Data Storytelling: Insights Inform But Don’t Inspire Part 2 of 2

This blog is part 2 of the Insights Inform But Don’t Inspire blog. If you have not read part 1 of the blog, then I suggest you read it before you read this one.

You can read blog 1 here.

These learnings are from Brent Dykes’s article in Forbes

What can we learn from Semmelweis’ experience?

Semmelweis’ data met three key criteria – it was truthfulvaluable and actionable – but he ultimately failed to see his ideas adopted in his lifetime. The Hungarian physician stumbled in one essential area – the communication of his data. I’ve identified four oversights that may have prevented Semmelweis from communicating his ideas more effectively.

1. Timeliness and Clarity

Semmelweis took 14 years to officially publish his childbed fever findings in 1861 (The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever). Up until this time, his work was shared within the medical community by his colleagues and students. Unfortunately, these associates often misinterpreted and misrepresented Semmelweis’ claims, causing many obstetricians to dismiss, refute or ignore them.

 Key takeaway: If you possess insights that are critical to your business success, you have a duty to communicate them clearly and in a timely manner. Semmelweis waited too long and allowed others to inadvertently cloud his message.

2. Audience and the Curse of Knowledge

Semmelweis may have fallen victim to a common ailment that occurs in people who become enlightened by data—the curse of knowledge. He forgot what it was like to not know what he knew. Semmelweis couldn’t grasp why the medical community wouldn’t accept his simple handwashing advice. Rather than trying to foster understanding and build common ground with his audience, he grew impatient and threw insults at his critics — further alienating himself from the people he was trying to influence.

Key takeaway: Know your audience and strive to understand their existing attitudes and beliefs. Not everyone is going to accept your data, especially if it is disruptive to commonly held practices or beliefs. Instead, you may want to focus on identifying open-minded allies who can help you to build internal support and consensus for your ideas.

3. Narrative Evokes Emotion (Data Storytelling)
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