Effort Matters

My friends and family love to tell stories about my failed attempts at baking. Ha, ha, they’re hilarious — actually, they are, but I have to pretend to be at least a tad offended by their glee at describing my baked goods as a “train wreck.” Ah yes, a healthy dose of humility is good for the soul.

Given my status as a certified baking failure, you might be surprised to learn that I am a diehard fan of the hit Netflix show, “The Great British Baking Show.” I watch this show with the fervor of a cat locked in a catnip factory — I’m hooked.

The hosts are charming, the contestants relatable, but in a nod to the Brit’s turn of a phrase, it is the format that I find to be “bloody brilliant.”This is because it’s designed to reflect what research reveals about what it takes to achieve fluency and mastery of anything — from baking to data visualization.

In Angela Duckworth’s 2016 book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, the central question she explores is “what is it that makes someone fluent, an expert or a master at something?”

As Duckworth explains, “The thing that was revelatory to me was not that effort matters — everybody knows that effort matters. What was revelatory to me was how much it matters.” She summarizes the characteristic and activities that are associated with a willingness and ability to stick with something and invest the effort to become a master expert as follows:

  • Interest. Individuals who become experts or masters at something have an abiding interest and passion for it. They are interested in and committed to the pursuit of learning and knowing more about it.
  • Deliberate Practice. This concept is based on research by K. Anders Ericsson, who found that experts do an intensive kind of practice called “deliberate practice.” Deliberative practices home in on weaknesses and self-assessment; it focuses on tasks beyond a person’s current comfort and competence level.
  • Sense of Purpose. People at the top of their fields also describe their work as meaningful and having purpose. They are driven by helping others and doing or creating something beneficial to others.
  • Hope. People who have achieved fluency and mastery also have hope. They’re optimistic about the future and their ability to improve and affect change. They also believe that intelligence isn’t fixed but can grow and change over time.

The creators of the Great British Baking Show understand that it isn’t perfectly baked goods that have earned it millions of fans. It’s that viewers relate to and cheer for the contestants who have kind of bad, bad, and really bad bakes, but push on and display the traits required to become fluent masters, eventually creating at least one “bloody brilliant” bake.

This exact same dynamic makes me hang in, cheer on, seek out, and love working with any organization that is committed to creating beautiful and useful data visualizations of health and healthcare data.

These organizations identify team members with a real interest in data visualization, and they provide them with the training and resources to learn and develop their skills and the coaching required to do deliberate practice. They assign them to meaningful projects that can make a real difference in improving health and healthcare, and they know that their intelligence isn’t fixed but will grow over time — as a result, their visualizations will only get better over time.

So, here is my challenge. If you’re an organizational leader, have you found ways to identify the people on your team who are genuinely interested in and passionate about data visualizations? Are you committed to providing them with the training, support, and coaching they will need to become fluent and a master at creating beautiful and useful visualizations of health and healthcare data?

My sincere hope is that you are, because now more than ever, we need understandable and valuable displays of health and healthcare data!

Our new book “Visualizing Health and Healthcare Data — creating clear and compelling displays to see how you’re doing” and virtual (and in-person again soon, we all hope!) workshops are designed to help you do these things — I hope you’ll check them out.

As for me, my wish list is a cookbook titled “Baking for the Hopeless” and many more episodes of the Great British Baking Show!

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