Analytics Reading

Naked Statistics – A book review

Scary Statistics recently recommended the book Naked Statistics: Stripping Dread from the Data. Since I already knew the author Charles Wheelan from his awesome book Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (Fully Revised and Updated) I went ahead and bought this one for my Kindle. Great decision – it is one of those books that is fun to read while also adding (hopefully) long-lasting value. To make it short: Business Analytics professionals should read Naked Statistics. We work with data on a daily basis and there is an increasing emphasis on Predictive Analytics. Professionals therefore have a growing need for a decent working knowledge of statistics.

All Greek?

Many people have a hard time with statistics. College and university courses usually throw around a wild mix of scary looking formulas containing lot’s of Greek symbols. It certainly took me a while to make sense of my professor’s scribble. As a result, lot’s of people develop a fear of of this subject. Naked Statistics, however, demonstrates that it is possible to teach a seemingly complex topic in a simple manner. Charles Wheelan provides a journey through some of the most important statistical concepts and he makes it fun and easy to understand.

The content

Naked Statistics covers a broad range of the most fundamental statistical concepts such as median, standard deviation, probability, correlation, regression analysis, central limit theorem and hypothesis testing. Each concept is explained in simple terms. The author also uses a mix of fictitious stories (some of them are funny) and real-life examples to show how things work and why they are relevant. Math is kept to a bare minimum – you will only find a few formulas in the main text. Reading is easy and fun. I was surprised to find that I devoured many chapters late at night in bed (I don’t usually read business books that late).

The normal distribution – no need to be afraid

Naked Statistics

Naked Statistics is a great read. It provides you with a sound working knowledge of statistics and it actually motivates you to dig deeper (I pulled out one of old text books). For those people who know statistics, this book can help you brush up on some concepts. Analytics professionals might also want to recommend this read to colleagues who start working with predictive analytics and other advanced tools. Students should buy a copy before they attend statistics classes – they will certainly be able to grasp the more advanced subjects more easily. I wish I had had this book back at university. It would have saved me some sleepless nights. Two thumbs up – Charles Wheelan does strip the dread from the data.


Book recommendation: How will you measure your life

Book Recommendation

Some of you might have noticed that the posting frequency on this blog has decreased a bit. I have been traveling more than ever before. This past Saturday, I returned from a 15 day business trip to San Francisco. As tough as traveling sometimes is, it does provide you with some quiet time for reading. And that’s exactly what I did on those 13 hour flights. Right before I left, had posted a number of fantastic new business books in their monthly 3.99 Kindle promotion section. There are a bunch of really good books this month. One stood out.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

“How will you measure your life” is a relatively new book by famous innovation expert Clayton Christensen. It is based on a speech he gave to the 2010 graduating class of Harvard Business School. This is not another business book. Instead, Christensen provides powerful and provocative ideas for finding meaning and happiness in our life. Sounds like a self-help book? Not at all. Christensen blends personal stories with deep business research. The combination of business ideas and personal life is what makes this book such an enjoyable and valuable read. Christensen looks at some of the more well-known theories such as Herzberg or the discovery-driven planning approach. He then applies those theories to our own personal life and derives some very interesting ideas and thoughts. As a business professional, I really enjoyed this combination and it left me thinking about my own career and personal life. The book is structured in three sections:

  1. Finding happiness in your career
  2. Finding happiness in your relationships
  3. Staying out of Jail

The book roped me in and I ended up reading it in an entire session. Anyone interested in business will most likely enjoy this read. Two thumbs up! The book is currently available for just USD 3.99 (Kindle version). Make sure to grab your copy before the offer expires.

Looking forward

Look out for some hopefully exciting posts in the next two weeks. I will be heading back to San Francisco next week to attend OSIsoft’s vCampus Live event. This technical conference focuses on developing powerful analytics applications with the OSIsoft PI server. I am especially excited about the opening day keynote: Stephen Few will be speaking. You will see some notes and photos on this blog soon.

vCampus Life
Copyright – Christoph Papenfuss

David Parmenter’s reading list – Listen to the King of KPIs

David Parmenter

Greetings from Shanghai. For the past seven days, I have had the pleasure of working with the thought-leader, book author and consultant David Parmenter. He is also known as the King of KPIs based on his best-selling book Key Performance Indicators (KPI): Developing, Implementing, and Using Winning KPIs. David and I have been traveling through Asia to speak at various IBM Finance Forums and to meet with great customers. Most Asian IBM Finance Forums feature David Parmenter as the external keynote speaker this year. As part of his presentation called ‘The CFO as Chief Performance Officer’, David urges the audience to spend more time reading and studying the great business thinkers and writers. He goes further in his presentations and presents the audience with a few specific recommendations. I thought it might be worth sharing these.

