Bringing data to life – Importance of Storytelling and Data

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Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 15.06.12I was invited to work yesterday with one of my favourite partners; the London Business School and present to one of their clients, a large international Telecoms company. The presentation I gave is called Herding Cats and it explores the new world of customer loyalty and suggests frameworks that marketing, customer experience and customer insight professionals can use to build stronger partnerships with their customers. In the presentation I refer to a startling fact: According to McKinsey, a large consulting firm, on average only 5% of data held by companies is actually effectively utilised. This is an astonishingly low percentage but one that is not surprising for those who have worked in large corporations. Too often customer insights and useful data languishes in the depth of a computer server, pinned down by legacy and CRM systems that do not deliver. This needs to change and change quickly. Companies that fail to leverage data intelligently will be left behind and those that do release data’s awesome power will gain significant competitive advantage. As Jeff Immelt, the CEO of GE accurately says; the Industrial Internet is upon us and those businesses “that fail to invest in data analytics (and machine learning capabilities) will be like the retailers in the 1990’s that missed the internet, it will be too late!”

But even if you have the right people and the right systems to capture, collate and make sense of the available data – both structured and unstructured – do you have the capability to bring the data to life? Too many businesses use boring spreadsheets, dashboards and death-by-powerpoint to share data. You may have the data but if the insights are not told or presented in an inspiring and motivational way you may as well not have made the effort in time and resources to extract the data.

Storytelling is one of the most important competency any customer insights or data analytics professional needs to master. Jock Mackinlay, PhD, Robert Kosara, PhD, Michelle Wallace have recently written a white paper called Storytelling with Data and it is worth downloading the document and reflecting on the wisdom they share.  The white paper looks at how storytelling can help data professionals and provides ideas and advice about how to go about doing so. Here is an excerpt from the white paper:

Data Storytelling Using visualisation to share the human impact of numbers  

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”—Muriel Rukeyser (1913–1980)

Storytelling is a cornerstone of the human experience. The universe may be full of atoms, but it’s through stories that we truly construct our world. From Greek mythology to the Bible to television series like Cosmos, stories have been shaping our experience on Earth for as long as we’ve lived on it.

A key purpose of storytelling is not just understanding the world but changing it. After all, why would we study the world if we didn’t want to know how we can—and should— influence it? Though many elements of stories have remained the same throughout history, we have developed better tools and mediums for telling them, such as printed books, movies, and comics.

This has changed storytelling styles—and perhaps most importantly, the impact of those stories—over the millennia. But can stories be told with data, as well as with images and words? That’s what this paper’s about.

I highly recommend this paper to anyone who wants to discover how to make the most of their data advantage. You can download the white paper here.

Bottom line, to leverage the awesome insights that await companies in the new Big Data world storytelling can mean the difference between success and failure.

What’s your story?

Dean van Leeuwen is a co-founder and Chief Exploration Officer at TomorrowToday. Based in London, Dean speaks to audiences around the world on disruptive change, adaptive leadership and strategy, the future of work and future trends. He can be contacted at dean@tomorrowtodayglobal.com

 

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