"Start with the visual. That forms the question." It was these eight words in a tweet by John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design, that prompted me to watch a 12-minute TedX video. "Math Curriculum Makeover" features high school math teacher Dan Meyer. As an educator, Meyer is struggling to overcome a number of student issues such as lack of initiative, lack of perseverance, lack of (knowledge) retention, aversion to word problems, and eagerness for formulas. In this video, filmed on March 6, 2010, Meyer described how he is turning high school math education on its head as he teaches kids math reasoning and patient problem-solving skills.
What does high school math education have to do with BI software? A whole lot, actually. Consider this quote from Meyer's presentation, "What problem have you solved-ever-that was worth solving, where you knew all of the given information in advance? Or you didn't have a surplus of information and you had to filter it out? Or you didn't have insufficient information and had to go find some? I'm sure we all agree that no problem worth solving is like that." Problem-solving is about research, pattern-matching, and filtering out the unimportant. And isn't that what BI software is supposed to help us do?
In his presentation, Meyer made a few recommendations to educators that I think apply to BI project stakeholders:
- "Use multimedia." In BI terms, I'd translate this to: "Deliver interactivity and data visualization." Enable users to engage with the software, to explore and "go off-road" with their data. Enable them to visualize the data-not just with fancy charts and graphics, but in a way that leads them to see relationships in the data and quickly glean insight from it. (See this related blog post and video, "As Easy as Your Favorite Consumer App.")
- "Let students build the problem." The BI corollary is that providing business users with pre-canned reports (the equivalent of old-fashioned math word problems, in this video) does not encourage people to think about things in new ways. Instead, put tools in the hands of decision-makers to encourage them to think in fresh ways-to ask and answer not just the first question that comes to mind, but also the second question, and then the third question. Give them tools to investigate not only the "why" questions, but also the "why not" questions.
In his presentation, Meyer uses a great quote attributed to Albert Einstein: "The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill." I think this quote applies directly to people at work trying to improve processes, make optimal decisions, or identify opportunities. And it strikes me that QlikView, a BI software product, plays the same role in the workplace that educator Dan Meyer plays in the high school math classroom. QlikView helps people find their own answers-and even more importantly, to ask their own questions. QlikView enables the user's thoughts to flow from one idea or question to the next, uncovering insights along the way. Check out this two-minute video showing the insight QlikView can deliver in just five clicks. For more detail on how QlikView makes this happen, see the white paper, "The Associative Experience: QlikView's Overwhelming Advantage."