Providing Quick Meaning to Data

abraham-lincoln-60558_640According to The New Yorker, Abe Lincoln liked infographics*, putting me in good company.  I was exposed to Edward Tufte (an American statistician and expert in informational graphics) and his series of books more than a dozen years ago. His representations of data, and the stories that came from their effective display, were elegant and powerful. My fascination continues today.

I recently purchased The Best American Infographics 2014, a self-explanatory compilation by Gareth Cook. It is a beautiful collection of examples and the insights they reveal. It will join other my other treasures that include:

Despite all of our technology advances, it still takes a creative mind to determine how to craft a story from the data. Or, perhaps it’s the reverse: representing the data differently creates learning and then knowledge. It’s all in how you ask questions of the data and interpret the answers. Regardless, I can’t get enough.

*From Mashable: “Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education.”

Weekly Download 14.11

download-158006_640Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

Did PowerPoint Ruin GM? This interesting WSJ article describes the potential that facts relating to the ignition switch fault were edited out of long PowerPoint presentations at GM. It reminds me of a much older Edward Tufte essay that discusses the pitfalls of what is now commonly referred to as “death by PowerPoint.” Tufte also analyzes a Boeing presentation to NASA, and takes the company to task for oversimplifying and obscuring crucial information. How often do we let monotonous slides and the related editing process dictate the flow of conversation? Wouldn’t it be better to just write a report and not present anything? I have moved away from PowerPoint-driven meetings as much as possible, sometimes even handwriting the key points I want to discuss. How do you make sure the right dialogue is occurring in your meetings?

handdrawn meeting presentation

Sketch and photo by Mark Baker

I remember writing a blog entry (a rant, really) about six or seven years ago on why email needs to go away. We allow valuable hours to be driven (like Pavlov’s dog) by what arrives in our inbox. With the number of communication and information points today, it becomes unruly to manage the sifting and sorting. A Company Without Email? Not So Fast discusses a couple of solutions that are picking up traction.

You never know where simple, profound inspiration may be found. Like in a fortune cookie. Great Things are Made from Little Things cites one of my favorite quotes:

 “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”—Aristotle