Seven years ago, when I was told that I would be moving away from a traditional data tool toward a more modern visualization solution, I’ll admit that I had my doubts. This anxiety about the new and unknown is natural, of course. It’s your defense system coming into play. When you’re ingrained in a certain way of doing things, you may need a bit of a push. 

What opened my eyes to the rich possibilities of data visualization was my training and some online research. There was a literal tipping point when I realized that I could map out all of my company’s locations across the UK with the click of a button, something I never could have done with my traditional data toolset.

As goes the individual, so goes the organization. If you know the signs to look for, it’s easy to spot a thriving data culture versus the siloed environments where most departments do things their own way and rarely talk to each other about data. The question is, how do you begin to tip the balance in favor of the data culture you want, across potentially hundreds or thousands of individuals?

In my work as a data visualization consultant at a global consulting firm, and now an internal enablement consultant, I’ve found five strategies that start to move people’s hearts and minds toward embracing data culture.

  1. Use inspiration from everyday life. Data literacy can’t be presented as an esoteric process, because it’s the ability to read, understand, communicate, and create content with data, and that’s becoming a critical skill almost everywhere. As you begin to build a data culture, raise examples from daily life to show how relevant data has become. If you interact with a Fitbit or another brand of sports watch, you’ve already achieved a certain level of data literacy. If you’ve spent a few moments reading a chart showing COVID rates, you are interpreting data. Which leads directly to my second strategy.
  2. Encourage critical thinking about data. Thinking critically about data doesn’t mean you approach every chart or visualization as if it’s suspect. It’s more about taking a step back and asking questions before you take the data you see at face value. Is the data sourced correctly, and can you confirm that it’s credible? Is there any way it could be misinterpreted, and could there be negative consequences? If there’s an insight presented, could it be visualized in a slightly different way that better brings this theme to the forefront? Strong data cultures encourage this kind of inquiry, because people know their data may be used to drive important decisions.
  3. Establish platforms for idea sharing. If people are unaware of how other people in the organization are looking at data, you can hardly blame them for not collaborating. That’s why it’s essential to build platforms where they can speak to each other and share ideas. These vehicles could be relatively basic, like a group in Slack, Google Chat, Confluence or even user group meetings. The point is that you have a way to share your work, ask questions, and build each other’s skills through tutorials, blog posts, tips and tricks, or anecdotes about how you’ve tackled a challenge. Encouraging this kind of collaboration creates a momentum about learning that’s indicative of strong data cultures. 
  4. Capitalize on FOMO (The Fear of Missing Out). In strong data cultures, good news spreads quickly. If there’s excitement about a new way of doing things, people want to be a part of it. If a specific department is clearly getting a lot of benefit out of the way they use data, their colleagues will not want to miss out. In strong data cultures this also has a positive dynamic to it. Based on my experience it’s as much the fun of getting in on the action than missing out on it altogether.   
  5. Find champions within the business. Data-driven organizations needn’t and shouldn’t top out at the Center of Excellence level. To go beyond these borders, find colleagues with challenging business decisions and connect them to what you’re doing with analytics and visualization. These individuals will show a passion for data and analytics and will tend to make themselves known naturally. For every champion you create in the business who supports data-driven decisions and amplifies the work of the Center of Excellence, the dividends can be significant. Once again, you are creating positive momentum that fans out through the organization. 

Above all, it’s important to reduce groupthink and encourage fresh perspectives. In a thriving data culture, people meet other colleagues who are doing similar work and create connections across the business. For any data leader, that’s the most heartening sign that a culture has “tipped".