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Life in the C-suite: A graph that is both ugly and bad, and an unrelated story

Jemes Keirstead sends along this infographic:

Screen Shot 2013-01-28 at 5.14.00 PM

He hates it:

First we’ve got an hourglass metaphor wrecked by the fact that “now” (i.e. the pinch point in the glass) is actually 3-5 years in the future and the past sand includes “up to three years” in the future. Then there are the percentages which are appear to represent a vertical distance, not volume of sand or width of the hourglass. Add to that a strange color scheme in which green goes from dark to light to dark again.

I know January’s not even finished yet, but surely a competitor for worst infographic of 2013?

Keirstead doesn’t even comment on what I see as the worst aspect of the graph, which is that the “3-5 years” band is the narrowest on the graph, but expressed as a per-year rate it is actually the highest of all the percentages. The hourglass visualization does the astounding feat of taking the period where the executives expect the highest rate of change and presenting it as a minimum in the graph.

All ugliness aside, this reminds me of a story that I haven’t had a chance to share . . . until now. The bit on the above infographic about “C-level execs” reminds me of something that happened a couple years ago, when I was invited to speak at an event, “called “The 2012 Election: Predicted Outcomes and Implications for Your Business,” for “an association of C-suite executives.” I responded that I was interested and told them my fee, to which they responded:

I am glad to hear that you are interested in this opportunity. However, we don’t compensate speakers as we find that most are interested in the opportunity to be in front of a room full of high quality C-suite executives.

Is that for real? I speak to all sorts of people for free (for example, I just spoke last month at a datatviz meetup), but I was surprised to hear that an association of business executives weren’t planning to pay. So I declined. I say this not to imply that I’m some sort of anti-corporate crusader (after all, I would’ve been happy to talk for pay!) but to express my bafflement at the whole “C-level executive” thing. What’s going on with that?

15 Comments

  1. ceolaf says:

    Really?

    I would think that most consultants would be happy to get in front of that kind of crowd and show off how smart they can be, in the hopes of generating future gigs. That a room full of decisions-makers with big budgets across a variety of companies.

    I’m not the least bit surprised than many wouldn’t care.

    What suprises me is that you are baffled by this.

    • Chris G says:

      >I would think that most consultants would be happy to get in front of that kind of crowd and show off how smart they can be, in the hopes of generating future gigs.

      ?!? Perhaps if you’re someone who doesn’t yet have a reputation. If you’ve got a track record of achievement though then probably not so much of a draw.

      Hmm… a little off-topic, but I wonder how many free talks Niall Ferguson has given to C-suite executives? (Just thinking of academics with an apparent interest in cashing in.)

      • Chris G says:

        To clarify: Ferguson strikes me as someone who’s interested in making a ton of money and his academic reputation – such as it is – is his means to that end. That’s fundamentally different from someone who does what you do, is good at it, is recognized as being good at what they do, and then receives compensation for giving a presentation to a for-profit entity which almost certainly hopes to make money from what they learn from the presentation. It’s the difference between having the cart before the horse and having the horse pulling the cart.

    • Andrew says:

      Ceolaf:

      You’re probably right, but it still baffles me. If they want the best speakers, they’d pay. If these guys can afford the best, why should they waste their time settling with whoever they happen to get to speak for free?

  2. Tom says:

    I’m trying to work out what the picture of the globe and the statement next to the chart are all about. It tries to give some sort of summary as far as I can tell, but is just about the worst summary of the chart I can imagine. According to the hourglass >50% of business believe change is required in less than 5 years. This is so bad I can’t now be bothered to try and work out where the 6 years figure comes from.

    I do like the exclamation mark placed somewhere over the arctic. I also wonder whether it is intentional that the two figures in the graphic are faceless.

    This has my vote for the worst I’ve seen in 2013 so far.

    • Joseph says:

      My suspcion is that the mean is 6 years due to the high skew (a few executives see horizons of > 20 years) and this creates a difference between the mean and the median. I actually think the median would be more informative here, even if it is harder to state in ordinary language.

    • zbicyclist says:

      Like Joseph, I figure they are taking the middle of each interval and then doing an average. Too bad “never” wasn’t an option — nothing like averaging in infinity to show the ridiculousness of this technique — particularly when the median is available as an option.

      But that would be gilding a sow’s ear. C-level surveys are characterized by low response rates, low sample sizes, and C level employees who aren’t really taking the survey seriously. The vagueness of the question only adds to this whole enterprise as a junk fact.

  3. Chris G says:

    > “I am glad to hear that you are interested in this opportunity. However, we don’t compensate speakers as we find that most are interested in the opportunity to be in front of a room full of high quality C-suite executives.”

    “High quality C-suite executives”. Is that not an oxymoron;-)

    • zbicyclist says:

      Actually, it probably is an oxymoron. Since the term “C-level executive” came into vogue, it has spread from its original use: Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer — people with real power — to other titles which are far less exalted.

      Chief Marketing Officer usually isn’t the person who controls the marketing budgets (those are operating people) but a person in charge of overall corporate branding — e.g. choosing logos and what PowerPoint templates to use, and running the public relations department. The head of human resources is sometimes renamed Chief People Officer. I once had the additional title of Chief Quality Officer, which sounds cool but carried no resource control and was mostly the guy who got sent out to clients to explain why things that had gone wrong wouldn’t go wrong again.

      All of these would be described as “high quality C-suite executives” because if you actually knew this involved a smattering of CMOs and CPOs in an audience of middle managers, nobody would be impressed. If you need to say they are “high quality”, they probably aren’t.

  4. Felix says:

    I can do you one better: I was once emailed about doing a keynote speech at a similar conference, the fee was said to be in the $10,000 to $25,000 range. Which, I can assure you, no one’s ever offered me in the past. It took me a few minutes to work out that they were expecting *me* to pay *them*.

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