Business Is Personal – Let’s Stop Pretending It Isn’t

You’ve probably noticed that my approach to writing, both in general and especially when reviewing software, is not typical. I write in the first person, referring to myself as “I,” rather than as some unidentified voice or indirectly as “the author.” I want you to feel as if I’m speaking to you and I want to take full responsibility for everything that I say.

When I talk about products, even when reviewing them negatively, I refer to them and their makers by name. This includes individuals, such as Andrew Cardno of Bis2, the creator of this company’s new Super Graphics, which I reviewed in the edition of the Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter that was published today. I don’t do this to make it personal—it is personal, and I choose to acknowledge the fact. It’s too easy to hide behind indirect references, pretending that products are made by abstract entities called companies. Real people are behind the products. Real people are behind marketing campaigns. Real people are behind every decision that’s made in a company. I believe that if I know who these people are, I should acknowledge them, not only when speaking favorably but unfavorably as well. I believe that, however difficult and at times painful, this is an act of respect, much like looking a fellow directly in the eyes when talking to him.

Just as governments are improved by transparency, by holding politicians and other decision makers liable for their acts, the business intelligence industry likewise benefits when we put faces on the organizations and products that comprise it. We should take responsibility for our work and our decisions. When we screw up we shouldn’t hide behind obfuscations such as “mistakes were made.” When we disagree with one another, we should face one another directly and argue our positions. No matter what the cost, if we care about this industry, we should always state the truth as we know it, not what’s convenient or self-serving. When a company makes false claims, we shouldn’t excuse those claims as “marketing,” as if that somehow justifies deceit. Lies and products that don’t work are toxic. Given the sad track record of the business intelligence industry to deliver on its promise, it’s no wonder people are wary. Our industry will benefit from honesty, directness, a personal sense of responsibility, and, of course, from products, services, and opinions that are actually worthwhile. Not only worthwhile to ourselves but especially to those who rely on those products, services, and opinions. This is the “next generation BI” that I’d like to see—not new jargon to reanimate tired old ideas, but real solutions that help people make sense of information, present it clearly, and use it to make wise decisions.

Take care,

6 Comments on “Business Is Personal – Let’s Stop Pretending It Isn’t”

By Robert. June 16th, 2009 at 11:51 am

Amen! – I much prefer Stephen’s “personal” style of writing software reviews.

Too much 3rd-person and anonymity seem to produce software that “nobody” is accountable for (imho). And without accounability, the authors don’t seem to care whether the software (in particular, graphics) are “good”.

By Greg. June 24th, 2009 at 12:43 pm

The problem I have with naming names is too often we name names without having the entire picture or without realizing the unintended consequence. There are plenty of examples of this, such as the AIG execs who got government-approved bonuses and then had their names and addresses published and harrassed by those with an agenda while those same politicians played stupid and even fed the flames of the lynch mob harrasing them.

I feel that unless you are 100% sure you have the right people pulling the strings, you shouldn’t name the people. And if you aren’t involved in every meeting, seeing every email/memo, you can’t be 100% sure.

And I make no decision to buy/not buy a product because of any individual. People come and go. I won’t buy a car because the salesrep was great. I buy the car because the car is great. Likewise with software. You praising or torching an individual means nothing with me. It’s what the company’s beliefs are how the product works that matter. That is where the separating the people from the business comes into play.

By Stephen Few. June 24th, 2009 at 1:48 pm


I believe your position is untenable. You are suggesting that one should not identify an individual as the person responsible for a product without attending every meeting, reading every email, etc. If a person identifies himself or herself as the person who is responsible for the product, you can identify them as such without any concern about misappropriation.

I agree that as a potential buyer of software you don’t care to know the individuals who are responsible for it. If you are in my position, however, and it’s your job along with others to keep the industry honest and its products and services worthwhile, you will have greater success if you encourage people to take responsibility for their decisions by identifying them. It’s too easy to shirk responsibility and care insufficiently about the consequences of your decisions when you can remain anonymous by hiding within a corporate entity.

Let’s not forget that companies are abstract legal entities that are made up of people. It is artificial and misleading to separate the two. Someone must take responsibility for a company’s decisions. It’s appropriate to blame a bad product on a company, but it’s equally appropriate to blame it on the people at the company who are responsible for the product. Anyone who shares in the decision should share in the blame for a bad product or share in the praise for a good product.

When I critique a product, whether favorably or unfavorably, I take responsibility for my judgments. I don’t pretend that they were made by my company Perceptual Edge. I believe that everyone should take responsibility for their work; otherwise, things will never improve?

By Seth Grimes. June 26th, 2009 at 2:51 am

Steve, I pick up this topic in a blog article, “When Business Gets Too Personal,” at


By Stephen Few. June 26th, 2009 at 7:38 am

Thanks Seth. I appreciate your further thoughts on this topic and agree with them.


By John S.. June 29th, 2009 at 7:06 am

The adage “If you can’t stand teh heat, stay out of the kitchen” would seem to apply here in multiple ways – for the writers and the vendors.