Dataviz Horror Story: Annabelle Rincon

We’ve all made embarrassing dataviz mistakes, whether we’re beginners or superstars. This series of Horror Stories aims to normalize “failure” as part of professional development. This story comes from Annabelle Rincon, who co-leads Data + Women Zurich and the Tableau Analytics User Group.

I usually have a lot of spooky hair-straightening stories in stock for rainy days, but I rarely share the ones that happened to me during my professional career. 

When I was leading the centre of enablement for a financial company in Switzerland, I organised numerous activities, such as community meetings, webinars, skill belt programs, and monthly workout initiatives where users had to redo a visualisation for which they only had a picture and a dataset. These activities allow users to grow their professional technical skills. But in order to grow their artistic skills, I also organised data visualisation competitions. And that is the story I want to share today with you.

In the first few months on the job, I decided to launch a data visualisation competition where our colleagues had to use the strategic data visualisation tool to build a dashboard including at least two out of the three new features coming up that month. To make it fun, I decided to use a Game of Thrones dataset. To be honest, I didn’t foresee that bankers could have so much fun using the Games of Thrones dataset. And when I think about it, it was a huge risk. At the end, even though some never watched a single episode prior to the dataviz competition, we had huge participation, and they gladly and proudly presented their work during our following meeting.

That was an unexpected success without too much effort from my side. So naturally I wanted to do it again. 

The following year, I came up with a bigger concept. I wanted to do a collaboration with a big nonprofit organisation in order to do an internal “Viz For Social Good” campaign. I contacted the charity, signed an NDA, provided anonymized data, and clear guidance about what the outcome should look like. But no one wanted to participate, arguing that they were very busy and didn’t have time. I extended the deadline, but we didn’t receive any submissions. I started to literally freak out. It was my responsibility and I didn’t want to disappoint my counterparts at the charity. I couldn’t figure out why my colleagues didn’t want to participate. So I asked why—several times to get to the bottom of it—as you will do with stakeholders to understand their needs. 

And what I learned astonished me. They didn’t want to participate because they were afraid of making a mistake. “What if the dashboard was wrong and the charity ends up making the wrong decision?” “Game of Thrones was fun, but this one is risky in terms of reputation.” I didn’t realise that this challenge was much more risky for them than making a funny GoT viz. They were not threatened by having a Game of Thrones viz on our intranet. They were scared by this challenge. I was so disappointed in myself for not having foreseen it. 

But I needed to find a solution. So I treated it like a business delivery and I got the stakeholders involved. I created a working group with the most talented colleagues and the charity members—so they could give their feedback directly to my colleagues and reassure them in the process. Finally, we got two submissions that were useful for the charity and I could publish in our intranet to close the story successfully. 

That was one of my worst professional nightmares. If there was a happy ending, I ended up working ten times more than in the previous competition for a result that was probably painful for everyone. Why? Because I lost my way, I didn’t put myself in the shoes of the developer at the beginning of the project. I forgot that after a long working day, what I truly want is to have fun visualising some data. I forgot that I prefer to find funny insights rather than be afraid of doing something bad that looks like work too much. I forgot that we learn better when we have fun.

I never forgot this lesson again.

Generally speaking, I would say that we learn much more from our failures than our successes. In a horror movie, if the supporting character takes a wrong turn, they will probably not have any chance to save theirs life. Thankfully, this kind of outcome rarely happens in a professional environment. 

My advice for you is to keep going. Continue bringing innovative ideas, it may not work each time, but that allows you to know your audience better and build a safe place where everyone can learn and grow (including you).

Headshot of Annabelle Rincon
Annabelle Rincon

After having led successfully team of data experts of different sizes and locations for the past fifteen years, Annabelle uses her skills and passion to drive Visual Best Practices adoption in her company. She considers data visualization and analytics her ikigai (purpose) and enjoys fostering a community of practitioners in every organization she works. Annabelle is specialized in Visuals Analytics and mastering Tableau (both Desktop and Server).  She holds a Tableau Desktop Certified Professional certification and was recognized as a Tableau Visionary and Social Media Ambassador. In her free time, she co-leads Data + Women Zurich and the Tableau Analytics User Group.