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sfew

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Reply with quote  #16 
Ravel,

Have you read Kahneman's book? It is not arid, nor is it theoretical in the sense of lacking practical application or empirical evidence. All of the books that I've recommended involve theory, but are extremely practical nonetheless. For example, systems theory, which you suggested that people study first, is steeped in theory (thus, it is called "systems theory), but is quite practical in its application.

One of the problems that we currently face is the fact that people, including data analysts, often fail to realize that they should shift into System 2 thinking when the task demands it. This sometimes requires a conscious shift. Understanding the difference between System 1 and System 2 thinking--especially what each is designed to handle--is critical knowledge for data sensemakers.

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Stephen Few
jsatz

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Reply with quote  #17 
Great article and definitely a course I would take. In my experience, another area that would be beneficial is Strategic Thinking. Having the ability to grasp the big picture of an organization is critical to keep in mind during data analysis. Understanding that vision really helps when you're not strictly doing analysis but playing a role in what the key SLAs and KPIs should be in order to help guide the visualization and analysis. Playing a role in guiding senior management in the best direction should be one of the things we should strive for.
sfew

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Reply with quote  #18 
jsatz,

I think you'll find that Systems Theory provides the perspective that's needed for strategic management. I recommend that you read Thinking in Systems: A Primer to see if you agree.

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Stephen Few
raval

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Reply with quote  #19 

Stephen,

You’re probably right in assuming that shifting into System 2 thinking sometimes requires a conscious action. After my daughter (who, by the way, is a data visualization developer and the one who introduced me to your work) pointed it out to me, I tend to believe that I am among those fortunate enough to have benefited from the diversity and richness in content offered by the old school curricula. It helped me be able in all situations to switch back and forth between the ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ systems of thinking naturally, and this is probably what made me wrongfully assume that this aptitude is not an acquired skill but more of a given that people possess more or less.

And one last thing: by associating “theory” with “arid” I only wanted to warn you about the risk of overloading your course targeted to people already in the field who, as you too acknowledged, do not have much time for self-betterment. But, by all means, I don't think that there is anything wrong with including theory that contains practical applications.

Regards,


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Valentin R, New York
neilism

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Reply with quote  #20 
Great idea for a training course. Just enough theory to give context to practice -- the way training should be!

Three things occurred to me, reflecting on my own bootstrapped learning. I think they're just supplements to what you've already identified and may be implicit!

Whilst I read Tufte's first book when I was still young and impressionable, I only appreciated it once I was 'woken up' to the principles and perspectives of design, including stuff to do with graphic design, but also product design and so on. 'Design' is an extraordinarily powerful concept, particularly when people can link it to the values the design is seeking to support (links with the 'ethics' module?).

As a supplement to the systems thinking and scientific method, there is something explicit about 'what and how to measure'. So much 'analytics' and 'big data' seems to have gone down on regurgitating transactional data of one form or another, rather than measuring the right things to answer the sensible questions.

Finally, I completely understand the way curriculum is chunked up. I wonder about this -- a current vogue in Higher Education is for 'problem based learning' where you hang the learning off a problem and learn as much about the theory as you need to solve that problem. The problems get harder and more complex, incorporating a developing theory that is easier to integrate into practice.

Cheers

Neil


xan

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Reply with quote  #21 
Very interesting proposal, Steve. I wonder if there is room for something like "Rhetorical Thinking" (named to follow the pattern, though it may be a stretch). That is, how thinking is shared effectively. It's one thing to make a successful analysis and another to convince others so they don't have to repeat the whole exercise.
sfew

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Reply with quote  #22 
Xan,

I wholeheartedly agree that the ability to communicate analytical findings in clear and potentially persuasive ways is fundamental to our work as data sensemakers. For this reason much of my work focuses on this. I think this falls outside of the thinking skills, however, that I'm trying to address in this curriculum. Another curriculum that brings together several foundational skills in communication is probably needed to address this deficit in the skill set of most data sensemakers. The Heath brothers' book Made to Stick would be on my reading list for that course of study.

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Stephen Few
OptionExplicitVBA

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Reply with quote  #23 
I think this curriculum is much needed. The prevailing wisdom says if only we were better at statistics or math or data visualization we would stop making mistakes with data. But there's more to the story, of course. 

