At heart, I am a story teller. But I believe that it takes more than words to tell a good story in business. Data can help to tell the story. Whether it is understanding an employee’s performance or looking at what pieces of content have driven the most engagement, data provides insights and imagery that can drive good decisions.

As an example, here is a post I wrote at work for my writing team:

Creative data showed me why I am trying to avoid Netflix this week

Data can be a scary thing for writers. It conjures up images of high school math and confusing Excel spreadsheets that no one can understand. It can be easy to brush it off.

“I’m a creative.” “I hate math.” “I don’t understand data.” Sometimes, even I have thought these things (don’t tell my husband).

But data can be creative. And it is not any more complicated or difficult than the things we typically write about for lawyers. To a person who works in data, information about workers’ comp laws and contract disputes conjure up the same feelings of horror we get when looking at formulas.

Data is just information you can play with

One of my favorite inspirations for the power of data is the web comic xkcd, created by Randall Munroe. He takes really interesting information and organizes it in fun ways for some of his comics. For example, he created a chart analyzing character interactions in some famous movies. He also compared water depths to give perspective on how deep the oceans are compared to sunken ships and animal movements.

He shows that data does not need to be only numbers. It can be any type of information. Analyzing that data is simply organizing it to get answers to your questions or to see things in a new light.

Why am I trying  to watch less Netflix? Let’s play with the data and find out.

Last Saturday, I decided that I need to watch less Netflix. After binging a couple of shows on there, I was just tired of it. But why? What led me to that decision, after a long history of fun binge watching? The data might tell me.

I went into my Netflix account and copied the list of what I’ve watched. In your user account, Netflix gives about six months of streaming history, with dates of everything watched. A quick paste into Excel and the creation of a chart shows how many shows and movies I have watched each month:

But that doesn’t tell me anything. And it makes me look like a freak who watches too much stuff since Netflix episodes count as one item. 

What if it is the things I am watching that have made me want to avoid TV? I added columns to my data and added information manually on whether I was watching a TV show, movie, documentary or comedy special.

That is a little better, but still doesn’t help. Though it does show that I watch a whole lot more TV shows than I thought I did on Netflix.

What about genres? I added a column to my data and logged the genre of everything:

Wow. That’s a lot of cartoons.

Yep. I watch a lot of horror movies. No surprises there.

What if I look at my watching by day and see if there was anything weird? I looked at the bursts on certain days. What happened in those bursts of watching when I look at the raw data?

Well, that’s funny. But it still isn’t what I want. So, I added another column and quickly rated the things I watched as good, bad or just meh.

That’s it! I can handle some bad things. I seem to binge on things I think are good. But the “good” stuff recently plummeted, and I have been seeing a lot of mediocre things on Netflix lately. That would do it.

And that is how I used data to figure out a possible reason why I want to watch less TV.

Want to learn to do what I did? It’s pretty easy. There are a million resources on the internet to learn how to manipulate data in Excel. For this, I created a spreadsheet with headers and cleaned up my data manually. Then, I used pivot tables and charts to play with the data I had. My thought process was exactly what I laid out above. I had a question, and I goofed around with my data until I got an answer that made sense.

Now my question for all of you: is there anything particularly “good” on Netflix that I should be watching? Apparently I need to start avoiding the shows that make me say, “Meh.”