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Personal projects are often considered fun and creative challenges. Unfortunately, many people don’t feel this same enjoyment when completing normal, everyday work assignments. This is partly because we operate under a different set of rules in a business environment — rules that discourage us from being more creative.

Many Tableau professionals are quite aware of the creative limitations posed by traditional work environments. My goal is to challenge the usual ways that some organizations restrict Tableau’s creativity by building to fixed requirements. A subsequent blog post will explore the potential benefits of adopting a more flexible and creative approach to Tableau in the workplace. In my opinion, the danger here is supporting actions that reward rote efficiency at the expense of new insights and ideas.

Data discovery can be unpredictable, but it’s an essential step to the Tableau process.

data discovery process

Failing to Understand Tableau

When I talked with different Tableau professionals around the country, I heard numerous examples of Tableau not being utilized to its fullest potential. I suspect the main problem is due to organizations trying to maintain their traditional processes in order to sustain legacy reporting and analysis. This approach to data visualization negates the main advantages of Tableau — allowing analysts to fail fast and to engage in flexible data discovery.

You may say business projects are more restrictive for good reasons. A more targeted approach minimizes waste and focuses precious time on meeting key business needs. For example, one should expect limited design freedom when creating a dashboard for the accounting department because the requirements are well understood without the need for costly tangents.

But starting the analysis and design phase of a project with a closed mindset shuts the door on innovation and potential breakthroughs. If you aren’t willing to challenge your opinions today, then when will you be ready? Complacency breeds stagnation. In the ever-evolving global economy, a reliance on repetition isn’t a winning strategy.

The Risk of Playing It Safe

History is littered with businesses that were either unwilling or unable to adapt to their changing environments. Kodak, Blockbuster, RadioShack, Circuit City, Borders, Sears, K-Mart, Yahoo, BlackBerry, and Nokia perfectly exemplify the dangers of complacent attitudes. Analysts face similar dangers because reporting teams often fail to understand or communicate ongoing shifts within their own environments. Unresponsive reporting fails to warn stakeholders about new threats and prevents necessary adjustments to key metrics.

Tableau analysts are in the perfect position to keep up with our rapidly changing environment.  Unfortunately, most requirements are predetermined — developed through past experiences, personal biases, organizational politics, and untested beliefs. We are more likely to design a dashboard based on what we’ve done in the past or what we assume people would associate with an accounting department dashboard rather than apply a fresh perspective. It’s like being asked to give a canned PowerPoint presentation that has been presented 100 times before. What has already been shared lacks compelling or actionable insights.

Because complacent attitudes are infused into our work cultures, most employees avoid challenging key assumptions or opinions. From branding rules to defined metrics, your design choices and insights are already established to a significant degree. But it’s worth it to try to push the boundaries and be more pioneering with your designs.

Dare to Be Creative

Creative thinking is often uncomfortable because the process challenges preconceived notions and established political networks. Yet Tableau analysts with some latitude will have the opportunity to advance their work and ideas a little each day. To have one’s hands tied while using a tool as amazingly dynamic as Tableau is a tragedy. Workers shouldn’t have to take their best ideas home with them because they aren’t given creative freedom at the office. That’s a loss not only for talented employees, but for their employers as well.

The ways you can visualize data in Tableau are only limited to your imagination, so tinkering and investigating throughout the design process should be encouraged by leadership. Your team is cutting itself short by perpetuating old reporting norms without scrutiny and failing to test out new concepts. If your company is willing to invest in Tableau, then it should also be willing to invest in a data-driven and creative culture.

Your Stories

Have you challenged the status quo at work and built data visualizations in Tableau that defy office norms? Do you have advice on how to convince higher-ups to grant workers’ more creative freedom? If so, please share in the comments or tweet at me, @DavidAKrupp.