Elon Musk’s 12 Principles. Rocket building or data visualization?

I’ve just finished a post about 3D and animation in Power BI. Then I watched a short interview with Elon Musk and here I’m with a new post.

“Question your question” is the final sentence of the post about 3D and animation. This and other Elon Musk’s principles “to knock out your creative projects” I want to explain in this post.

Elon Musk’s principles are applicable to your work even you’re visualizing data instead of building a rocket.

Speed up the process. Use a basic line and bar charts instead of playing with advanced custom visuals. Substitute the ‘best’ with the ‘fastest’. Show the result to the end users. Make sure the metrics you’re trying to visualize are useful for them.

Embrace failure. If the report doesn’t work like expected then just accept this fact and build a new report with greater wisdom. If the end users don’t like the report and don’t want to use it, it’s not necessary a failure. You just have learned that one approach doesn’t work. Iterate and rebuild.

Iterate, even when you think you have finished. The report is complete, published into Power BI service, included into an App, shared with the end users. It’s not complete. Receive some feedback. Improve.

Think using first principles. What the end users really need from the report? What is the central message you’re trying to convey with your work? It’s not about cool charts, nice colors or complicated functionality. They first principles of data visualization are about understanding. Can you explain data in simpler or better way? Maybe the world (your business) already changed and the data are not relevant anymore.

Let go of things that are not working. Verify report usage metrics, talk with the end users. If some reports do not work, don’t try to prove they can. If it’s not working, it’s time to try something else.

The right question is often more important than the answer. Can we visualize this metric using a 3D chart? There is a correct answer (yes or no), but it won’t be useful because it’s a wrong question. Question your question. Find the right question. How this metric will help us? What type of chart will explain the metric in the simplest way? Is there a better metric? Do we have a relevant data?

Remove complexity. Before adding any extra element to your data visualization ask yourself a question. Do I really need it? How this color will help to understand the data? Will 3D add any useful information to this chart? Will all these charts will be useful or will we lose the main story behind the side stories?

Question limitations. Question any limitations. Try another chart type. Use a workaround (e.g. some DAX) to highlight what is important if built in formatting options do not allow you to highlight it. Question what another department told you about the data.

Persist. Do what you believe in. Do not allow any failures to ruin you. Fix the problems. Thing go wrong. And there is no a single source of truth in data visualization. Data visualization is full of pitfalls. Find your own way to survive. Have your own principles. Adjust them if you believe they are wrong.

Believe in yourself and take a risk. Try new things. Take a risk. Learn different approaches and try them. You can find what will work for you. Don’t be one of many thousand people who “know how to open Power BI and drag and drop a measure”. Be one of the best who knows how to use the data to improve business process and to launch rockets.

Find synergies. Think about all your past experience (even if it’s not about data visualization). Think what you can use from your past experience to enhance your data visualizations. Read inspiring books, talk with interesting people.

Find your greatest passion and shoot for the stars. Don’t do this work just to make money. Do what you like and shoot for the starts even if your passion is not rocket building.

P.S. I have to add one more principle to the list – a moral principle. Don’t visualize data for a serial killer. And if you have reached stars, stay human. Don’t talk with “honor” with the world #1 terrorist, murderer, war criminal and the greatest enemy of your country just because you have become the richest person in the world and imagined yourself as an Emperor of Mars and asteroid belt.

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