Four Storytelling Techniques to Bring Your Data to Life

The adage that “our world runs on data” means that decisions are being based on vast amounts of statistics. Data-derived insights drive what time trains stop running, when Starbucks introduces holiday cups, and the temperature of the building you might be sitting in right now.

Even though most corporate roles now work with data, it’s shockingly easy to forget that people generate most of it. When a user clicks a link, gets blood taken at the lab, or sets up a smartwatch, that person generates data. As people move, buy, sell, use, work, and live, their actions nudge numbers up or down and drive organizational decisions, big and small.

If it’s your role to communicate data insights and persuade people to change their behavior, you’ll have more influence and promote better decision-making if you emphasize the people behind the numbers. In a story, we root for the hero as he or she maneuvers through roadblocks. To use data to steer your organization in the right direction, you need to tap into the human tale your data can tell.

By leveraging four techniques from storytelling, leaders can bring a richer, more human understanding to the problem that the data reveals and better understand the opportunities it presents. Those techniques are identifying the hero and the hero’s adversary, speaking with people generating the data, identifying and addressing conflict, and sharing context.

Search for the Hero and the Adversary in the Data

Because most organizational data is generated by humans, the first step toward insight is to empathetically understand the people whose actions generate that data and who can turn slumps around.

These data-generating people are the characters in your story. In any story, myth, or movie, we get to know various characters and grow to love some and revile others. Some become heroes who overcome the obstacles in their paths and eventually defeat their adversaries.

In a data story, the hero is whoever can play a role in moving the data in the desirable direction. For businesses, the heroes could be employees, customers, or partners.

Consider the scenario of a CEO at a midsize software company where sales dropped 30% in the previous quarter. As she’s faced with the task of course-correcting this sharp decline, she needs to dig into the question, “What happened?” To find out, she’ll have to understand the people behind the company’s numbers and who the hero is who can reverse the sales slump.

In this scenario, the CEO’s determination is that the sales team is the likely hero in the turnaround. The data shows that they have been working harder than ever, and the decline isn’t due to their lack of effort. But perhaps the team has an adversary, something or someone causing the numbers to go down. Or perhaps new inefficiencies have been introduced by a change in process or added bureaucracy.

Speak With the People Generating the Data

Data tells you what has happened in the past, but it doesn’t always tell you why. Talking to the people generating the numbers can help.

To help a hero get unstuck, a leader has to go straight to the source. Reading forums, conducting surveys, analyzing customer comments, and hiring consultants are all tools to help learn what is in the hero’s way. But the best way to really understand people’s issues is to speak with them directly.

To do so, identify a random sampling of data heroes. Speak with them, asking about their concerns, opinions, and motivations. Empathetically listen. You’ll hear things that surveys and Salesforce data simply can’t tell you.

By talking directly with a senior manager, the software CEO from our sample scenario might learn that her sales team has been struggling to fully adapt to new sales software that was designed to streamline a previously sticky process. While half of the sales team has wholeheartedly embraced the change, more senior team members are feeling frustrated. They’re fumbling to learn the new tool and still leaning on a legacy process.

This is a human element of the story that may not have been revealed through data alone. But after speaking with the people behind the numbers, our CEO knows who to work with in order to reverse the trajectory.

Identify and Address Conflict

All heroes in a story face conflict. Having a hero to root for makes a tale engaging. Heroes typically face some classic encounters: discord with another character, clashes with nature, tension with a social group, war within themselves, and struggles with change.

In a business context, heroes can be in conflict with a system (as some of the sales team has been with the new software in our scenario), conflict with another person (a change in leadership could be causing issues within the organization), or conflict with themselves (maybe they’re struggling with burnout or didn’t take the training they were asked to).

By identifying the type of conflict people are facing, a leader gets a clearer view of how to communicate information that will help the hero get unstuck.

Share Context

Current data points, though significant, don’t exist in a vacuum. Data collected over time creates a bigger picture of victories and defeats. Sharing context can help leaders motivate their organizations and move their heroes forward and on to victory, especially after a defeat.

In the sample scenario, if the CEO were to share just the most recent data, her team might not feel that they can recover the lost sales to date. Seeing a 30% decrease could demoralize them. But if the CEO zooms out a little and looks at a longer time frame, she might discover that sales bounced back after a similar decline five years earlier.

