This Analogy Explains How People Can Access Your Insights

My career has afforded me the opportunity to build data and data visualization programs with several entities. It’s a rare pleasure to see something you helped create be used by others. Yet getting there is challenging because content literacy is not consistent across every organization or department. Analogies are an effective tool in building understanding of complex topics in our field. This article will share one of those analogies—“fish in the pond.”

Photo of a heron in water, catching fish with its beak.
One purpose of this pond is to provide animals with fish. One purpose of a data pipeline is to provide people with insights. Credit: Chris F on Pexels.

The underlying concept for “fish in the pond” is how insights go from creation to consumption within a data pipeline. The analogy is an efficient way to explain this process to leaders and decision makers (who may come early or leave late when you present your explanation at a meeting). It’s easy to grasp and cuts out all the jargon. Here’s how it goes:

The “fish” in the metaphorical pond refer to the insights within an organization. For purposes of this analogy, insights are data-driven, researched or studied truths that an organization has identified for its own purposes. Insights can be experiences, research, live data, and public data. They appear in many forms—from altruistic studies of communal need to revenue-focused market reports.

The organization would like for these insights to be consumed by the public, customers, and/or community leaders. In other words, the organization wants people to eat the fish.

The problem is that people are not eating the fish. That is, they are not consuming the insights (or, perhaps, not as much as the organization would like). How do you fix that?

Let’s fix it in the analogy and work backwards:

  • Hire a biologist to check the quality of the fish and the pond water.
    This would be the work of a data scientist, who ensures your research, data, and insights are in the best possible state.
  • Build a dock and/or a boat to ease access to the pond.
    This approach is about data visualization—creating ways for your audience to discover insights with greater ease.
  • Partner with a grocery store.
    That is, find a champion who can generate interest in your fish on your behalf.

Each of these steps is a viable data strategy!

Data is often tied to a water-associated analogy, like a river, a lake, or a beach house. While the reasoning is not clear to me, my best guess is that water feels large, is often changing, and can be interactive. But this definition undersells the important point of data—what it provides us with, i.e., the fish.

Remember: Our leadership doesn’t care about the possibility of data as much as they care about what it provides. Any discussion always needs to center on organizational needs and goals. The “fish in the pond” analogy is a very digestible way to convey the various paths that an organization can take to reach its objectives.

Christopher Laubenthal headshot
Christopher Laubenthal

Christopher Laubenthal focuses on better data use with visualizations in an organizational setting. He has experience in both for-profit and not-for-profit sectors where he increases literacy, grows culture, and builds data visualizations. Christopher is the Data Design Manager at The DeBruce Foundation, a national foundation whose mission is to expand pathways to economic growth and opportunity. Current projects include his public viz and The DeBruce Foundation’s Career Explorer Tools.