Friday, March 9, 2012

A Plea for Fellow Analysts to Simplify

I recently sat in on some research presentations spanning the U.S. and four hours later left scratching my head on many of them.  Now don’t get me wrong, there were some valuable insights, but a good portion of what I saw was overly sophisticated or an outright data dump.
Here’s my thinking.  If your audience will have trouble understanding your data charts and graphs without thorough explanation, you’re already in trouble.  Bubble charts are some of the biggest culprits of late.  Sure, as an analyst and with enough time, I can figure it out and maybe even surmise some insight, but what about managers, business owners, CEOs, sales reps, creative directors, or the general population?  If it’s not clear to these decision-makers then you’re not likely going to build confidence in your analysis and give them the tools they need to take action or drive change.
See Figure 1 for an example of one of these bubble charts.

It sure is pretty and must be extremely complicated, which means I must be highly intelligent, right?  Can you clearly identify which ads were more effective? The upper-right portion of quadrant, right? (See my Ad Effectiveness post to see why this is a misguided assumption: AEI Post)  Could you rank these ads in the order of effectiveness?  Alright, I hope you get my point.
Complicated does not equal intelligence.  If you disagree, I suggest you read Jack Trout’s The Power of Simplicity.  We can dazzle crowds with ornate and complicated charts all day long, but if they don’t give any actionable insight, we've just wasted a lot of people’s time or even worse, a lot of money.  Using the most valuable metric from Figure 1, I created Figure 2.  Can you tell me now which ads were more effective now?

I leave you with a number of quotes from Jack Trout’s book:
“Audiences do not want complicated and emotionally complex stories that remind them of their frustrations and powerlessness."  (Richard Reeves)
"Complexity is not to be admired.  It’s to be avoided."
"We sense that businesspeople feel that by using these pompous words they will look as smart, complicated, and significant as possible.  But all it really does is make them unintelligible."
"But just the other day, I heard a senior scholar seriously reject a younger colleague’s work because more than five people could understand what he’s doing.  Literally.  We cannot afford such arrogance."
"You must draw on language, logic and simple common sense to determine essential issues and establish a concrete course of action." (Abraham Lincoln)
"A simple summation:  The best revenge over critics is being correct."
"Insecure managers create complexity.  Frightened, nervous managers us thick, convoluted planning books and busy slides filled with everything they’ve known since childhood.  Real leaders don’t need clutter.  People must have self-confidence to be clear, precise, to be sure that every person in their organization – highest to lowest – understands what the business is trying to achieve.  But it’s not easy.  You can’t believe how hard it is for people to be simple, how much they fear being simple.  They worry that if they’re simple, people will think they’re simple-minded.  In reality, of course, it’s just the reverse.  Clear, tough-minded people are the most simple."  (Jack Welch)
…and as a visual example of the power of simplicity (Figure 3):

Why mystify when you can connect.