In advance of his talk at Pandemonio next February, we caught up with world-class instigator David Chouinard. An unstoppable organizer and unflappable enthusiast, David has worked on fixing education, and spent time at Disney imagining the future. He now helps Facebook in its mission to connect the world.
Pandemonio: What mistakes do people make when trying to understand things visually?
David: People don’t make mistakes understanding visually, we make mistakes designing for visual understanding.
We ignore the importance of interactivity — of learning causally and through progressive complexity. Data visualization isn’t about charts, it’s about designing a journey through understanding.
All understanding comes through exploration, through filtering, slicing and comparison; through playing with scenarios; through multidimensional coordinated views.
Our tools are awful. We have all the right components — bar charts, line charts and so on — and no understanding of how to assemble them together.
P There’s a famous saying, “the map is not the territory.” In your work, how have you found the maps of the world to diverge from the real world?
D Diversification is terrible advice.
The best investors I know hold 5–10 stocks and nothing else. They can explain in detail why each will do well.
Companies get started by people who double down on their unfair advantages, the quirks that help them see the world differently.
From picking stocks to picking careers, the goal isn’t a perfect balance of non-opinions, but identifying the tiny nooks of the world where you have unique perspective and insight.
P What will happen when the bulk of humanity is connected all the time?
D Universal connectivity will make us better at a lot of things and more prosperous. More efficient in lots of unimaginable ways. But it might not bring us closer, after all.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to grow up not connected — discovering the internet is an enormously empowering experience.
Universal connectivity a moral imperative. We can’t live in a world where some of our most enterprising people are isolated and disconnected. Universal connectivity is what brings our civilization into the future.
P In what ways does the entertainment industry see technology different from traditional businesses?
D Technology is still seen as something that needs to exhaustively specced out at the start, needs heavy management, is carefully planned and is over when delivered.
That’s the optimal culture for capital intensive industries; it’s the right way to think of many world projects. Designing a good interface for these industries is one of the biggest things tech should be working on.
Maybe the interface is through acquisitions and autonomous teams. We need to stop being dismissive of the ethos of capital intensive industries — they’re the channel to some of the most important things the world does.
P Tech can change education — but what is it bad at when it comes to learning?
D Today, at mass scale across the world, we train our most promising to be intellectually uncommitted, passive, disengaged and OK with futile work.
The (mostly overrated) tech we’ve sprinkled across education is a distraction. The real story is not that technology changes the classroom, but that technology is changing the world, which is making us teach differently.
For the first time in history, technology has created a hunger for creators.
Technology is systematically driving the world to learn to build, design, grow and create. We finally have a chance to restart teaching people to feel ownership and drive over their ideas.
“One of the most dangerous illusions you get from school is the idea that doing great things requires a lot of discipline.” — Paul Graham