I remember the moment it happened. I was in 7th grade, sitting in science class waiting for the arrival of the frog I was going to be dissecting. I smelled the formaldehyde just after the teacher started opening the jars and I thought about being thankful that I wasn’t the one trapped in that jar.
As I looked to my left, I saw my buddy Kevin Prendiville sitting at his desk, doodling away, making these fantastic caricatures and cartoons. He was unaffected by the smell, sitting there as he let the thoughts from deep in his brain drain onto the front of his notebook. I’d give anything to have a picture of what he created that day.
As I watched his magnificent creativity coming to life through his pen, I longed for a little of that talent. I wanted to be able to create something like he was doing at that time.
Instinctively I knew that I couldn’t do it, no matter how hard I tried. Just as I couldn’t run as fast as him, or lift the huge weights he could do on a “cracker only” diet as he once told me, he was born with a gift of artistic creativity that I would not be able to learn. He was also blessed with mathematics and a very high IQ. This guy is a modern-day renaissance man, and I wished I had some of his characteristics.
This was the first time I realized that I was born a struggling artist trapped in the mind and body of a scientist.
The Good News and the Bad News Story Via Jett
The other day my 5 year-old came up to me and dropped the following conversation on me as I stood looking for a shirt to wear (Figure 1). This is the story as told by my wife Toni:
The Good News Via Tableau
Well, for me Tableau represents both Good News and Bad News. The Good News is that I get to experience delightful sensory overload every single day thanks to the outstanding work of others. The Bad News will be discussed below.
I’ll give you a Good News example. Last night, I saw this picture (Figure 2) and my brain instantly lit up with Paul McCartney singing “Hey Jude”, just like I had experienced the night before as I sat with my headphones on listening to my favorite playlist. When it happened, I wondered: “How in the world did that picture just cause that to happen?”.
Tableau made that happen, coupled with beautiful creativity expressed by the author. For this, my brain reacted just as though I was listening to the Peter Frampton guitar riff in the opening of Do You Feel Like We Do.
Just as that riff causes the words to that song to instantly begin playing in my brain because the music sounds like the words, this picture caused Hey Jude to play in my brain thanks to the piano theme used by Pooja. This is a perfect example of the delightful sensory overload that I get to feel every day by working with Tableau. I didn’t even use the dashboard – all I saw was that picture! Wow. That is powerful stuff and that is the good news.
I could go on and on about other examples of work that people like George, Adam, Kelley, Robert, Philip, Jonni, Rody, Pooja, Brit, Allan, Anya, Noah, Chris, and so many others have created that have had the same effect on me. The Queen image from Rody I used as the featured picture for this article caused Bohemian Rhapsody to begin playing in my brain. I bet Freddie Mercury would have loved to see that dashboard.
Believe me when I say that the list of one-name Tableau superstars could go on and on, but the for the sake of brevity, I had to end it. You can explore those data artists for yourself by clicking those links to see what I am talking about, or just spend some time in Tableau public looking around. You will be amazed at what you find.
The funny thing, it isn’t all about music. It can be art, it can be animals, it can be people, maps, or it can be just about any topic that elicits these delightful neural responses.
The creative genius of these people is perfectly exhibited through a dashboard or a simple figure! For many years now I have been searching for the answers to understand how these dashboards can light me up like they do. Not only does this happen with experienced people, it can happen with the work of newbies, too.
The Bad News Via Tableau
For me, the bad news is that my brain is not really wired to create works of art. I’m wired to crunch numbers and create data sources. That is just the way it is. I’ve learned to accept that and to realize that how I use Tableau is far different than the way most people consider Tableau to be valuable.
Rather than spending a lot of time developing awesome dashboards, I spend time creating data sources, doing calculations, and visualizing intermediate results. Tableau is an integral part of that type of creative process.
When I’m building some complex web of data interconnectivity via Alteryx, I’m constantly firing shots of data into Tableau to see how my form of creativity is progressing. I’m like Steph Curry firing three-point data shots at Tableau all day long.
With Alteryx, I’m doing data QA, data blending, joining, restructuring, reformatting, and a multitude of other things. Without Tableau, that creative process would drag on for days, weeks or months longer. By combining the best of both tools, the tough jobs become so much easier.
For those reasons, I don’t have the luxury of refining beautiful works of art on my job. I also typically cannot show the things that I do create, due to proprietary reasons. Instead, I just hand off my final data creations to other people that have more skill than me and can complete the artistic dashboards.
In other words, I’m the mechanic that builds the data engine that drives the dashboards. That work lights my brain us just as much as the final dashboards, and for that reason, I love what I do, so this isn’t really such bad news after all.
Although I have a desire to be a cartoonist like Kevin or Philip, and I want to create dashboard masterpieces like Jonni does, I have come to understand that I’m a bystander in this game. I’m not going to pretend that I have those capabilities because I do not possess them.
I’m an observer at an art museum, silently watching the pieces being created, studying how they were done, and then hoping that maybe one day I’ll create one, too. If that never happens, I’ll be OK with it because I have long understood my role as a struggling artist trapped in the scientist body.
As part of this sensory experience, these articles I write suddenly emerge from my brain. They are created in what seems like and instant, and they are usually accompanied by a cartoon or two. Since I can’t draw those, I try to use words, music and imagery to express those missing parts of the story.
Maybe one day Philip will teach me to draw. Maybe one day Jonni will show me how to develop the vision and complete the work to create some of his magic. Until, that time comes, I’ll trudge along, studying these creations and getting a great dose of happiness as I see how people are using Tableau in ways that overload and stimulate my senses.
Tableau has expanded rapidly for a lot of reasons. The enthusiasm of the community is world-class and has been like a giant magnet sucking in a whole bunch of metallic and artistic talent. I often wonder why so many people have been joined together, to give their time away for free, to openly share in an experience like this. I think a large part of this success has to do with the creations people are making. I think these creations are a new art form.
Our brains are satisfied and satiated by Tableau dashboards. Our neural connections are stimulated and it feels good. There is no jealousy. There is no hostility. What emerges is interesting, thought-provoking, and tingles our senses in a way that music, art, science, medicine and other topics can do for us. I think that is a great aspect of this tool. It is simply amazing.
Update 12 Hours Later
The universe has a funny way of working. I promise you that what I am about to say is the truth and only can be verified by one guy. I’m going to ask him to send a comment to this article to vouch for the veracity of what I’m about to say.
There was absolutely no collaboration between me and Mike before I wrote this article. None. Not a single word, but what transpired after I published it perfectly verifies in so many ways why I wrote the article.
My day has been made already, by 7:30 am. My senses got shocked. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon, but it did when I encountered two things. First, Figure 3 showed up this morning with a time stamp of 1:18 am, long after I was asleep last night.
This came from one of my best friends in the Tableau community. I love this guy. We are built from the same model: Dedicated, scientific, programmer, lover of Tableau and Alteryx, family man, blah, blah, blah. Trust me when I tell you that Mike is a guy worth following because he is a tireless worker with a great personality and he is multi-talented.
So I suppose that I should not have been surprised when the shock came directly down from the heavens and it was delivered from my friend. What do I mean? Take a look at Figure 4. Need I say more?
In departing, I leave you with one of my favorite Glenn Fry songs. Although it isn’t one of his most popular hits and its true meaning is different than how I’m using it, there are parts of it that describe what is going on in the Tableau community. We are all a part of each other. That is very cool.