Room #14 Is Not a Magical Place

I have just returned from a week of complete seduction and surrender in La Ville-Lumière-Paris. Ah, Paris: flowing wine, warm and crusty bread, jaw-dropping architecture, subtle yet sophisticated fashions, beguiling language, mind-blowing history. It truly is what Hemingway called it:

“[W]herever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

My friend Diane and I even stayed at the Hôtel d’Angleterre, called the Hôtel Jacob when Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley spent their first Parisian night there, in room 14. It’s but a five-minute walk from the Seine, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the booksellers that Hemingway frequented. My friend actually stayed in that very room, and boy, did I bargain hard to get her to trade places with me. After all, Hemingway’s literary genius is due completely to the magic of room 14, right?

Hemingway's Room #14 at Hotel d'Angleterre Saint Germain des Prés, Paris
Hemingway’s Room #14 at Hotel d’Angleterre Saint Germain des Prés, Paris

My friend and I had a great laugh, because we both knew that down deep I secretly wished and hoped that it would come true: that I’d enter room 14 and emerge a few days later with a year’s worth of newsletters, white papers, and fabulous, awe-inspiring books. My fantasy, fueled by copious amounts of French wine, was soon unmasked, and followed by an all-encompassing Les Misérables sobriety that even Victor Hugo couldn’t have conjured up. Total bummer.

In my heart, I knew the truth: room 14 was simply room 14, no more or less. Hemingway had to do the hard, grinding work to master his craft himself; and so do I, and so do you. Just as room 14 and MS Word have no power to transform me into a prolific, awe-inspiring author, no single person, place, or piece of software can transform your team members into data-visualization experts, or your healthcare data and information into compelling reports and dashboards.

Rather, shaping data into something that will make opportunities for improvement crystal clear and move people to act requires three core sets of skills and resources. Let’s take a look at them, and think a bit about why they’re essential:


  1. Organizational Vision, Leadership, and Commitment. These qualities seem self-evident, right? But when it comes to creating meaningful, useable reports and dashboards and the interfaces to access them, the healthcare industry has a long, long, (long) way to go. We need to build awareness that beautiful, usable designs and data visualizations are not just Parisian-style frivolities, extraneous things meant for some other, “artsy” profession. First and foremost, we need leaders who
  • understand and embrace the growing body of solid (and ongoing) research into the critical role that design plays in making all aspects of our lives better.
  • understand and promote the best practices of data visualization.
  • make design integral to the structure of their organizations.
  1. Expertise in Healthcare, Technology, Design and Data Visualization. It takes frontline healthcare expertise to be able to ask the right questions when faced with the expanding oceans of data being captured. Without those well-chosen, thoughtful questions, the odds of reporting the right data in a meaningful way are about on par with picking winning lottery numbers using your birthday, grandma’s wedding anniversary, and the last date you got a raise: slim to none.

    Technology, design, and data visualization expertise are also required. I hear you groaning, and I feel your pain-deeply. Finding all of this expertise (healthcare, design, and technology) in one person is, quite literally, impossible.

    The solution: make a commitment and establish a plan to

  • get the experts on healthcare, data, technology, and design into the same room, and teach them how to communicate well with each other.
  • give them real, protected time to explore ideas and to simply THINK.
  • invest in the outside talent, knowledge, and experience acquisitions required for the expertise you need.
  • establish an ongoing training and mentoring program, and fund it adequately.
  1. State-of-the-Art Fast, Flexible Technologies. The emergence of new technologies focused on making data exploration and reporting nearly everyone’s game is nothing short of phenomenal. Organizations serious about transforming themselves using the power of data understand the promise of these new technologies to transform their reporting through
  • drag-and-drop technology and increasingly intuitive, easy to use interfaces;
  • beautiful graphics and displays; and
  • greater functionality to create interactive reports and dashboards, which encourage greater end-user engagement and exploration.

On this last point, I am a firm believer in giving teams the very best technology possible for the creation of beautiful visualizations: it’s time to move on from Excel and Crystal reports. But do not drink the “technology-as- complete-solution” Kool-Aid: just as room 14 and MS Word will not magically make me a fabulous author, technology alone will not result in clear, compelling reports and dashboards. Anyone who trusts it to do so is a victim of magical thinking.

The transformation of data into something that will make opportunities obvious and action for change inevitable requires the three crucial elements I have outlined here.

Yes, okay: if all that fails? Well, a trip to Paris will fix (almost) anything.

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