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Looking for an iPod for data analysis?

Don’t you wish that you had invented the iPod? I sure do! It’s sleek. It’s simple. Beckham has one. Victoria, too. Everyone is fascinated…including me! John Maeda certainly is. In fact, he wrote an entire book on why the concept of simplicity is so important yet so difficult to follow and how we can make things as easy as possible but not easier. What Einstein wanted, basically.

Wouldn’t it be even greater if we could use an iPod for analyzing business data? If you ask me, rankings come pretty darn close. To explain what I mean, let’s take a look at the list of the world champions in the Formula 1 racing circuit.

Fernando Alonso (2), Mario Andretti (1), Alberto Ascari (2), Jack Brabham (3), Jim Clark (2), Juan-Manuel Fangio (5), Giuseppe Farina (1), Emerson Fittipaldi (2), Mika Häkkinen (2), Mike Hawthorn (1), Damon Hill (1), Phil Hill (1), Graham Hill (2), Denny Hulme (1), James Hunt (1), Alan Jones (1), Niki Lauda (3), Nigel Mansell (1), Nelson Piquet (3), Alain Prost (4), Jochen Rindt (1), Keke Rosberg (1), Jody Scheckter (1), Michael Schumacher (7), Ayrton Senna (3), Jackie Stewart (3), John Surtees (1), Jacques Villeneuve (1)

Some of you probably know that Michael Schumacher leads the list with seven world champion titles and may even remember how moved he was (as was I) when he won his fifth season title, tying the record set by Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio. In fact, many successful F1 pilots came from South America including Emerson Fittipaldi, who won two titles, and the three-time winners, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda also won three world championship titles; Alain Prost even won four.

As you can see, rankings help us compare and evaluate things. Are all men (or all things) created equal or are some better or worse, greater or lesser? You can see who (or what) is more or less important by just looking at how they rank. That’s a great relief in business, when you have to make important decisions with little time and resources. Listing objects also helps you assess if the given amount of attention and importance is balanced. If you find yourself discussing object #234 in depth at every Monday morning meeting, you may be devoting much too much energy to things that are irrelevant.

In rankings you can also read quite a lot between the lines – the span between listed objects that is. Michael Schumacher is by far the best driver ever in F1 history. To win the world championship, both the driver and his team need to be at their best throughout the entire season. In fact, it took forty-six years until someone finally broke Fangio’s previous five-title record.

In contrast, there are many different pilots who won the title three times as well as many who only won the championship a single time. The three best pilots, however, won 16 of the 57 titles to date. Wait…what did I just say? I have just intuitively assessed an allocation of values and have identified a value concentration – with my very own two eyes and without a statistical distribution analysis. Amazing!

The number of world champion titles, however, isn’t the only criterion for measuring our F1 heroes. Let’s expand our analytic mind powers and look at the situation from a different perspective: Michael Schumacher also had the most pole-position starts and won the most races.

When you are working with something, the handling has to be simple so that you can focus on the real task at hand. Otherwise, your attention automatically shifts from the task to the handling and you quickly loose track of what is important. At the end, you may not even know what you wanted in the first place.

That’s why I love my iPod. It makes it easy to concentrate on my music, because it is easy to select a song, set my play list, and then I have all the time and energy to ponder what other potential it has to offer. And if I want, I can even listen to my music.