Once upon a..

It all started in 1905 when an 11 year old Frank Epperson left a mixture of powder flavoured soda water on his front porch with a stirring stick in it. Following a cold night, the drink had frozen. Next morning Frank tried to pull the stick out of the liquid and to his surprise the drink came out in hard solid form. Some years later, Frank served his ice lollipops at a county fair and they were a huge hit. It did not take long for him to realise the commercial potential of his accidental invention, seeking to patent his frozen confectionary in 1924.

Probably you’re wondering how this story has found its way on a technology article. Well, what is interesting about this is that you will very likely, now, not forget the story of who invented the ice lolly. Comparatively, you would be less likely to remember it had I presented you with the same information in a less-appealing format, say a bulleted list of events, or in some other succinct format. Story telling is one of the fundamental communication channels between humans. From prehistoric cave paintings, to TV dramas, to e-readers; we have gone a long way in the search of novel ways to engage in storytelling.

Now consider this scenario; it’s Friday afternoon – around 4 o’clock – you’re standing in the office board room trying to present and explain financial estimates.

Doubtlessly you are armed with your spiral notebook crammed with figures from this quarter, figures from previous quarters, estimates for the upcoming quarter. The weekend beckons and your audience is visibly tired, bored and to a certain degree, uninterested. After your 30-minute presentation laden with numbers, facts, figures and percentages, that took you a good week rummaging through Excel sheets to gather, the last thing you need is to raise your head from your notebook to find that the environment that surrounds you looks something similar to this…

Tired Workforce

Or consider this number: 131,824. Does it mean anything to you? Does it tell you something? Probably not! By itself, the number has no particular significance. But it starts to make more sense if I were to tell you that it is the number of 4.0 magnitude (or greater) earthquakes recorded globally since 1973. Even more impressive, a simple pictorial depiction of each and every one of the 131,824 earthquakes across a map aids insight.


Map showing earthquake spots
Click to open dashboard

The map itself ‘narrates’ a story: there is hardly any need for figures to illustrate the fact that the majority of earthquakes occur across borders of the tectonic plates. Similarly, if we delve deeper into the dashboard, there would be no need for detailed explanations to demonstrate that the average number of major earthquakes has remained constant at 2 tremors a year, slating the widespread concern that earthquakes are on the rise. We invite you to dig deeper into the storyline to discover more scientific curiosities.

Maybe it is time to ditch those ineffective and time consuming Excel reports. Maybe it is also time to ditch those boring presentations – death by a thousand slides – crammed with meaningless percentages and figures! We all recognise that presenting certain figures in business presentations is inevitable, but integrating these figures into a corporate storyline will give more power to these presentations. We all know that data is powerful. But with a good story, it’s unforgettable.In truth, all the above scenarios illustrate one fundamental hypothesis; all stories need supporting data as much as data requires overriding stories to come alive! Stating that ice-lollipops were ‘invented’ in 1905 lacks an engaging story. The same can be said if describing Frank Epperson as merely an ‘inventor by accident’ without providing context as to what he discovered and how. And that is exactly what you need to start doing with your data. Business organisations need to start collating their data in a more pleasing narrative that is bound to engage audiences to a significant higher level than just providing the raw figures, giving more value to the effort required to trawl across the data. Organisations should never underestimate the number of ‘stories’ that their internal data can highlight: consistent customer complaints, gradual falling sales, new opportunities.


The rising action of the story arc makes it more engaging and effective

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once claimed that stories must have an introduction, a middle and a conclusion. Corporate narrative too needs to flow into a collection of facts; gluing various data and information together into a structure that renders meaning and provides business sense. By putting such data and information in a sequence, the audience can better understand the context and make useful connections between each aspect of what is presented

Every nail needs a hammer and all sets of corporate data require tools if we are to explore and make sense of it. It is thus not surprising that today’s analytics tools support the presentation of results in a narrative structure; similar to the slideshow presentations we are accustomed to, but naturally presented in a far more meaningful and engaging manner.

Perhaps what is more important is that your stories need to motivate action. And in today’s world of information overload, it is crucial to be able to make informed, actionable decisions with your data.

If you want to know how our Business Intelligence tools can help your story telling, feel free to contact us . And you’ll live happily ever after…

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