"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 drew me to watch a 12-minute TedX video titled "Math Curriculum Makeover" featuring high school math teacher Dan Meyer. In this video, filmed on March 6, 2010, Meyer described the way he is turning high school math education on its head to teach kids math reasoning and patient problem-solving skills. He is struggling to overcome a number of student issues like lack of initiative, lack of perseverance, lack of (knowledge) retention, aversion to word problems, and eagerness for formula.
What does high school math education have to do with organizations using business intelligence software? A whole lot, it turns out. Think about this quote from the video, "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." That's life in the real world.
What strikes me is that QlikView-a software product-plays the same role in the workplace that educator Dan Meyer is playing in the high school classroom. In this video, Meyer made a few recommendations to educators that apply directly to organizations that are trying to derive business value from BI software:
- "Use multimedia." In the BI world, 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 related blog post here.)
- "Let students build the problem." He also recommends that educators ask the shortest question possible and "be less helpful." The BI corollary is: providing just 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. It doesn't encourage people to think for themselves. Put tools in the hands of decision-makers-including operational decision-makers-that encourage them to think for themselves, to ask and answer not just the first question but the second question and the third question. To investigate not only the "why" questions, but also the "why not" questions.
Meyer uses a great quote attributed to Albert Einstein in his presentation: "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. Check out this video and tell me you agree.