David’s Recommended Reading List

(Click on the images to see more details)

Why these books?

The Definitive Drucker: Challenges For Tomorrow’s Executives — Final Advice From the Father of Modern Management: “Peter Drucker is the Leonardo da Vinci of management. His thinking is way ahead of its time. I predict that his ideas will become a standard within the next 20 years. This book is a great summary.”

Winning: “Jack Welch is often regarded as one of the greatest managers. This book provides some profound wisdom that every manager should be aware of.”

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t: “The classic book to find out what it takes to be a great organization. The insights are also relevant for personal success.”

In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies (Collins Business Essentials): “This book remains a timeless classic.”

The Future of Management: “Seeing into the future. He stirs ups the general thinking about management.”

In the next few days I will publish an interview with David Parmenter. You can also find further book recommendations on this blog.

Reading Visualization

Visualize This! A book review

Visualize this!

Visualization of data is one of the hottest topics these days. No matter where I go, people are taking a huge interest in it. Infographics are floating the Internet, for example. Companies are looking to refine their dashboards with better visuals. This was also apparent at the Gartner BI Summit earlier this week.

Despite the tremendous attention, there are only a few good books about this topic in the market. One of them is Nathan Yau’s title Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics. This week, I was able to finally read it all the way through. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes and no.

visualize this

Great concepts

Yau does a fine job with engaging the reader in the first part of the book. He explains a number of important fundamentals of visualization. This includes a process that he suggests people should follow:

  1. Get your data
  2. Ask a question (what do you want to know about it?)
  3. Choose your visualization tools
  4. Explore the data (look for trends, patterns, differences, etc.)
  5. Tell the story and design the visual

There is a lot of relevant information for business analytics professionals in this section. I particularly like that Yau urges his readers to clearly figure out what story they want to tell by visualizing data. This is often forgotten in the design of a dashboard (e.g. do I use a line-chart to show the trend, or do I use a bar chart to show the variances?)

“Approach visualization as if you were telling a story. What kind of story are you trying to tell? Is it a report, or is it a novel? Do you want to convince people that action is necessary?” Nathan Yau

The other chapters

The remaining chapters of the book contain valuable content as well. The author covers topics such as handling data and picking tools for building charts. Several chapters are dedicated towards describing how to best visualize certain problems (e.g. patterns, proportions, spatial relationships, etc.). Each section provides plenty of examples and some good ideas. I enjoyed working through this. But I do have to say that the content isn’t nearly as deep as let’s say Stephen Few’s material.

A good book for BI professionals?

So far so good. There is just one thing that you should know: Many chapters are also full of technical instructions that teach you how to build graphs and charts in the open source package R along with Adobe Illustrator. There is a lot of code in the book. Technical folks might enjoy this. But it is not my cup of tea and most BI professionals will hopefully build their charts using the corporate BI platform. To be honest, I went ahead and skipped those pages.

Visualize this!

Nathan Yau’s book Visualize this! is definitely a good book. I learned a few things here and there and took ample notes. It is also entertaining.  However, one has to understand that this is not necessarily a book dedicated towards BI professionals. Rather, this is a book for people who are looking to build infographics and other standalone visualizations. Nevertheless, you can tell that Nathan Yau is passionate about it and he inspired me to hone my skills. If you are looking for a deeper and more business oriented read, I would rather recommend the books by Stephen Few and Edward Tufte.


Why the Kindle Touch is better than a book

Kindle Touch Review

Reading business books is one of my favorite activities. You can probably imagine how delighted I was when I received a brand new Kindle Touch as a present. This is the third Kindle I have owned since the first generation. And let me tell you – the Kindle Touch is awesome! Amazon managed to make a great product even better. It is so nice that I ended up leaving my beloved iPad at home during our last vacation. I have read over five books on the Kindle Touch in the past three weeks.

