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The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions by Phil Simon

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CHAPTER 1

The Ascent of the Visual Organization

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

—T. S. Eliot

Why are so many organizations starting to embrace data visualization? What are the trends driving this movement? In other words, why are organizations becoming more visual?

Let me be crystal clear: data visualization is by no means a recent advent. Cavemen drew primitive paintings as a means of communication. “We have been arranging data into tables (columns and rows) at least since the second century C.E. However, the idea of representing quantitative information graphically didn't arise until the seventeenth century.”* So writes Stephen Few in his paper “Data Visualization for Human Perception.”

In 1644, Dutch astronomer and cartographer Michael Florent van Langren created the first known graph of statistical data. Van Langren displayed a wide range of estimates of the distance in longitude between Toledo, Spain, and Rome, Italy. A century and a half later, Scottish engineer and political economist William Playfair invented staples like the line graph, bar chart, pie chart, and circle graph.

Van Langren, Playfair, and others discovered what we now take for granted: compared to looking at individual records in a spreadsheet or database table, it's easier to understand data and observe trends with simple graphs and charts. (The neurological reasons behind this are beyond the scope of this book. Suffice it to say here that the human brain can more quickly and easily ...

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