It is a chilly morning. I stand in the middle of the kitchen and look at my lovely daughter after our regular morning battle to get her ready for school. Apart from all rage that she carries right now inside, she is like a delicate flower torn by the wind. I ask myself where is the point to force her to get up so early and expose her to all these frustrations that will come for sure today when she tries to remember all useless knowledge. The Polish education system sucks.
My daughter, as the next generation of humans, will face many new challenges in the near future. Climate crises, energy crises, increasing inequality, overpopulation, the collapse of democratic rules … just to name a few. The current education system does not prepare our children for any of the challenges of the 21st century.
Experts agree that for our kids to be able to adapt to the new environment and face what the future will bring, they must master four basic human skills. They are called 4C’s for the 21st century: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity. And what is more! According to the experts’, 4C’s are the cornerstone skills learners of all ages need to be successful in life.
What the hell, do these 4C’s have in common with data storytelling?! You would ask. Well, I got an idea for this post asking myself how can I support my daughter in developing 4C’s. Then I asked myself if I was using 4C’s and how beneficial it would be.
4C’s for Future, 4C’s for Today
If you’re wondering where the future starts, the simple answer is today. It doesn’t matter how old are you and what challenges you face in your daily life; these four skills definitely help you achieve more in less time.
Critical Thinking – foremostly
In the past century, people have struggled with collecting and obtaining data for their studies. We are now reaching the point where anyone with access to the web has access to a large amount of data and can do their own analysis. Data democratization, like everything else, has two sides of a coin. Unfortunately, the dark side of the common usage of data is to mislead people and create fake insights.
I love the TV series “Ancient Aliens” but the level at which they treat and interpret scientific facts is very innovative – gently speaking. For me, it is a piece of good entertainment, but we can imagine how that trivial approach to science and what is worse mass-broadcasting this approach, can implicate damage in some people understanding of ancient history without questioning that “revealed truth”.
Critical thinking has its roots in curiosity. Before you judge or draw a conclusion based on information, you should dig deeper to make sure that your conclusion is not skewed by shallow analysis or dubious data. Similarly, to “Ancient Aliens” you can create the most breath-taking story about your discoveries, but where is a meaningful value from this fairy tale?
Critical thinking is a habit of questioning others and yourself and the good news is that everyone can learn it. To develop this habit:
1.Ask the right questions and validate your own logic.
“There are no stupid questions!”. I hope that you’ve heard that many times. If you haven’t – change organization! Asking questions is the simplest and the best way to verify your or others reasoning. Use the below questions to warm up your critical thinking:
“Where data came from? Do I trust data sources?”
“What is data quality? Are there any missing entries?”
“Does the data sample is big enough? Does it present only a small part of the bigger picture?”
“Do all factors are included in the analysis?”
“What business questions does this analysis cover?”
“Do I not overcomplicate things?”
2. Deal with your (or others) biases. Remember we too often look for evidence that supports our prior beliefs.
All of us have some kind of the burden of biases. It strongly affects how our brain interprets information and draws conclusions. Studies show that we have a natural tendency for ensuring that we already believe. That tendency can be very harmful to the recommendations which we provide. To understand better how our biases play tricks on us read the book “Mindware. Tools for smart thinking” Richard E. Nisbett.
3. Take time to evaluate the topic from different sides and seek diversity.
Most of the time we are in rush and that hurt our reasoning and the quality of work we deliver. So, hold your horses and invest time in finding out other people opinions. One question about “What causes revenue decline” can have multiple answers depending on the point of view. These points of view can be very valuable and let you create a story with a wider spectrum.
The self-made man is a myth. No one is one hundred percent accountable for his/her success or failure. We are the result of many factors like genetics heritage, family relations, culture constraints, environmental influences, and life experiences. All together constantly have a huge impact on how we perceive ourselves and make sense of what surrounds us.
Have you read a biography of Bill Gates? Bill Gates maybe wouldn’t be so successful in his field without a few coincidences like exposure to the computers in the earlies ’70s as a teenager (what kid had that opportunity!) and mother who served in IBM board and helped in securing his first big deal with IBM. Of course, he used those opportunities very well, but would he have been the same Bill Gates without those chances?
We as humans operate in tribes. Without other members, we wouldn’t survive. If you want to be successful in your life collaborate with other people and leverage their skills and knowledge, especially because domain specialization is so deep that it is hard to be a Leonardo da Vinci in the 21st century.
Some people find it easier to collaborate with others, others find it harder. And again, self-discipline and practice can help you develop habits:
1. Invite subject matter experts to discuss and review your data, analysis outcomes, recommendations. They can bring a new fresh outlook to the table and create together with you more valuable insights.
2. Ask other analysts how they would approach the analysis of particular datasets. Maybe they did something similar in the past and you can save plenty of time.
3. Gather as much information as possible from stakeholders to focus on what matters for them instead of waist time on general questions and findings.
No other animal has developed communication skills like humans. We wouldn’t be able to conquest the whole planet without that one unique skill. Due to that skill, we can build strong relationships inside our tribe and with other tribes, convey abstract ideas and pass on incredible stories about faraway lands.
Good communication starts with a good strategy. How many times have you failed to convince others even though you have done an excellent analysis and prepared actionable recommendations? Your message didn’t get through because it wasn’t appealing to them. Consider the below points and tailor your message to be more impactful with your audience:
- Ask yourself what are the main pain points for your audience?
- Are they data literal and how advanced?
- Are they subject matter experts or do they need more introduction?
- What can they expect from you? Raw analysis with insights or clear guidelines and scenarios with recommendations?
I’m not a fan of getting too creative in the visual representation of data. Data visualization is already an abstract form and making it more complicated by adding non-intuitive graphic shapes does not make it better.
However, using creativity to look at a problem from a new perspective and consider new possibilities is a direction every data storyteller should take. Most of the time we stay within our standard thoughts or typical suspects. This leads us in the long run to
However, using creativity to look at a problem from a new perspective and consider new possibilities is a direction every data storyteller should take. Most of the time we stay within our standard thoughts or typical suspects. This leads us in the long run to intellectual castration, which has several serious consequences, such as missed opportunities for the organization, unrecognized in time threats, and a retreat in development.
Creativity is again a skill that can be acquired and mastered. Experts recommend the following exercises to strengthen it:
1. Learn from others and surround with inspiration
The more you collaborate with others, read a lot, and learn new things, the more creative you are. You need to have enough information gathered to connect the dots and then new ideas start appearing.
2. Enjoy what you do
Doing things with passion produces unexpected outcomes. You need to be truly dedicated to your work to be able to find new solutions or patterns. If you do not like what you do, you are not involved and interested, do not expect from yourself outstanding performance. Maybe it is high time to change profession?
3. Find time to do nothing
Give your brain a break. My best ideas show up mostly when I do something different like taking shower, doing exercises, drawing, or reading. When you feel overwhelmed, simply switch your activity, and focus on something else. Your brain anyway still processing that idea in the background and doing the magic.
Stanford study has shown that walking improves creativity. So, when you have a problem, simply take a dog for a walk. Many CEOs already have introduced walking meetings within their organizations to increase people ability to think out of the box.
One of my co-workers taught me a great technique. It is a simple question to ask, “What would have to happen to achieve XYZ”. That simple technique removes any barriers from our brains and shifts from concentrating on constraints, what we naturally do, to focusing on possibilities.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. http://www.p21.org/