Statistical Storytellers

We now collect extraordinary amounts of data from weblogs, wifi sessions, phone calls, sensors, and transactions of all kinds. The quantities are hard to imagine: we created about five exabytes of data in all of human history until 2003. We now create that much data every two days. Deriving insights from this mountain of data is a big challenge for most organizations. People who are good at this are highly valued and in desperately short supply (career tip: study statistics). But mining data for insights is just the beginning: explaining what you have learned to non-statisticians is often an even bigger challenge. Visualizing data and forming it into a coherent story is a completely separate skill, and one that is evolving quickly. For my money, the pioneers in the field are McKinsey’s Gene Zelazny and the always impressive Edward Tufte. Modern masters include Hans Rosling and Garr Reynolds. It’s not easy to visualize data effectively and it is even harder to weave it into a compelling story. Statisticians make lousy novelists — and vice versa (career tip: study fiction). It often takes a team to do a great job of analyzing and creatively presenting information. Done well, the results are artistic, for me anyway. Here are two good examples. The first is on wealth and inequality in America — not an easy topic to portray. The second is a Hans Rosling’s classic TED Talk on global demographics.

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Economics, Technology, WoW

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