Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.
Fishing RodTeach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.


Here is a good example of give-a-fish versus teach-to-fish: if you search for “excel dashboard” you’ll get at the top of the search results my own Excel dashboard tutorial and Charley Kyd’s Excel dashboard reports. These are two completely different approaches on how to help people making dashboards in Excel. While Charley’s gives you a nice fish, mine teaches you to fish. Which is better? Judging from that old saying, teaching people is always the right choice, but old sayings are often wrong. The right answer? It depends. (I already wrote about Kyd’s Excel dashboard reports.)

Example #2: imagine for a moment that you can buy some kind of dashboard-making device. How should it be designed? Dan Saffer is a designer and he writes about the difficulty of finding the right balance when adding controls to a device

[link no longer available]:

“(…) by reducing controls (and thus reducing complexity for the user), you also reduce, well, control over the device. Users can do far less with it, and have little to no options for customization. Again, sometimes this is desirable. But sometimes, it is a disaster. Reducing complexity means reducing control, and some users, particularly those whose skill goes beyond that of amateur/beginner, don’t just want control, they need it to perform their tasks effectively. Thus, it becomes a balancing act, with simplicity and automation on one side, and complexity and control on the other.”

Again, you may want the fish (simplicity and automation) or the fishing rod (complexity and control). Actually, you want neither: you just want to get things done using the tools that best match your current or future skills (if you are willing to learn).

It’s tempting to pursue many interests at the same time, spreading yourself too thin. More often than not, that’s not the wisest thing to do. However, you can extend yourself by buying the fish (delegating, outsourcing, automating or finding the right templates). And the more specialized we become, the larger the fish market.

On the other hand, you must be good at something, right? For example, if you want to have a deeper understanding of how data visualization works, how it can help you and your business and how this can be applied to Excel charts and dashboards, you must learn. The more you know, the easier is for you to recognize or to create new connections between things and ideas. Outsourcing everything is not the answer.

What Are the Core Skills for the Data Visualization Worker?

This post sets the stage for a series on core skills for the data visualization worker, but it’s not easy to come up with a good answer. That’s why I’m asking you: what do you know / should know? What kind of skills should be promoted or de-emphasized/delegated? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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