Transforming numbers into narrative will build your career

Nancy Duarte

Written by

Nancy Duarte

Organizations are drowning in data. We have access to more information than at any other time in history. Just think about all of the ways that we create and collect data today. Every time we use the Internet, scroll through social media, wear smartwatches, or have a blood test—we create data.

More roles in organizations use data for decision-making. In fact, sixty-seven percent of job openings are analytics-enabled. However, this great increase of data at our fingertips creates an even greater need for strong communicators.

The significant jump in analytics-enabled job openings has also made evident a large communication skills gap. To get the job, you can’t just understand data, you have to understand how to communicate it.

In late 2018, LinkedIn conducted a study on the skill gaps in the workforce. Using their Talent Insights tool, job openings posted online were compared to the skill sets of candidates available to fill them. The number one skill gap by a long shot was soft skills.

Out of a soft skill gap of a whopping 1.6 million, 993,000 required oral communication skills, and 140,000 required writing skills. That’s 71 percent of the openings that didn’t have candidates qualified to fill them based on their resumes.

From this study, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner also concluded that despite the rapid advancement of technology, people with strong communication skills were not going to be replaced by artificial intelligence.

Another body of research done by Burning Glass Technology for IBM confirmed that the rise in data has specifically brought about a rise in the need for people who have both analytical AND communication skills.

So, in a world where data reigns, if you want to set yourself apart from the pack, learn how to communicate insights in a way that others understand and take action on.

Using story is career defining

Finding insights in data will be a norm for every role. In fact, AI is also able to do that to an extent. However, far fewer people have the skills to communicate what do from those insights.

To ascend from the role of explorer into a position of influence, requires the ability to explain data and the most effective way to elucidate meaning is by applying story to data. Those who communicate data well, make the insights easy to understand and define clear action to be taken which speeds up decision-making.

Framing a recommendation into the shape of a story helps others adopt your point of view. This is a scary step in any career as taking a stance on the data is risky but it’s what begins to place you squarely into an advisory role. Once you’ve earned trust as a sound advisor, it ultimately opens doors to become an organizational leader.

In a business world drowning in data, the most valuable employees will be the storytellers who have the skills to explain and inspire with data. If you can understand data, give it meaning, and make actionable recommendations, you make yourself an invaluable asset to your workplace and industry. Data doesn’t speak for itself; it needs a storyteller.


Illustrated by Jonathan Valiente.