Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
The concept for Painting with Numbers was one of those ideas that just emerged slowly over time. During my nearly 20 years as chief financial officer of high-technology companies in Silicon Valley, I saw small changes in documents containing numbers make a huge difference in how well they were understood. This happened over and over. In the case of financial documents, poorly understood reports could lead to mass confusion or even mistakes costing millions of dollars. But the right presentation of that same information could make an audience think aha! and motivate outstanding performance.
I also couldn't help observing that the people generating these reports—extremely competent and intelligent people—often overlooked the nuances of these small changes and the effect they had on their audiences. When we reviewed the results afterward, though, they readily saw the connection. It became increasingly clear to me that presenting numerical information is a communication skill, and not some sort of black art practiced only by the “numbers guys.” I've stated that premise in hundreds of conversations since I began writing this book—with people ranging from accounting students and administrative assistants to CEOs and corporate directors—and the response has always been enthusiastic agreement. At the same time, though, very few of the people I spoke with had any sense of what that meant for how they ...