A Product Manager’s Journey Into The Dark Statistics of Crime (Part I- Defining a Story)
What is that special spark which makes podcasts such as “Serial” or TV docs like “Making a Murderer” so utterly captivating?
Recently, I started working on a talk about data-storytelling. I was planning on creating a talk about data for non-data professionals, something that could break the barrier of data-dread — a common terror for many of my friends and colleagues who aren’t savvy with numbers.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I have not experienced the proverbial data-dread myself. My early academic education was in fine arts with a minor in psychology, and I have started my product management career a direct path from being a UX professional.
Therefore, my relationship with data was gradually formed; this love affair became possible only through stories' power through the fascinating understanding of insights and down to earth meaning of facts and findings.
If there was ever anything that I will never use, without a doubt, I thought this would be the one!
To this day, I often recall the story of the time during my Bachelor’s, where I was required to take an “intro to statistics” course as part of my degree. Back then, I often said to my fellow students that without a shadow of a doubt, if there were ever a course that will never have any relevance to my career, this would be the one!
Imagine my disappointment years later when I found out it was a deep passion of mine all along!
Okay, back to my data-storytelling talk
The other day, I sat down to write, ready with a blank, white google doc file, which I opened to serve as space where I thought a skeleton of loose concepts and threads would become a captivating reality in the shape of a talk.
And there I sat, long minutes pass by, the key takeaways are all ready to be spilled to the public on stages worldwide.
It seems my data-storytelling talk was lacking a story.
I sat feeling a little humiliated and very much humbled by my own vanity, thinking I had all the answers for a task so important and, some might say, mundane, in the life of a working product manager — telling a story.
So I decided to start practicing what I preach.
So, where does one start to tell a story?
There are hundreds of books about storytelling and writing, but that’s not what I was thinking of at that moment.
1. Ok, let’s user-first approach this thing
I started by thinking about my “users,” the very people that afforded me with their precious time and when deciding to come to hear my talk, and might have even picked my event over 5 to 10 other talks that could be happening on this hypothetical evening in Tel-Aviv.
2. What is my “users” journey?
I was thinking about the experience that I want to create for them with my talk and the emotions and brainwork I feel they came for.
What I know for sure is that I wanted to tell them a story. I wanted to lay the cornerstone of tips and tools which they could use to convey their great ideas into data-stories. But to understand what I wanted to tell them, I started imaging the event, the evening, the chilly weather with occasional raindrops, the vegan pizzas (whose main consumer would probably be me), and in the crowd, I began thinking, who are they? What jobs and offices are they coming from right now? Where do they want to go as the mic drops at the end of the evening? And what it is that I hope they will walk away from my talk with?
3. What is the value?
My imaginative brainstorming session led me to an epiphany. I must talk about a personal story, a place, and a time where my data skills have impacted the most groundbreaking way possible.
That’s great, and I’m sure I have some of those, but at that very moment, my mind fell silent.
Not giving up on the intimidating blank google doc staring at me. And the imposter inside screaming at me for not having a great story up my sleeve, I started looking deeper and deeper within myself.
At first, I thought, “where did I do a good job”? Diligently scanning every single row on my resume that could show impact numbers for measuring success. Some of those could serve as a nice case study, but none of which I could imagine myself telling for this magical evening.
I knew I wanted to talk about something that I care about, in my dream-talk, maybe I could even change something for the better in the world.
Reasonable expectations all in all.
The best story to tell is your own
The revelation came to me once I started to shift away from the day-to-day realities of past jobs and positions I held and began to think more about my present passions.
I was starting to amuse myself with the thought of telling a story about a hobby of mine — Podcasting! This is even partially related since one of my two podcasts Mozarella, is a professional podcast for product managers!
Isn’t that great?! In my head, I was running all the possible stories I could tell about podcasting data, and… nope, I wasn’t feeling it. I was never passionate about podcasting; I was intrigued by their content.
Well, If I come to think about it
For over three and a half years now, I’ve been running a weekly true-crime podcast. In Let’s Talk Murder, my colleague Keren and I cover everything and anything from the “classic” serial killers, the craziest cult leaders, to heartbreaking domestic violence cases that turned into the biggest tragedies.
That’s when I realized, just as I had known all along about my love for data, even while having nightmares about it in my statistics class, crime data is what I was looking for all this time. I have been obsessed with crime for the better part of my life. It is the world of tales with all the spectrum of human emotions, conflicts, and lessons, and that’s the story I’m going to tell.
So the journey begins
I start my path through the dark statistics of crime. I plan to unveil the stories they tell to explore the psychological, cultural, and human factors that make a crime story. I will talk about the tools for using crime data analysis while exploring the idea that crime will make us all better leaders as product professionals.
And who knows! Maybe even make a small difference in the world?
But for now, I think I just have started what might be an ongoing blog about it.
Buckle up! It’s going to be a hell of a ride.
Look at that! We defined a story!
In the last few paragraphs, I went over my experience using my personal process, with all the most important story elements.
- The first thing in every story is the setting; where and when did the story happen? In what universe? This section provides context and explanation to where this story exists to provide a fitting perspective for what is yet to come.
- The second element of a story will have a challenge. In my case, it was finding the story, but it could be a wide range of conflicts. This part is the thesis question we are seeking to answer, and it is a matter that needs to be resolved. This is what shakes the story’s reality and gets the story’s hero out of his/her comfort zone.
- Then comes the resolution, which provides us with a lesson and action plan.
Personal stories are always more conveying since humans (well, most of them) are empathic creatures. Remembering my own passions and channeling them into my mission helped this journey take shape and move me forward to the next step.
Now that we have covered the basics of a story, we can move forward to the next challenges and conflicts and go on towards the mission to decode all the great data storytelling tools.