The very concept of what a book is has changed. (The same is true with music videos — check out Björk’s Biophelia — but that’s a topic for another day). What was a sheaf of paper pages glued and stitched together has evolved into an interactive, high-tech experience that combines images, text, animation, sound, video, touch, and more. (It’s all very “Harry Potter.”)

What hasn’t changed is the human desire to hear and tell stories . . . to be transported into other worlds of imagination and possibility. I recently watched the TED video, “Using tech to enable dreaming” by illustrator, storyteller, and iPad book creator Shilo Shiv Suleman. When Shuleman first experienced the iPad, she saw it as a storytelling device that could connect readers all around the world. In this video, she shows off her latest storybook creation, an interactive fantasy adventure called Khoya.

In Khoya, you (the reader? user? player? actor?) type in your name and become a character in the story. Using the iPad’s location services, the app knows where in the world you are. You tilt your iPad to let glowing fireflies out of a jar and they illuminate your way through the story. Maps guide you; they change and grow, revealing more detail as the story unfolds. At one point in the story, the screen fills with images of leaves and you are instructed to blow against the iPad’s microphone to push the leaves away. At another point you are asked to go outside and use the iPad’s camera to take pictures of items in the natural world (e.g., flowers and bark). These photos become part of your version of the book. You can upload your collection of photographs to a social network of other Khoya readers from around the world.

Imagine This

As I watched this video I thought about the extraordinary possibilities for data storytelling. A big part of decision making is persuading others to get on board. Sometimes hard data is enough to convince people; often it isn’t. Qualitative inputs are also important — other peoples’ opinions, questions, perspectives, and experiences. Very often, decisions have a strong emotional component. How much easier would it be to persuade others to support a decision, join a cause, or champion a needed change if you could tell compelling stories about the data?

The fantasy aspects of Khoya aside, imagine incorporating some of its storytelling power into your presentations at work. Imaging inviting your management team to an important decision-making meeting. You ask them to point their iPads to a server where they interact with a data storytelling app. A map guides them through a series of data visualizations. They can easily change the charts and “data pictures” on the fly to view the data in ways that make sense to them. 

At each transition in your presentation, you give them the code (“Tap twice on the image of the power plant”) to enable them to unlock the next “chapter” in your data story. With the app you are able to guide them through your discoveries and recommendations. They pass their iPads from one person to another as the conversation flows and they come up with insights. The managers in the meeting feel connected to the data and emotionally involved in the decision. You have won them over.