Cool Data Visualization – What is That?

March 21, 2009
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Want to help your organzization optimize operations, extract market opportunity, see what customers think? Provide a visual representation in a single slide that tells your senior executives what is happening and what to do. That is, if they can understand it in a milli-second.

There are a lot of really great algorithms that are creating interesting visual presentations of behavior, influence, and connections across people and topics. The problem is you might as well be looking at fractals for all the business insight you gain. It may provide perspective for the resident math geek, but for the average business executive it is just modern art that needs further interpretation.

I remember in college when I first started programming mathematical equations to model data and played with fractals. It was exciting, creative, and helped me to link data with a tangible result versus a simplified equation or answer. I used to put fractals up on my website like works of art. I even included a link to input random numbers for others to create their own.  It was so cool! Was it practical?

Don’t get me wrong, I love data visualization obviously. It can simplify very complex analysis to gain i


Want to help your organzization optimize operations, extract market opportunity, see what customers think? Provide a visual representation in a single slide that tells your senior executives what is happening and what to do. That is, if they can understand it in a milli-second.

There are a lot of really great algorithms that are creating interesting visual presentations of behavior, influence, and connections across people and topics. The problem is you might as well be looking at fractals for all the business insight you gain. It may provide perspective for the resident math geek, but for the average business executive it is just modern art that needs further interpretation.

I remember in college when I first started programming mathematical equations to model data and played with fractals. It was exciting, creative, and helped me to link data with a tangible result versus a simplified equation or answer. I used to put fractals up on my website like works of art. I even included a link to input random numbers for others to create their own.  It was so cool! Was it practical?

Don’t get me wrong, I love data visualization obviously. It can simplify very complex analysis to gain insight faster. What I’m struggling with is needing the ability to connect data visualization with executive intuitiveness. Heat maps, network graphs, and the variety of data maps I see being generated today are a far cry from what I would bring into a budget meeting let alone show to board members. More time is spent explaining what executives are looking at than having conversations about business objectives and investments. It is also not just executives. Business managers and directors need to understand the business as well. Pretty is nice, but value is better.

The other aspect that of today’s data visualization leaps is that it disassociates the business from the information. If only a small group of geeky mathematicians and programmers understand the data, it creates a mysticism that can lead to distrust of information. If people don’t understand it, they don’t learn, and they don’t improve.

What I hope we can do as really smart statisticians, data analysts, and programmers is make the connection between information and visualization so that is further democratizes insight and empowers our business.

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