A World that Makes Sense

Sometimes in life the fates attack from all sides and leave us heaving for breath, overwhelmed. The last few months have been such a period for me. So much that’s been happening in my personal life has been nuts—the product of idiocy, incompetence, and at times pure meanness. A few days ago, in utter frustration I exclaimed, “I want to live in a world that makes sense.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful? To live in a world that works according to thoughtful and compassionate principles. Brainless bureaucracies would be a thing of the past. People who complicate our lives through incompetence or pettiness would suddenly grow up and give a damn. Systems that have developed to promote the interests of some to the detriment of others would be torn asunder. To the degree that natural inequities still exist, we could balance the playing field by identifying the causes and addressing them. The world wouldn’t be perfect, but we could address life’s problems thoughtfully and compassionately.

As I was thinking this, it occurred to me that this wish might be common among people who, like me, work to make sense of data. Perhaps we’re drawn to data sensemaking because we long for a sensible world, and this is our attempt to create a bit more order in the midst of chaos. I meet many fellow data sensemakers in my work and, based on the fine and dedicated people who attend my courses and read my books, I suspect that this correlation is real. If we pair this desire with the right skills and tools to make better sense of the world, we can use that knowledge to make the world a more sensible place. This dream is too precious to fritter away. The signals that live in our data are too precious to miss in the midst of deafening noise. Let’s focus our vision and double our effort. Let’s turn down the noise.

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9 Comments on “A World that Makes Sense”


By Scott Graham. April 14th, 2015 at 5:40 pm

” Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ” – Margaret Mead

By Kris Erickson. April 20th, 2015 at 1:21 pm

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Upton Sinclair

By Renilton Oliveira. April 26th, 2015 at 3:10 pm

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – Bernard Shaw

By Bruce Jeffreson. April 28th, 2015 at 12:30 am

It sounds like we should have a Data Visualization Manifesto – akin to the Agile Manifesto – that we can all sign up to.

“Simplicity from complexity, Order from chaos, Understanding from confusion”

By Cory Tak. May 1st, 2015 at 9:02 am

I also suspect that this correlation is real. Thank you for this inspirational post, Stephen.

By Ladi Omole. May 24th, 2015 at 12:00 am

The world is in ruin because of misunderstanding; if only the noise could be removed so the signal could shine. Transparency through data democratization and visualization can kick start healthy conversation towards better understanding. This effort has to be doubled to make the world better.

By Steve Bryant. June 16th, 2015 at 7:34 pm

The fact is, the world does make sense, it’s just not sensible. Our world is largely the product of evolution as a result of random mutation and selection. Unfortunately, this selection did most of its work on us many thousands of years ago according to the conditions that favored the selection of the population that we are currently suffering under. Sociopathic leaders, lazy co-workers, mean girlz, and well adjusted and cooperative data scientists are all parts of this population. Our socialization has kept many of the destructive outliers in check, but we must work hard to oppose those undesirable tendencies in ourselves and others to the best of our ability. Fight the noise.

By marshall murphy. July 9th, 2015 at 12:22 pm

If you lived in a world that made sense, you would be bored.

By Stephen Few. July 9th, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Marshall,

There’s nothing inherently boring about a world that makes sense. None of the wonder of life would be lost. I wouldn’t miss stupidity and other forms of senselessness in the least. They’re a distraction from and a hindrance to the things that really matter.

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