Analytics Reading Social

Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness – A review


A few days ago I bought and downloaded the ubiquitous eBook Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness: The Science, Design, and Engineering of Contagious Ideas. There is a lot of stuff about social media out there but I find that many materials are fuzzy and hype-oriented. Dan Zarrella’s book is definitely different and I think that Business Analytics professionals like you will enjoy the book.


Social media have changed the way we market to our customers. But reaching the right people is not all that easy as you have probably experienced. The basic idea of Zarrella’s book is to look at why certain ideas are contagious and what you can do to make sure that your message is heard in the various social media channels. Zarrella introduces a useful model (Zarrella’s Hierarchy) that helps explain how messages get spread through social media. It is a hierarchy of three criteria:

  1. Exposure: People need to be exposed to a piece of content.
  2. Attention: Once people are exposed, will they actually notice the message?
  3. Motivation: Once an idea has been noticed, will people share it with others?
Analytics Reading

An interesting insight from Daniel Goleman’s new ebook


Yesterday, I traveled from Munich to Ottawa. Perfect time to get some reading done. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of the famous book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ recently published a quick follow up on his ubiquitous book. It is called The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights and you can buy it on on for your Kindle.


There is an interesting chapter in the book. Goleman talks about the role of self-awareness in decision making. Research found that you need excellent self-awareness to make good decisions. He describes the story of a highly intelligent lawyer who underwent surgery to get a tumor removed from his brain. Unfortunately, the part of his brain that helps with self-awareness got damaged. Despite an excellent recovery, the person ended up not being able to make any decisions anymore. His intelligence was still intact. Even small decisions like: “When should I meet with my Dr” were big hurdles for the poor guy. Goleman writes: “….in order to make a good decision, we need to have feelings about our thoughts.” Data and information alone therefore do not necessarily guarantee good decisions. The human factor is still there.

Goleman describes a study of highly successful entrepreneurs. They were asked how they make decisions. Goleman found that there is a common theme:

“First, they were voracious consumers of any data or information that might bear on their decision, casting a wide net.  But second, they all tested their rational decision against their gut feeling – if a deal didn’t feel right they might not go ahead, even if it looked good on paper.”


Indeed, Business Analytics play an important part in decision making. The technology and processes deliver the raw materials for these ‘voracious consumers of data’. As a matter of fact, one could argue that business analytics enable people to become ‘voracious information consumers‘. Without the data and information, it becomes difficult to make good decisions.

While this sounds so obvious, it is important to keep in mind when it comes to building a business case, for example. Maybe you can use this small insight for your next meeting. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a similar story: Creativity and Innovation. Analytics are indeed an important enabler.


Before I forget, Daniel Goleman’s book is a great read. Lot’s of interesting insights and plenty of remarkable studies. I highly recommend it!



Daily news


Today marks the traditional Thanksgiving celebrations in the USA. It is one of, if not the biggest national holiday in the country. It is a day where families get together to celebrate, to laugh, to cry and to be thankful for the great things in their lives. Having lived in the US for over a decade, I do miss this particular holiday. There are two things I really like about Thanksgiving:

  • It is so easy to get stuck in the whirlwind of bad news and stress these days. Thanksgiving stops people and encourages them to think about the positive things in their lives, which makes them happier and better human beings.
  • Thanksgiving is being celebrated by almost the entire US population regardless of their race or religion. It is a day that unites.


What am I thankful for today? Many things! Most importantly, I am very thankful for my awesome family and friends. They are the most important thing in my life, but there is also my job. It is a job that allows me to work with so many inspiring customers and colleagues. And it is also a job that inspired me to write this blog. Thanks to all of you for reading these posts and for providing so much great feedback and encouragement.

But it’s time to shut down my iPad now. Time to head back home from Moscow after a week of inspiring rolling forecast workshops with our local customers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

From Russia with Thanks - The Kremlin wall

Lessons from Steve Jobs

Some of you have probably read my review of Steve Jobs’ biography. I really like the book. It is a fantastic read. In the last post, I also promised to distill a few lessons. Well, here they are. A few interesting quotes. Quick and simple.

