Back in the 1990s, I once was stuck on a plane out of Dallas with an extraordinarily memorable stranger. In the years since, I have usually referred to him, derisively, as “The Man’s Man,” in that he was the Hollywood stereotype of a brash, bullying salesman. Middle-aged, rumpled, sweaty, and several score pounds past his high-school-football-playing weight. He reminded me of the characters in the old recurring Saturday Night Live sketches about Bill Brasky.
He collapsed into the aisle seat next to me (stuck in the middle in a row of four), immediately ordered two Bloody Marys, and then began exchanging “pleasantries” with the off-duty pilot in the seat across the aisle from him (“I haven’t slept in 72 hours!” "I'm on the road six days out of seven and I f*cking love it!").
When that conversation petered out, I knew I was about to have an unpleasant experience. He seemed the sort of man, and a man in the sort of condition, to be completely unable to stay silent or forego meaningless interpersonal interchange for a single second. I could tell he was turning my way, completely disregarding my obvious “I’m an introvert, don’t talk to me” signals of aggressively wearing headphones, closing my eyes, and pretending not to notice him. His attention was shifting, and it was attention I desperately wanted to avoid...but that I would receive nonetheless.
"Hey," he said at me.
I tried to maintain the ruse that I was sleeping, or lost in thought, or really into my music...take your pick.
"Hey," he said again, louder.
MY EYES ARE CLOSED. MY HEADPHONES ARE ON. SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE SIGNS.
"Hey. HEY." He elbowed my arm.
Ughhhhhhh. Apparently there would be no defense for this.
Sadly, I pulled down my headphones. "Huh?"
"Hey." He leaned in. "How about THAT one," he said loudly into the left side of my face, gesturing at the back of one of the flight attendants as she walked up the aisle.
"Hmm. Yeah," I said uncomfortably.
"Pretty nice, huh?" he breathed warmly.
"Mmm hmm," I replied. When no immediate followup came, I tried slowly resetting my headphones on my ears. (There was no music playing, BTW.) I closed my eyes and tried to shift my body away from him a millimeter at a time, like a street performer who appears to be standing still but is actually imperceptibly rotating once per hour.
It wasn't working. I could feel eyes on me. Watery, sleep-deprived, predatory eyes.
I pulled down my headphones again and half-turned towards The Man’s Man.
Conspiratorially, and with a certain amount of confusion, he stage-whispered, "Do you...do you like girls?"
Well this is inappropriate, I thought to myself. But 23-year-old me was thoroughly intimidated by this older, domineering, much larger man, next to whom I was destined to be strapped for the next several hours. So meekly I answered, "Uh, yeah."
"OK," he said, shifting back into his seat. He waited a beat and then growled, "I wouldn’t have liked it too much if you didn’t."
Now, with this, I think we’ve established that The Man’s Man was actually not worthy of a fun nickname, but instead should be thought of as “yet another misogynist asshole, of a type commonly found in travels across America.” And as this particular breed of red pill jackass is wont to do, he chose to spend the remainder of the flight "enlightening" me with pearls of wisdom, hard won through his life experiences. Many of these I have sadly lost to the mists of time, save for this winner:
“Love your mother, and love money; everything else will take care of itself.”
It takes a special kind of person to start a sentence with “Love your mother” and yet be able to turn it into something repulsive by the time he hits the full stop. Even I knew he was full of shit, and I was a wisp of a nothing with next to no real-life experience. But this guy thought he had the wisdom of the ages to share, and he needed to make sure that a stranger on a plane, barely out of school and uneducated in the ways of the world, was properly equipped to succeed in life.
You know, like he had.
The Asshole’s Asshole may have been the first person to provide me with a (terrible) pearl of wisdom, but he wasn't the last. Several others followed, all of which were much more instructive and helpful, although from sources not nearly as memorable. (While they aren't the point of this post I'll happily list a few as a postscript.)
One that I wanted to talk about here is a thought that I found useful, both in helping me to critically assess the world around me and to be mindful of what I’m putting into that world.
It’s not complicated, nor is it especially distinctive. But it’s this simple truism:
“When people start a sentence with ‘Most people think,’ what they really mean is, ‘I think.’”
We humans have an unpleasant tendency to see everything from only our own perspective. And this tendency makes us assign our own worldview as the Default worldview. We all assume that we are rational, and intelligent, and come by our own opinions and viewpoints honestly and forthrightly...so of course, the way *we* think about things MUST be the way that *most* people think about things, because *most* people are rational just like me. OH, sure, there are people who disagree with us, but you know, there are idiots and crazy people out there, so we can’t all be in perfect agreement.
At some point we have to take a breath, mature past our selfish-child phases, and realize that we are not, in fact, the Default viewpoint for the entire world. We’re not as rational as we’d like to believe, nor are we as intelligent as we’d like to believe. We've come by our thoughts and opinions not just through reason, but as a result of our own unique experiences, genetics, and fortunes.
