I sometimes get asked to explain what QlikTech means when it talks about association.  Here’s how I explain it…

 

Too often we are compelled to adapt the way we think to the way software tools work.

 

This is the case with many business intelligence products, which optimise their performance by forcing us down linear drill down paths. But our brains don’t work in that way.  Our brains work by association.

 

For example, if we lose our car keys we don’t work through a pre-set drill down path. We don’t think to ourselves, “Hmm.  Let’s see, I was on planet Earth, in Europe, in the UK, in Hampshire, in Portsmouth, in Southsea, on Nelson road, at number 7 and in the kitchen.  Are my keys in there?  No, they’re not!”   After failing we’d then have to start all over again down another pre-set path.  If our brains were like most BI tools we’d probably have to wait for our consciousness to establish a new drill path!

 

In truth, what we do naturally, is think “What was I doing before I lost my keys? I remember; I was making a sandwich in the kitchen to eat while watching TV on the sofa.  A-ha! There are my keys down the back of the cushion!”  We find or make insights by associating non-linear data points.   (At the same time you might find the remote control you lost or if you’re really lucky some loose change, which you didn’t expect).  Providential discoveries rarely (if ever) occur through over structured thought processes.

 

We are used to being able to search freely for data quickly across billions of items on the web.  Many users of traditional BI wonder why their BI isn’t as simple as this.  Why do we have to change the way we discover things in everyday life just to suit a set of rules set down by a BI architecture detached from our  working reality?

 

To give a real life example of this I was trying to book a flight for my family this year somewhere warm and dry  (I live in the UK!) but on a budget. I went to the website of a well-known airline and selected my dates and destinations and then followed the path defined by the website. By the time I got to the 10th step and added all the taxes and baggage costs it worked out to be too expensive.  Wouldn’t it be a much more pleasurable experience if I could enter my budget and dates and automatically get shown the destinations that were available for me? Or a country and budget and see what dates were associated and available with those selections?

 

Life shouldn’t be that difficult.  We should all be able to just follow the associations.