Mardi Humphreys, Change Agent, Integration Edge/RDSI
I’m a storyteller and I love data analytics. These two things may seem mutually exclusive, but bear with me. Data analysis is a process. So is storytelling. Data analysis inspects, cleanses, transforms, and/or models data. So does storytelling. You use data analytics to discover useful information, form conclusions, and support decision-making. So is… never mind; you know what goes here. Let me give you an example. Here’s the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears as if they were all data analysts.
Goldilocks finds an empty-looking cabin in the woods. She peeps in the window. She doesn’t see anyone inside. She knocks on the door. No one answers. She turns the knob and finds the door unlocked. Given this data, she decides to enter the cabin. The data she’s missing? The cabin belongs to a family of three bears: Papa, Mama, and Baby. The Bear family goes out to pick fresh blueberries every morning.
Goldilocks gathers more data. There are three various-sized bowls of porridge on the dining room table. She tastes the contents of the biggest bowl. It burns her mouth. She tastes a spoonful from the medium-sized bowl. It’s cold. She tastes the porridge from the smallest bowl and finds it palatable. With this data, she discovered enough useful information to form a conclusion. She decides to eat the whole small bowl of porridge and leave the other two sitting.
Goldilocks continues being nosy, er, I mean, gathering data. She wanders into the living room and spies three chairs. Full of porridge, she decides sitting a spell is a wise choice. She tries out Papa Bear’s large chair. She determines it is too hard to sit on. Next, she tries Mama Bear’s medium-sized chair. She determines it is too soft to sit on. Sticking to her data-gathering process, she moves on to Baby Bear’s tiny chair and gives it a sit. It’s perfect! She’s so excited her experiment worked, she does a happy dance and promptly breaks the chair. (Side note - This is why we never test anything in production.)
All this porridge eating and chair breaking made Goldilocks sleepy. She again wanders around the cabin; this time looking for a bed in which to nap. Refining and iterating her process based on feedback, she is not surprised to find three various-sized beds on the second floor. Continuing her data gathering process, she plops onto the ginormous Bed #1. She about breaks her back because it’s as hard as steel. Sticking to her method, she moves on to the medium-sized Bed #2. After wallowing in the piles of blankets and pillows, she decides it’s too soft. She moves on to test the smallest, Bed #3. It must have met her search criteria, because she falls asleep in it.
Not long after, the owners of the cabin return from blueberry picking to find things are not as they left them. The data they first encounter is the dining room table with two bowls of half-eaten, Goldilocks-germ-infested porridge on it and one tiny bowl licked clean. This data leads them to believe someone’s been eating their porridge. This is a correct analysis of their collected data.
The Bear family goes to the living room to see if there is more data to collect. They find their three chairs not as they left them. The big hard chair and the medium-sized soft chair are salvageable, but inspection of the smallest chair deems it transformed beyond repair. This additional data leads them to conclude a hungry vandal entered their house and may still be there. Another correct analysis of the collected data.
Not finding anyone on the first floor, the Bear family angrily stomps upstairs to see if there is more data (or a full-bellied, chair-destroying vandal) to be collected. They find their three beds not as they left them. The biggest and medium-sized beds are now unmade and rumpled, but the covers on the smallest bed are rhythmically moving and snoring. This aggregated data leads the Bear family to the conclusion that the culprit who entered their cabin, ate their food, and broke their chair is now sleeping in their bed. Acting on their conclusion, the three angry bears roar and Goldilocks awakens.
What have we learned about data analytics from this story?
Goldilocks’ Data Analysis:
What insight did she gain? The cabin offered three sizes of food, chairs, and beds
What understanding did it build? The third option always suited her best
What decisions did it influence? Eat, sit, sleep
The Bears’ Data Analysis:
What insight did they gain? They never had to lock the cabin door before
What understanding did it build? If they leave the cabin door unlocked, they may get robbed
What decisions did it influence? Whether or not to lock the cabin door
How did she use her collected data? To ransack The Bears’ cabin
What innovation did she achieve? She learned not to make herself at home in a home that wasn’t hers
The Bears Results:
How did they use their collected data? To find the culprit who vandalized their home
What innovation did they achieve? They discovered Goldilocks made a better meal than porridge and blueberries
Okay, that last conclusion is pure speculation on my part, but you see what I’m getting at. Data analysis is rich inspiration for storytelling. You help your clients visualize their choices when you include storytelling in your design, development, and deliverable.