I was looking for information on how much energy my different appliances use, on average, and came across a great bar graph. Unfortunately I can’t find it again. It showed a huge bar for heating that was about as large as all the other appliances put together. Obviously the graph was for a typical home where you have serious winters. I already knew that heating and cooling were the major culprits in energy use, but seeing it on the graph gave it context and perspective that I will always remember.
The other night on Bill Maher’s show he held up a pie chart showing the percentage of U.S. corporations now controlled by the government. It was a tiny slice, more of a line than a wedge. Bill’s point is that we’re not on the verge of becoming socialists. That was an interesting graphic and very powerful for his argument.
I’d love to see a newspaper or web site that is nothing but graphs putting the issues of the day in context. For ever major issue, there’s generally one chart that captures the essence of the argument. I think charts would help put everyone on the same page whereas the continuous blah, blah, blah of talking heads makes you want to take sides.
Charts get a bad name. Everyone made fun of Ross Perot for whipping out charts to make his points, but that had more to do with Ross Perot than the charts. And people like to mock USA Today for their funny little graphs that oversimplify relatively unimportant topics. But I think there is room for serious charts on the important topics. And those charts should be republished often, even if they don’t often change, so we don’t lose sight of the context for daily events.
One of the most basic rules of management is that you need data on how you’re doing now, and where you’re heading. Everyone needs to be on the same page and trying to create the same change. What if the collective energy use for your block, or you small town, was on a chart comparing you to the energy use of the blocks or towns around you? I think it would automatically make you feel competitive about reducing your waste. It’s human nature. Charts change behavior.
I’d like to see a “dashboard” display for how the entire country is doing. It would be one page with the graphs showing elements of our economy, crime rates, health coverage, energy use, SAT scores, and anything else we deemed important. I think it would help to get everyone on the same page.
Obviously there is a risk of oversimplification, so every chart needs to be backed up with text and with other charts that add more context. And in the market for news you would have plenty of room for competing charts that shine a different light on topics.