Sharing the details about how the sales team recovered in the past demonstrates to them that if they could make a turnaround then, they can certainly do it again.

We should never let our data speak for itself. With big data as pervasive as it is today, it is easily classified as noise, and that’s especially true when there is no real context to support it. Productive people help data move in a desirable direction. In every shocking statistic, hockey-stick growth curve, or line chart that hits the x-axis like a lead balloon, there’s a heroic story waiting to be revealed.

Learning to curate and tell stories within an organization can become a kind of superpower for a leader. By humanizing the data, leaders bring a greater understanding to the problems that data initially reveals. When they take the time to speak with the data story’s characters, get to know the hero-in-waiting’s fears and motivations, address the conflict that the hero is facing, and put the data challenge into an appropriate context, leaders develop a deeper, more human connection to their opportunities for moving forward.

The company keeping BlackBerry phones alive will stop selling them later this year, marking the final nail in the coffin for the once-dominant phone brand

  • TCL Communication, the electronics maker that distributes BlackBerry’s current smartphones, said it will stop selling BlackBerry phones later this year.
  • The company no longer retains the rights to sell, design, or manufacture BlackBerry phones as of August 31, the company said.
  • But it will still support the current portfolio of BlackBerry devices through February 2022.
  • It marks the end of an era for BlackBerry, which has struggled to maintain a presence in the mobile phone industry as the iPhone and rival Android phones have risen to prominence.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

BlackBerry helped lay the foundation for the modern smartphone with its keyboard-wielding mobile devices. But 2020 may mark the end of the BlackBerry brand as it relates to mobile phones, considering one of the company’s biggest partners has said it will stop producing phones under the BlackBerry moniker later this year.

Electronics maker TCL Communication, which distributes phones like the BlackBerry Key2 and BlackBerry Motion, will stop selling BlackBerry phones as of August 31, according to a statement that BlackBerry Mobile posted to Twitter on Monday. That’s because TCL will no longer retain the rights to manufacture, design, or sell BlackBerry devices past that date.

BlackBerry did not say in its statement whether it will work with a different partner produce and sell devices, but it did say the company will continue to provide support for the existing portfolio of devices until February 2022. 

BlackBerry stopped making its own phones back in 2016, when it began working with other companies like TCL for hardware-related products.

TCL’s discontinuation of BlackBerry phones marks the end of an era for a smartphone brand that once claimed 20% of the global phone market. But as it struggled to keep pace with smartphones as the iPhone and Android rose to popularity, BlackBerry slowly faded out of relevancy when it came to the global smartphone market.

Today, Samsung, Huawei, and Apple largely dominate the global market for mobile devices, with Samsung accounting for 21.8% of the worldwide market, Huawei claiming 18.6%, and Apple comprising 13 of global shipments as of the third quarter of 2019, according to the International Data Corporation. 

BlackBerry has since pivoted its focus to other industries within the tech sector, such as enterprise platforms, cybersecurity tools, and automotive software. The company also shut down its once-popular messaging service, BBM, last May. 

The announcement also comes as TCL has been expanding its own-self branding smartphone lineup. At the CES tech conference in January, for example, it showcased a new lineup of Android smartphones it plans to launch this year, as well as foldable concept phones. 

Join Our Twitter Chat: Goal Setting

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT, we’ll talk about setting and executing against goals.

At the start of a new year, setting goals — personal and professional — may very well be top of mind. In business, there are acronyms aimed at helping us set the kinds of goals that can be achieved with reasonable effort. (You’ve probably heard of SMART goals, but if you haven’t considered FAST ones, check out the suggested article below.) Typically, teams gather for offsite meetings, leadership teams set short- and long-term strategic priorities, and companies award annual bonuses when targets are met.

We’d like to hear from you about what works — and what doesn’t — about the way you set goals at work. Given that there’s no single best practice for identifying key targets, operationalizing advancement toward desired outcomes, or measuring the impact of those efforts, we’d like to talk about the approaches you find work best.

We hope you’ll join us Tuesday, Feb. 11, for this conversation.

