5 Hacks for Learning (Tableau, Alteryx, or anything else) in the New Year

It’s a new year and everyone is setting the pace on their goals.  Which, almost always, includes learning something new.  Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember life before the internet and computers were in homes (it happened, once, in a galaxy far away), read every book in the house before hitting double digits (including the Hayne’s manual for our Chrysler le Baron), and mastered the art of never completing homework at home, hacking learning has been a fundamental way of life for me.

Are you looking to tackle Alteryx this year?  Great!  Bolster your dashboards with clearer design or happier end users?  I wholeheartedly support you my friend!  Master mathematics once and for all?  You go!

But there comes this point – we have the goal, we have a vision, but how in the world do we get there?!  How do we connect the dots?

Here’s a few things I’ve done that have worked like a charm throughout my internet-less years and even in the age of Google.  Just don’t expect me to remember what I can look up.

Take a deep breath.

In the age of the internet and social media, it’s all too easy to feel like you’re behind.  This is like school where they posted the grades on the wall (do you remember this? Yeah, I do), but 100 times worse.  Social media is a lot like those glossy-covered magazines at the store.  The celebs look great and happy on the covers, but the headline talks about overcoming their one great despair.  They’re usually in houses and environments that I’ve never once entered in my lifetime and seem so far away and inaccessible that it’s unreachable.

Full stop here – it’s easy to look and think what will never be.  Malcolm Gladwell pushes 10,000 hours for expertise.  And, what we see is often only the iceberg.

  • We don’t see the work (usually).
  • We don’t recognize the gifts or we label it all as gifts.
  • We overlook the hands-up and ladders people get (including ourselves).
  • We miss the struggle – it happens quietly on the inside and we hold it to ourselves.

Are you learning something new?  Start where you are, recognize what you have already, note where you want to go, and let the distractions go.  It’s hard, the struggle to look and feel passed by is perpetual, and we all get somewhere eventually.

Use what you have.

Learning is easier when you scaffold it off what you know.  Analogous learning means you tie it back to something you already have mastered, letting you cement concepts to an already sturdy layer.  Learning genomics when you have no biological background?  Can you relate those patterns back to commonalities and differences in languages?  I do.  Are you a political science major looking to get into Tableau?  You already know how to analyze, now consider how to present that information.  What political posters worked?  Why?  Use that idea in your dashboards.

Continue whittling at concepts in this way.  Once you have one analogy, find another.  Keep narrowing until you can explain the concept in 5 different ways.  Doing this is like sharpening a pencil with a knife.  You start at one side, use that side and expand it, until finally you have a point.  This is one reason why the more languages you speak, the easier learning another one becomes.

If you use what you have, you only need to add a little bit more or edit, rather than start from scratch.

Read the menu.

People laugh or roll their eyes when I suggest this.  Did you know Tableau has a way to reset those pesky labels you’ve hidden?  Or do you just remake the chart (Yeah, I know you did).  Guess what – you can get those things back by hitting the Analysis menu and returning them there (this may or may not have been discovered on a phone call).  Or that you can reset those wild colors with a click in case you made other changes (Worksheet/Clear/Formatting)?  Or toggle items from the menu (Analysis/Cycle Fields).  There’s an option in the menu for that.  Or that certain Alteryx tools are macros?  Or that, my favorite, you can change the display labels in an Alteryx workflow?

It pays to spend time looking at menus, windows, and options.  Doing this stuff just feels ridiculous, but it’s taking the time to look at what is truly available.  You don’t need to buy a book for that (this from a bookworm with a whole room of books).

Use other tools to explore this tool.

So many of these new platforms save their work in some type of XML standard.  Now, I hate XML as much as the next person.  I took a database class and XML nearly sent me over the edge.  That, XPATH queries, and JSON.  I’ll take a good boring relational data set any day.

But, here’s the trick with XML – the thing is nested.  It works like a mind map.  If you can ‘see’ it that way, then it helps.

Before you tell me this is the most unhelpful thing you’ve ever read, here is my best-kept lifeline ever:

It’s a beauty.

Teach it.

Do you really think everyone is an expert when they start blogging?  Some of my favorite bloggers started their blogs to (get ready) document as they learned.  They write what they’re learning as they’re learning, which means that person is right at my speed.  Sounds pretty alright to me.

The best part is I can piggy-back on that person’s speed.  How many people lately have become quite proficient in Tableau in less than a year?  That to me is simply astounding.  Now, don’t get me wrong – these cats owe a tremendous debt to those who figured it out before, to the various blogs, the tweets, or the forum posts they used to figure out a problem.  All that learning collects and accumulates.  It passes on and shortens another’s journey.

Are you learning something new?  Teach it to someone else as you do.  Reinforce yourself and keep yourself moving.

What hacks do you use?

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