Just the answer, please

I spent the first half of our weekend morning stroll blissfully prattling on about the technical aspects of photography. I was attempted to explain to my wife, drawing on a high-school class and my flawed memory, the relationships between lens aperture, shutter speed, film sensitivity, focal distance, and light.

In the middle of this revery, my wife turned to me and explained how little she cared—and would it be too much trouble for me to stop talking about it? My semi-educational chatter was ruining the peacefulness of the walk.

I was confused. I know she loves to take pictures, and we’ve been having real problems with indoor pictures coming out blurry. Didn’t she want to know why this was happening and what it would take to fix it? Turns out she’d prefer if I’d just adjust the settings so the camera would work. Just the answer, please.

My wife is an attorney and has an amazing mind for the intricacies of legal problems. I don’t. Or more accurately, I have a visceral reaction when the conversation turns to torts, habeaus corpos, and subject-matter jurisdiction. I debate in my mind whether to try to follow the logic or simply space out. Like her, I just want the answer—not the journey.

All of which raises a question for business analysts: Is some of the resistance we encounter to data-driven decisions perhaps just a general queasiness with the detail? Perhaps the culprit isn’t some organizational culture for gut-instinct decisions or distrust of the data. It is just the journey (i.e. the presentations filled with charts and graphs and numbers) that causes people to disengage from the discussion.

On this blog, we’ve often argued that better data presentation can make your analysis more accessible and impactful. But maybe the answer can be less data presentation—until it becomes absolutely necessary.

There are many legitimate reasons for presenting the details of an analysis; there are also some poor ones. Consider whether you have explained too much because...

    * you are self-conscious about your credibility?

    * you want to showcase all the hard work?

    * you assume the audience is like you?

    * you want our presentation to lead up to a dramatic conclusion?