“Let’s make it simple. Really simple.”, Steve Jobs

People shy aways from using complex and complicated things. Think about Apple’s products – they are simple and easy to use. We do not need a manual to use the iPad, iPhone or iPod. We should all make an effort to simplify our business analytics objects whether they are reports, cubes or planning models. Complexity deters. Simplicity attracts. But achieving simplicity is not all that easy. Keep that in mind. We have to fight for it. We have to be creative to obtain it. But it’s worth the effort.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”, Steve Jobs

We sometimes feel like juggling everything that is being thrown at us. We accept new requirements without really wondering whether they make sense. But we sometimes have to say “no”. Once again, let’s keep it simple and focus on the big picture. There is no point in trying to satisfy every single business user and process exception.

“Jobs also decided to eliminate the cursor arrow keys on the Macintosh keyboard. The only way to move the cursor was to use the mouse. It was a way of forcing old-fashioned users to adapt to point-and click navigation, even if they didn’t want to.”, Walter Isaacscon

Simplicity and focus should create objects that business users like to use. But we should not try to create too many exceptions and complexities to cater to those people who are skeptical. They will never change. Let’s focus on the essential stuff and people will follow ….. eventually.

Apple - Think Different

“I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it’s inside the box. A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.”

Jobs pushed his teams to design beautiful products – even under the hood. We should strive to do the same. It pays off. Solid architecture and data models pay off a hundred times. It’s not just about the presentation layer. Poor design will eventually show.

“People who know what they are talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”, Steve Jobs

We spend way too much time creating PowerPoint presentations. Let’s drop that and invest the time in understanding our business and the associated problems and opportunities. Jobs is right – if you know your stuff, you can white board, you can discuss without the helping hand of a PowerPoint deck.

Last but not least, one of Steve Jobs’ favorite ideas came from Wayne Gretzky:

“Skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.” Wayne Gretzky

Let’s try to figure out how we can push the envelope. Let’s not just focus on the requirements of the users. Instead, let’s figure out how we can surprise them. When is the last time you have surprised them?

It all sounds so simple…right?



Review – Steve Jobs Biography

Yesterday morning, I finished reading to 600 page Steve Jobs Biography written by Walter Isaacson. To sum up the experience – it’s a great read. At least for people who are interested in business, technology and creativity.

Steve Jobs Biography


One the key strengths of the biography is the outstanding story telling by the author. This book is not only about Steve Jobs. No, there are fascinating anecdotes of the early Silicon Valley days that show how closely connected some of the pioneers were. Jobs and Wozniak, for example, reaped some of their first successes at Atari and they were heavily influenced by HP. The book therefore takes you on a fun journey through the history of modern technology. While reading the biography, I often found myself pulling up old photos of game consoles, PCs, Macs, iPods and other products. The relationship between Apple and Microsoft is also an important topic. And then there is Pixar of course: many people do not realize that Steve Jobs managed to bring Pixar to where it is today. Without Jobs there would probably not be movies like ‘Finding Nemo’ or ‘Toy Story’.


Steve Jobs was definitely a genius. The products he managed to bring to market are amazing for sure. And they have changed the world forever. But being a genius didn’t necessarily make him a nice person. The book is filled with tons of examples that show what a complex and difficult personality Jobs was. He must have been extremely rude and disrespectful. Reading some of the stories of him destroying and attacking co-workers, competitors, friends and family are outright disgusting. There were a few chapters where I just had to put the book down and walk away. Also, the stories about his extremely weird eating and personal hygiene habits are ….well…..interesting(he was a strict vegan and didn’t believe in taking showers). Overall, you get the picture of an extremely talented but yet extremely nasty person.


The biography is also motivating and educational. Jobs will be remembered as one of the most outstanding management characters. The book offers many insights into his philosophy. It certainly got me thinking about many different things and I would argue that this book could become a standard read in business schools. I will collect a few learnings and share them in a different post next week.


If you are interested in business and technology, get the Steve Jobs book. It is a true page-turner. There are chapters that are annoying (I got frustrated reading about Job’s weird behaviors). But it is truly inspiring and informative. A perfect read for the upcoming holiday season.

“My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits were the motivation.” Steve Jobs

P.S.: If you are indeed interested in Steve Jobs, I can highly recommend the writing of Carmine Gallo. He has published two books about Steve Jobs’ key strengths: creativity and presentation skills. Both books are quick reads and they offer insightful tips and tricks that everybody can use in business.