".
Our mission is to help those working with data. To help them shift their delivery from only sharing data and facts to being able to engage audiences by communicating insights and connecting all the dots for everyone to see clearly.
If you have ever struggled to explain your theories and ideas to someone - let us share our proven techniques, tips, and tools. They are all designed to help you present your findings more clearly to people who don’t speak your same language. Your insights and analysis deserve to be recognized and effectively acted upon and we believe we can help you make that happen.
If you are a Data peep, we invite you to come along on this journey with us. Discover how you can be more appreciated and make a greater contribution. Learn how you can not only be heard, but clearly understood.
Linda & Jude