• Simon Beaumont

When a Zen comes to town


In previous blog posts I have shared my belief that, within a Centre of Excellence built on a foundation of creativity and innovation, team development doesn’t have to mean technical training.


Last month I was fortunate enough to experience this first hand when I invited Tableau Zen Master, Neil Richards, to deliver a data visualisation workshop to my team of analysts. The session came about after Neil tweeted his aspirations for 2018 and one of his aspirations was to venture into delivering workshops; I chanced my arm and contacted Neil to see if he would like to use my team as a guinea pig for his new venture and I was delighted when he accepted.


When exploring ideas for the workshop I gave Neil a simple brief; I wanted the day to take my analysts out of their comfort zone, to explore different methods of approaching data visualisations and to try and maximise their creativity. For me, the workshop, wasn’t about a tangible return on investment but rather an opportunity for one of the most well-respected members of the Tableau community to inspire my team, to allow them to learn from his vast experience and to gain an insight behind some of his most popular Tableau Public visualisations of recent times (if you haven’t already checked out Neil’s Tableau Public profile, I implore you to do so and you will understand where I am coming from).


Neil took my brief and boy did he run with it (or if his recent Parkrun tweets are anything to go by, ran a bit, jogged a bit, walked a bit). His vision was to expand upon his outstanding presentation from the EMEA Tableau Fringe Festival earlier in the year; ‘Design driven data’, a concept of creating data art from a design-first perspective.


The actual workshop went exceptionally well; discussions flowed with ease thanks to Neil’s informative and thought-provoking content. It was so rewarding seeing the moment of realisation on the face of some of my analysts when they went from ‘so why are we here if we aren’t going to learn Tableau today’ to ‘ah! It isn’t all about Tableau, it is equally about how I approach a data visualisation and then how Tableau can be applied to maximise the effectiveness of the approach’.


Neil cleverly mixed open, reflective, discussions, with presentations and interactive hands on tasks;


Team Storytelling With Data viz challenge

Ahead of the workshop all of the team were asked to complete that month’s Storytelling With Data Challenge and then to present their visualisation to the team during the workshop. The resulting team discussion was really empowering and helped recognise the individual contributions of everyone in the team. Neil’s insight into design-driven data and creative thinking really encouraged the team to explain the concepts behind their approach as opposed to how they had created it or what it was showing.


Design-driven data presentation

When using Tableau in the workplace your creativity can easily be stifled by constantly using a certain style of visualisation or complying with corporate style guidance. I wanted the team to be open to new approaches of data visualisation and different ways of thinking; this is the reason why Neil’s presentation on design-driven data was so enlightening for the team. Neil talked through the thought process behind a number of his most successful visualisations. Whilst I am not suggesting our team dashboards would ever represent an album cover I was really encouraged by how Neil’s presentation re-awoke the inner artist amongst a number of the team; you could literally see ideas forming in their mind as Neil spoke.


Hands on exercise; putting data driven design into practice

The afternoon consisted of putting Neil’s presentation into practice and asking the team to explore their own potential visualisations from a design driven perspective. For many of the team this was the first time they had ever approached a visualisation in this way and it was amazing to see the creativity flow within the room. Indeed, for me personally, this was the first time in many months that I had taken the time to sketch out an idea I had for a visualisation prior to actually opening Tableau, needless to say it was sports related!


To sum up the day, you could say, as a team, we went from ‘intrigue to insight’; thank you Neil for a very enjoyable and extremely professional and well-run workshop.


Finally, a message to all of our Zens; yes you are experts in your field, yes you know Tableau to an exceptionally high standard, but all of that would be nothing without your willingness to help and support the community. Whilst not everyone may be fortunate enough to have a Zen close enough to visit and deliver a workshop in person; everyone can and does benefit from your advice and guidance. Thank you.

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Vizionary was first created in 2018