Is Tableau a Canvas for Innovation data14

The words could belong to Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso -- but they were coined by the CEO of Tableau, a fast growing software company. It trades on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol DATA.

Addressing a sold out audience at Tableau’s user conference being held in Seattle this week, CEO Christian Chabot proclaimed that the next wave of computing will be less about automating the routine and more about discovering and leveraging “the tremendous creative potential of our minds.”

Seeing is Believing

Chabot and his team are determined to help people see the world more clearly and imagine it more boldly through data. They’re doing so by creating software that frees data from Excel spreadsheets and rigid enterprise software programs and makes it digestible and delightful by transforming it into beautiful pictures.

“Data is the clay we use to mold our thoughts,” he told the data-loving, storytelling, picture-making crowd that came from all over the world and who work in industries as diverse as retail, healthcare and medical, business services, software and technology, telecom, insurance, investment services, manufacturing, energy and utilities, government … you name it.

They’re flocking to workshops led by the likes of Esmee Williams, vice president, consumer and brand strategy at The company has used Tableau to help transform its business from a startup to one of the world’s largest digital food brands.

And crowding presentations, like the one given by Charlie Crocker, business analytics program lead at Autodesk, who strives to bring data “out of the shadows” in order to make it easy to spot places where operational costs can be diminished.

Among the attendees there’s a manager from the department of Veterans Affairs who uses Tableau generated visuals to spot areas where his agency can solve a problem or make a difference “right now.” 

There’s also a consultant who teaches data analysts to become storytellers.

To these folks Chabot’s words feel like art and sounds like music.

A Challenge to Create

“People who work with data are emerging as some of the most important creative problem solvers of the modern organization,” says Chabot.

To that he later adds, “Analysts and artists are both on a mission to reveal something new -- to discover truth, to find meaning,”

In order to do so, Chabot charges the crowd to embrace four concepts:

1. Experimentation with Data

“Sketch,” says Chabot. Today’s data workers, business analysts and even end users can throw ideas onto a blank canvas (in this case the Tableau workbook) and prototype, he says. Everything that you do is completely reversible. Unlike the rigid BI tools of yesterday which were difficult and time consuming to use, Tableau is quick and easy. This isn’t just talk: we saw data transformed before our eyes.

Chabot says that the difference between using Tableau and the BI tools of yesteryear is as substantial as committing to pictures on film (and therefore being limited by the number of shots that can be taken) and taking them digitally with complete abandon because they can be deleted and there are no limits on the shots you can take.

2. Speed 

“Fast prototyping is essential to innovation,” says Chabot. Make use of rapid prototyping, or “fail fast” as the startups say. Tableau processes large data sets in a jiffy. Experiments took days or even weeks and months to conduct in the past, and it was expensive.

3. Expressiveness

Brilliant artists don’t paint by number, says Chabot. Why should you use rigid, restricting Enterprise BI tools and software? With Tableau you aren’t limited by templates or bar charts. The illustrations that data workers came up with using the tool surprised Tableau itself.

4. Control

It belongs to the people, not to you, says Chabot. “Jackson Pollock didn’t walk around telling other people to splatter it like this, or splatter it like that. Da Vinci did not do his best work by filling out a painting request form.”

Put these four concepts together and what do you get? The ability to work creatively in entirely new ways.

“Creativity in analytics means better answers," says Chabot. And data visualized make decisions easier to make.