If we look to one of the biggest data failures of our time - the great recession - we realize the people who developed the complex mathematical models were ostensibly already experts in stats and visualization. So there must be something deeper we're missing. And perhaps at the most axiomatic level, we're missing the good critical thinking skills that helps us think through these problems. We keep training builders when we should be training craftsmen. 

(That's not to say we shouldn't attempt to be come experts in these areas. But expertise comes from knowing the research behind the tools and how best to locate them in our work. Right now, we're teaching people to be technicians. )

I'm glad to see ethical decision making in there. There are new lending sites that would have us believe our social media profiles can be better predictors of credit. This seems like a good idea in theory. But in the US we can't make credit decisions based on race, gender, etc. However culturally things like race and gender are manifest of our online personas. What happens when these lending systems unwittingly make decisions based on illegal criteria but with the appearance of objectivity? We need more discussion on stuff like this. 

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Jordan Goldmeier
wd

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Reply with quote  #24 

Stephen, in teaching some DV fundamentals within the company, I reached a similar conclusion, i.e. if you don’t know what the data is telling you, how can you write the “story”, - whether in a verbal report or via an appropriate set of graphs/tables.

My usual first questions: What is it that you are trying to show? Does the data support that? And then go on to lead them through some analysis ideas that are facilitated by looking at the data via appropriate stratification and visualization. And then, the lights go on!

So yes, data analysis education is something we need more of, especially with the abundance of data we have today.


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Bill Droogendyk
sfew

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Reply with quote  #25 
Bill,

What I'm proposing with this curriculum is different from the data analysis education you're describing. I'm referring to thinking skills that are needed before one learns the specific skills of data analysis.

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Stephen Few
xan

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Reply with quote  #26 
Regarding "Rhetorical Thinking": while I can see it's a stretch to call it a thinking skill, I think there is some thinking-related skill there that falls outside the normal communication material. How to communicate the thinking itself (the rationale), not just the result of the thinking. What's more effective, facts-then-results or results-then-facts? Should one include dead-ends for elimination or alternatives? A story or some other structure? Minimal or exhaustive support evidence? ...

If this is indeed not covered, consider this is a suggestion for a new piece within your communication curriculum.
sfew

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Reply with quote  #27 
Xan,

I understand what you're saying and agree that a course that covers these aspects of communicating analytical findings would be extremely useful. Perhaps I can address this in the future. There's so much to do and so little time. Help!!!

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Stephen Few
jannepyykko

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Reply with quote  #28 
While these various skills of thinking differ from the issues covered in your for-the-time-being books and courses, a different starting point came into my mind.

Have you read Plato's dialogues? In them, Socrates talks with other citizens of Athens, asks questions, makes them squirm and eventually confess their original opinion is not valid. (Another similar starting point is the practice of Zen buddhist Koans.)

Anyway, after reading your article, I envisioned a book of discussions where a (stubborn) pupil talks with a master, who stage by stage teaches new skills of thinking (through numerous fallacies). Just my two cents...

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-- Mr. Janne Pyykkö, Espoo, Finland, Europe
danz

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Reply with quote  #29 

Stephen,

From your article: 

Quote:
Essentially, I try to help people think and communicate more effectively. The data visualization concepts, principles and practices that I teach cannot be fully understood or applied by people who have not already built a foundation for analytical thinking.

Are they any criteria you have already in mind to quantify the quality of foundation for analytical thinking and to measure the ability of communicating analytical findings?

After some authors rational and emotional intelligence are complementary components, while others consider that a good level of emotional intelligence is a good premise for quality rational thinking. It is also considered that emotional intelligence is a key component of effective communication. In my opinion, a good understanding and control of emotions can be only beneficial for rational thinking. Daniel Goleman - Emotional Intelligence is the book I recommend.

Dan

sfew

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Reply with quote  #30 
Dan,

I consider most of the attributes of thinking that Goleman associates with emotional intelligence--empathy, etc.--as elements of ethical thinking. Do you believe that emotional intelligence and ethical thinking differ enough to be treated separately?

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Stephen Few
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