The wonderful world of Wordle!

 is a toy for generating “word clouds” … and what a fun toy it is!  I read about this in Nathan Yau’s excellent book — Visualize This.  For the past week, I’ve been playing with Wordle.  Could. Not. Stop.  Let me share this toy with you!  First — you need a good Wordle problem.

I see Wordle as a really, really fun way to do a frequency analysis of a block of text.  If “frequency analysis” is a new term for you, it’s a fancy way to say, “Count how many times this word appears.”

Here’s my problem: my career goal is, “To be useful.”  Am I?  I have recommendations from people on LinkedIn, but I want to know if they tell me anything about what I do that seems most useful to others.

So, I copied and pasted the text from LinkedIn into a simple text editor (Notepad) and did some very basic cleanup.  Then I pasted the text into the Create tab on the Wordle site.  This is what came out:

Good start.  But, there are still too many words to get anything useful.  Much as I like my name, I don’t need to see it that often.  There are other noisy words, as well.  Fortunately, Wordle lets you remove unnecessary words by simple right-clicking and removing them.  Here are the results.

Looking better.  Now, I’ll drop all but the top 10 words.

The Layout menu of the Wordle toy lets me play with the “Maximum words…”

Here we go.  From this, it looks like I am in my sweet spot when I can work with teams in the systems engineer role to understand critical complex systems and help create an excellent design.

That works for me.  Thanks, Wordle!

Note: obviously this is not a rigorous technique.  It would be easy to manipulate the results.

My point is that Wordle gives me a fun and visually appealing way to explore an otherwise-boring block of text.  Wordle lets me play with color, text, arrangement, and many other factors.

And it’s free!

Telling Stories with Data

My father-in-law loves to read biographies.  In my opinion, a biographer’s job is quite difficult.  Biographers must absorb a lifetime of data — facts, dates, names, etc.  They must get to know their subject — often without ever meeting the person.  Once they know their subject, the biographer seeks to retell the story of their subject’s life.  Great biographers do this brilliantly.  Their love and passion for their subjects captivates the reader.

In many ways, I think that a data scientist’s job is similar.  The data scientist absorb mountains of data, getting to know the dataset.  They need to know what is in the dataset.  They need to know how different elements within the dataset relate to and influence one another.  They need to know which are dependent and independent variables — which ones ARE change and which ones SHOW change?

Once the data scientist knows their subject, they seek to retell the story of the data in a way that is powerful and compelling.  Once they have grappled with what the data is, they need to help their audiences understand so what?  Why should they care about this data?  What does it mean for them?

In order to help a client navigate a particular opportunity and make a decision, we may build tools that help the client answer the question what if?  What if we choose one option instead of another?  What if we blend options together?  Ultimately, the purpose of these questions is to be able to answer the all-important question — now what?

Ultimately, an Opportunity Navigator seeks to transform lifetimes of experience into moments of truth.  Truth is the test of whether a biographer has done the job well or badly.  True stories that are truthfully told can have great impact.  There are stories in our data.  Let’s tell them truthfully.

Code of the Opportunity Navigator

Opportunity Navigators are like the storyteller in this picture.

They collect, arrange, and ignite the organization’s data.  This creates warmth and light … wisdom.  In light of that wisdom, they tell stories that help others understand “what”, “so what”, and “now what”.

The Code of the Opportunity Navigator (working draft):

As an Opportunity Navigator, I strive to be …

  • Data-Driven: In God we trust.  All others must bring data. (W. Edwards Deming)
  • Curious: I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious.  (Albert Einstein)
  • Visionary: Vision is the art of seeing the invisible. (Jonathan Swift)
  • Quantitative: If you cannot measure it, you cannot fix it. (DJ Patil)
  • Simple: Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. (Albert Einstein)
  • Transparent: Everyone should have access to as much data as is ethically possible.
  • Purposeful: Collect “what” in order to learn “so what” and to reveal “now what”.
  • a Storyteller: Tell stories that transform lifetimes of experience into moments of truth.
  • a Teacher: If I cannot teach it, I do not understand it.  I teach others to fish.
  • a Servant: Success is shared.  I am not here to be served, but to serve.

When we want to know if we’re winning or losing, it’s good to know who we are and what we are playing.  These thoughts help inform who I am, why I care, and what I’m seeking to do in life.

What helps you?

Over One Million Data Points


The other night, I fulfilled a personal dream.  Following the excellent instructions found on the Revolutions blog, I created this representation of 1.16 million data points!  This map shows unemployment data by county.  The data source is 2010 the census data.

How cool is that?  One screen showing over one million data points!

Guest Post: Sun Tzu – Father of Victometrics

Victometrics are measurable quantities that define victory or defeat in a competitive situation.

Sun Tzu captured some of the earliest recorded victometrics.  He wrote:

The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.  These are:

  1.  The Moral Law … causes the people to be in complete accord
  2. Heaven … night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons
  3. Earth … distances; danger and security; chance
  4. The Commander … wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage
  5. Method and discipline … the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure

These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.


Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:

  1. Which of the two sovereigns is in harmony with his subjects.
  2. Which of the two generals has most ability?
  3. With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
  4. On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
  5. Which army is stronger?
  6. On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
  7. In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought.

The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all!

It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

It’s nice to know I’m not alone in seeking to measure that which leads to victory.