To participate, head over to MIT Sloan Management Review’s Twitter feed (@mitsmr) at the chat start time, or search Twitter for the hashtag #MITSMRChat to follow along.

Add this event to your Outlook or iCal calendar.

Questions we’ll discuss include the following:

  1. How do you approach goal setting at work?
  2. What’s good (and bad) about the approach?
  3. How far into the future do you, your teammates, and your organization’s leadership plan goals?
  4. Do you follow any particular methodology or rubric when it comes to goal setting?
  5. When and how do you measure your performance against your goals?

In advance of this chat, consider reviewing the following content from MIT SMR:

With Goals, FAST Beats SMART

MIT Sloan’s Donald Sull and Charles Sull argue that goals should be frequently discussed, ambitious, specific, and transparent.

John Doerr on OKRs and Measuring What Matters

Author and Kleiner Perkins chairman John Doerr discusses key benefits of objectives and key results (OKRs) for metrics-driven organizations.

Why Hypotheses Beat Goals

Research scientist Jeanne Ross from MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research observes that failing to meet goals is normal, but a more constructive process might be to generate and test hypotheses.

The Innovator’s Legacy

Last spring, the editorial team at MIT SMR began kicking around ideas for a special issue with longtime Clayton Christensen collaborator Karen Dillon. The topic? The future of disruptive innovation. Christensen introduced his landmark theory in 1995 and further popularized it in his 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma and subsequent works. Our hope with the special issue was to investigate how the nature of disruption has changed over the past 25 years as technology itself has evolved so dramatically.

Over the course of development of the spring issue, which will be released in print and online next month, Dillon spent time with Christensen, discussing his influential body of work and his thoughts on the future of disruptive innovation. Both reflective and forward looking, the conversation is an important addition to the canon of disruption. Christensen died Jan. 23 of complications from cancer, and we at MIT SMR are in the company of many across the world who feel profoundly sorry for the loss of a great thinker and warmhearted person.

A driving characteristic of Christensen’s research and groundbreaking work was how meaningful and impactful they were for real people working in companies every day. With this interview, we are honored to publish a final contribution from an influential leader and longtime friend, and we hope it will have meaning for you too.

Read the interview: “Disruption 2020: An Interview With Clayton M. Christensen.”

Amazon and Deliveroo are preparing their fightback against a UK competition probe which put a $575 million mega-investment on ice

  • Amazon and Deliveroo are reportedly preparing to hit back against a UK competition probe, launched after Amazed led a massive investment into the delivery startup.
  • The two are expected to brand the probe as “speculative and not supported by evidence”, Sky News reported.
  • The Competition and Markets Authority has said it’s concerned that the investment could result in a close tie-up between the two firms and a reduction in competition.
  • A Deliveroo company spokesperson told Business Insider that the firm is “confident” it will “persuade the CMA of the facts that this minority investment will add to competition.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon and Deliveroo are preparing to fight back against a UK competition probe which threatens to kowtow the retail giant’s multimillion-dollar investment into the UK delivery startup.

According to Sky News, the two firms will argue that the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) ongoing investigation is “speculative” and lacks in evidence.

In a statement sent to Business Insider, a Deliveroo spokesperson said: “Deliveroo has been working closely with the CMA and will continue to do so.

“We are confident that we will persuade the CMA of the facts that this minority investment will add to competition, helping restaurants to grow their businesses, creating more work for riders, and increasing choice for customers.

“Deliveroo is a British company operating right across the country and this investment will be particularly beneficial to the UK economy,” the statement added.

FILE PHOTO: A biker wearing a Deliveroo backpack drives in the central Barcelona, Spain, July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Lees ook op Business Insider

Foto: Deliveroo told Business Insider that Amazon’s investment would be “particularly beneficial to the UK economy.”sourceReuters

The CMA raised the spectre of a competition probe shortly after Amazon led a $575 million investment in Deliveroo in May 2019. It then launched an in-depth probe in December 2019.

The watchdog has argued that the investment could reduce competition in the takeaway sector, since it might effectively prevent Amazon launching a rival delivery service in the UK.

Deliveroo is an app-driven food delivery service founded in the UK and active in 12 countries, comparable to Uber Eats in the US.

Business Insider has approached Amazon for comment.