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MBA Essentials
FEB 15, 2018

Getting good with numbers (4/4): Use graphs to “translate” your message 

By Kenichi Suzuki

GLOBIS Faculty Kenichi Suzuki shares some tips on how to utilize numbers for more effective communication in business.

Let’s review what we have covered so far.

1. Numerical aptitude means being able to translate what we want to say into a graph; or being able to interpret our message from a given graph or chart. In business, translating is even more important than interpreting. Most people know how to interpret information. But translating graphs to tell a story and convey its impact is difficult for many.

2. The essence of analysis is comparison. Without comparison, it is difficult to convey just how meaningful our message is.

3. Together, graphs and our eyes are the strongest tool we can use for comparison. It’s very important to use graphs to compare things with our own eyes.

In the final column on this subject, I’d like to leave you with a few hints on how to translate our message.

To make our message persuasive and so that our effort does not go to waste, we need to make sure that it is backed up with logic. Without this, any graph we make may lead to erroneous conclusions or opinions.

What steps do we need to take?

We don’t have to think hard. The steps themselves enable us to inject logic into our message. Nothing could be simpler.

First and foremost, before we embark on full-scale data collection, we need to look at the information we already have and think about what we want to say.

To make it easier to translate our message, we next need to ask ourselves what we want to compare. It’s essential we get this clear in our own minds. Remember, the essence of analysis is comparison.

There’s not a business day that goes by where we don’t hear phrases such as “huge impact” or “extremely effective.” Such unequivocal phrases can seem like hyperbole. Huge or effective compared to what?

When we put our message into words, we should be mindful of what we are comparing it to, so that we can demonstrate its impact or effectiveness. If our message is supported by analysis, then we really can be unequivocal.

So, what kind of graph will we need to use?

Once we know our message and what we are comparing, we are very close to our goal. The table below is helpful in choosing the graph best suited to each type of comparison. When we translate from one language to another, we have to know thousands of expressions. But with graphs, which are the language of numbers, it’s much simpler. There are in fact only five key “expressions” that we need to learn: pie charts, bar charts, column charts, line graphs and dot graphs.

The types of information we might compare are component parts of a whole (i.e. they add up to 100%), such as market share or ways of spending money. Components are best represented by a pie chart. Items are not necessarily parts of a whole. They are usually compared side by side in a bar chart or columns.

A time series refers to ongoing or finite periods, while frequency is about how often something happens. In business, we often see time represented in quarterly or annual sales reports, while frequency might be used in reporting product use by customers. Time or frequency references usually appear at the bottom of a line graph or column chart.

The king of graphs, the “scatter plot”, which we used last time, compares data from the viewpoint of correlation and is a type of dot graph.

It couldn’t be easier – just three steps and five ways of expressing ourselves with graphs. So why not start today? Just remember: be clear to yourself what you want to say, decide what you want to compare, and then choose the right graph to tell your story.

Translated by Karl O’Callaghan (GLOBIS Faculty; Founder and CEO,; GLOBIS Graduate).

Copyright: Ronnachai Palas