Why Tableau is the Great Equalizer

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Introduction

It has taken my 9 years of using, and 5 years of teaching Tableau to have gained the insights of what I am about to tell you. I had to pay my dues to be able to discover the main topic of this story. I’ll get right to the point in this article.

How I Uncovered This Undocumented Feature of Tableau

I have been given a special gift by my two most recent employers. They let me play and experiment on the job. I get to do something called “Teaching Tableau”. Sometimes I think I should have paid my employers for allowing me this privilege.

Although the three days I teach the course can kick my ass, the effort to do this work is so small compared to the satisfaction I receive on the final day of the course.

The students that I teach are all so smart and trainable. They are all professionals, many of whom are just beginning their careers. They have college degrees, some have experience, and they all have different backgrounds.

Some might be quantitative, while others might be artistic. Some might be prone to thinking about the big picture while others go right for the details. In other words, my students are populations that are full of all kinds of variation. It is this variation that Tableau can equalize within three days.

What Exactly Do I Mean By Equalize?

When each class begins, I know nothing about the students. When they begin the class, they are wide-eyed and full of anticipation. Some of them have never used Tableau. Some may not even have an idea of what Tableau does. However, by the end of day 1, I have a pretty good idea of what makes them tick. I can make a pretty good guess about their backgrounds and what they are good at doing.

In day 2, I continue my observations. As I put them through exercises that are designed to take them out of their comfort zones by looking at data they have never thought of investigating, I begin to uncover the truth about each one of them. I can see their passions, their biases, and their awakenings. All of these things unfold in moments of time, separated by funny Tableau stories, laughter and even sometimes embarrassing moments!

By the end of day three, I pretty much have them pegged. Although I still don’t know their first and last names, I know their faces. I know their energy. I can guess how they are going to attack the final project.

In one sense, I have become an observer of human nature when I teach Tableau. I have learned to turn off my own knowledge and experience so that I can think like they do. I have learned to look for the clues they send to me such as a timid hand-raise, a furled brow, or someone who is in deep contemplation. I have learned to react to them, to experience the fears and uncertainties they are feeling. I do this by teaching the course differently every time, with the hopes of doing the job better and better.

Why Tableau is the Great Equalizer

It is on the afternoon of day 3 when these students are able to make the magic happen. This occurs because on the morning of day 3, I give them access to a rich, diverse data set that took me (well, mostly Alteryx) about 250 hours to create. I tell them that I have not yet been able to explore this data across its entirety.

With this as a premise, they know that they are working in uncharted territory. I challenge them to tell me a story about this data. How they tell the story and what they decide to talk about is completely up to them. I give them some ideas of how to approach the data, but where they go with it is completely their choice.

This is the part of the story where Tableau equalizes the playing field. It doesn’t matter that I have variation in skills and experiences in this class. It doesn’t matter that most of these people have a grand total of three days of using Tableau. What emerges from this experience is nothing short of miraculous.

The miracles come in different forms and many times they come at me from the least expected students. Sometimes the quiet and shy student blast me out of my seat by dropping a dashboard on the screen that makes me emotional, or maybe even gives me chills.

Sometimes the mathematically gifted ones hit me with a concept that makes me say:

Now wait a minute, explain that to me again!.

The artistic ones, or the graphic designers give me works of art that belong in the Tableau hall of fame, hanging below the works of Kelly and Jewel. It is this group that can pack so much deep learning into one screen that I find myself sitting there asking: “How is this even possible?”.

As I sit there stunned, giving critiques and suggestions for improvement, the deeper reaches of my brain are saying to me:

Ken, you suck. You still can’t even do work this nice after all these years!  How is this possible? You didn’t even teach them how to do that!

During this time, I sit there wondering how they are able to teach me about how to use Tableau in new and creative ways. The worksheets, interactive dashboards, and stories they develop, as well as how they choose to interrogate the data, is truly inspiring.

Well, yesterday, the truth became clear to me. Tableau is the Great Equalizer. Tableau allows people of different abilities and backgrounds to compete on an even playing field. These people can all excel at something that is technically sophisticated but is easy to learn when it is taught with the right perspectives.

I have seen it time and time again. By giving the students the basics presented in a way that doesn’t encumber them with too many details, they can express their passion, ingenuity and creativity in the most visual ways. Is everything perfect in what they do? Of course not. However, the stories they tell are filled with passion and insight.  In other words, everyone can become a data artist with Tableau and it happens in 3 days.

Final Thoughts

This story is, in my opinion, one of the reasons that it is so easy for me to infuse the Tableau passion into my students and then sit back and watch it grow. This is why I feel like I should repay my employers for allowing me to do this. Few things I do give me this sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

I am tempted to write more about this insight because I have a lot more to say about how this happens. However, I do not want to burden the story. If anyone wants to know more, just drop me a line to give me the encouragement to finish this story by telling you how I have learned to make this happen. Thanks for reading.

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This was the scene as I sat down to write this story. Now the story is over and it’s time to learn a little more Tableau.

6 thoughts on “Why Tableau is the Great Equalizer

  1. Ken,

    I have followed your blog and path for many months, (going on years now), and wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. When we rolled out Tableau in our company I became one of the trainers, more by necessity than because of my training skills. I customized most of the data for each business unit so students could be working with relevant information. It was really interesting to see the light bulbs go off for each person, some a little brighter than others, but eventually everyone could see the benefit, not only for the business, but also for them individually. Although I don’t teach anymore I could definitely relate to your latest blog entry and truly believe in Tableau being an equalizer.

    • Hi Terry,

      You made my day with your insightful response. I am glad know that you have experienced a similar situation to those that I have had. I feel like we are brothers in this regard, and thanks for following my blog! I have no idea who the readers are of my blog, other than a few people that have told me that they have been reading my entries.

      There were many things I wanted to write in this article such as this concept:

      I firmly believe that our initial introduction to a new tool is very important to our long-term success with that tool. If the students are taught to appreciate the power of the tool while not being force-fed the entire universe of capabilities, they will be much happier, more likely to succeed, and will be willing to continue their learning with the tool. It took me a while (years) to realize that it is OK for me to not cover some topics during the first couple of days. I can introduce those to the students when the time is right for them to receive the information. This teaching can come, for example, when I am critiquing their work in day 3. It is also OK for me to not cover some topics at all. I give the students the reference materials to continue their studies on their own. Throttling back the teaching is an important concept that allows the student talents to take over.

      I see a strong parallel between teaching a live class on how to use Tableau compared to writing a blog. People will find blog articles when the time is right for them to do so. In teaching a live class, I have learned to give the students what they need, when they need it, and to avoid information overload. Tableau can be overwhelming if you let it be.

      Thanks!

      Ken

  2. Thanks Ken. I love to hear these stories about people and their excitement for learning new things. Personally, I am looking forward to you “inspiring” me with Tableau at some time in the future (????).

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