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Yesterday at the SAS Global Forum in Orlando, I had the wonderful experience of watching Scott Adams (Dilbert) make a presentation about his life in the corporation and his subsequent career as a cartoonist. Scott is a great speaker, as you might guess from his cartoons. But the talk was not all about corporate waste and misdeeds, there were some real moments of revelation. He took the "Oprah" quoted equation: Luck = Preparation + Opportunity, had some funny mathematical tricks with this equation, and then focused on the "luck" part of it. He related about a social psychology experiment which subjects were told to count the number of pictures in a document, and the statistic of interest contrasted those subjects who felt they were basically lucky, and those who did not. The lucky group and the other group had the same accuracy (100%), but the lucky group found the answer much sooner. They noticed that on page two of the document was a bold-type message that said that the answer was 42 pictures, and they could stop counting. "Luck" is noticing things like that. The people that are lucky are lucky because they notice more things than non-lucky people.

What's the point for us? The point of visualization software is to encourage us into noticing things. To notice things because graphics is easy and rich. To notice things because the graphs are in more dimensions, because they can be run in groups, even animated in groups, to notice points that move and shake when animated across time. That is our business. We are out to become luckier. To make discoveries. Discoveries that lead to "innovation", the theme of the the conference. Serendipity.

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Mike O'Neil wrote:

The simplicity of the user interface for visualisation software is crucial. There is no luck involved in overcoming a difficult interface, just hard work and persistence.