Meanwhile, everyone around us has agency as well, and everyone else has perspective on issues just as we do. These perspectives are genuine, and differ from ours for an unfathomable array of reasons. They may be the same as ours, or slightly different, or wildly different; they may be wrong, or right, as we may be.
One thing I know for sure: there’s no way on earth that we can definitively say that “most people think” anything without, you know, DATA.
Speaking of data, we are mostly “data people,” if secondary Tableau slogans are to be believed. Wouldn’t you think that we, disciples of the Church of Data, would be smarter about avoiding the “Most People Think” trap? And yet we fall into it just as easily as anyone would, as these examples from Twitter demonstrate.
Twitter is, of course, a frequently-used forum for our Tableau community to comment on the state of our public projects and on dataviz in general. Just in the past few weeks, I've seen these statements, or statements similar to these (since I'm paraphrasing and not attributing them to specific people), put forth.
Tableau contests should reflect participants’ skill in using Tableau only.
It should be "anything goes" when it comes to incorporating other tools, so that Tableau can see how users push the boundaries of the software and what features users might want.
The specific rules don’t matter because people enter just for the fun of it anyway.
The whole structure doesn't make sense, because the skills needed to win the feeder contest are nothing like the skills needed to win the actual finals.
Collaborations shouldn't be allowed because newbies and less-well-connected entrants don’t have equal access to Tableau superstars, who are already friends and often work together on projects; it makes the contest unfair for them.
Collaborations should be encouraged because they make the overall quality of the entries higher and strengthen the bonds of the Tableau community.
Regarding Makeover Monday:
Submissions have become too infographic-y. It’s intimidating to people who are good at building dashboards but aren’t necessarily artistic.
This used to be about practicing and speed, but it has turned into a competition for engagement on Twitter and for inclusion in the weekly wrap-ups.
All participants have their own unique personal goals so it doesn't matter what other people do. It’s fun to see what people come up with every week and to see your own development progress.
Regarding Public work in general:
Tableau Public vizzes aren’t for a customer, so as long as you represent the dataset fairly and reasonably, you shouldn’t feel like you have to be nitpicky about the specific collection techniques or provenance of the data.
You should cite your sources for images, icons, and other outside elements that you use in your visualizations, even though this is not a commercial product and it’s just for fun.
You're responsible for every element of a viz you publish, including the veracity of the data, the legality of your images, and the validity of the analysis. If any part of your work ends up being inaccurate, it's imperative that you not only make corrections, but do everything you can to remove the incorrect version from possible distribution.
Long-and-tall dashboards should be used sparingly; they don’t look good on most screens and it makes interactions hard to follow.
Consumers are increasingly using mobile to view content, so your work has to be designed first for mobile, and second for desktop; by necessity, that means making your work longer rather than wider.
Tableau is designed for building dashboards, and dashboards have interactivity; Tableau is not the right tool for making static infographics.
This isn't about what I personally believe, nor is it meant to start discussion on any or all of these topics. In truth, I agree with some of these but not all of them....as should everyone reading this, because some of these are completely contradictory.
But I'm sure that as you read through them, some will seem reasonable, and some seem unreasonable. As an experiment, ask yourself:
How many of these statements do you feel can be preceded by “Most People Think?”
And then, ask yourself:
How many of them can be preceded by “I Think?”
And finally, most importantly:
Are any of them one, but not the other?
The correct answer, by the way, is "Yes," because otherwise you're assuming that everything you think is automatically what the rest of the world thinks.
If this diagram accurately reflects your answers, then it’s time for some self-reflection.
Be mindful of the Most People Think pitfall.
When you hear someone else say it, translate it accordingly in your mind.
And when you hear yourself say it, that should be a red flag that your opinion might require some additional scrutiny and consideration.
We are a supportive and constructive community, the most of both that I’ve found. If any community can handle differences of opinion civilly and respectfully, it’s the Tableau community. But in having those differences, we need always to keep in mind that our opinions aren’t necessarily the majority’s, nor is the majority’s opinion necessarily right.
I know this wasn’t specifically viz-oriented, but it seemed like something worth saying and Twitter doesn’t offer quite the space to tell the whole story. If you read this far, I hope you found it to be worth your while. Most people think it was.
As promised, a few actually useful thoughts that have stuck with me over the years. (Sorry if they feel like Instagram nonsense, but they have genuinely made a difference to me; and believe me, in almost every case, I have no patience for that aforementioned Instagram nonsense.)
People tell you who they are, over and over again, regardless of who you want them to be. Believe them the first time.
Marriage isn't 50/50. It's 100/100.
Nothing is as ineffective as telling someone to calm down.
Nothing is as counterproductive as telling someone that what they think is stupid.
Almost everything is worth it, even if just for the story.
You can't help how you feel, but you can always help how you respond.
Equality feels like oppression if you've always been privileged.
Image of the Bill Brasky crew from NBC.com. I really tried to find a picture of a generically rumpled middle aged salesman, but couldn't come up with a better archetype. Feel free to click through and watch one of the many Brasky skits, as long as you don't mind the brand of crude misogyny that defines early-90s SNL writing.