The Mother of All Executive Summaries

I recently read Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte. I will post a full review shortly, but there is one item from the book that warrants a post unto itself.

During some of our recent phone calls, Ron and I have lamented the staggering number of surveys that seem to be cropping up throughout the professions. Not that there has ever been a dearth of them, but recently there seems to be an over abundant proliferation. We even joked that they all say the same things.

Coincidently, Edward Tufte quotes from a study by Bernard Berelson, Human Behavior: An Inventory of Scientific Findings. Berelson apparently reached that same conclusions Ron and I did, only he was scientific about it. He survey 1,045 survey on human behavior and presents us with a brilliant executive summary of all the executive summaries. His three findings are as follows:

  1. Some do, others don’t.
  2. The differences aren’t very great.
  3. It’s more complicated than that.

There you have it folks, we can all eliminate taking and reading surveys from our to do lists. Let’s just refer to it as MOAES, the Mother of All Executive Summaries.


  1. Chris Jones says:

    Hi Ed

    I was delighted to see reference to Tufte on this site.

    I work for a consultancy firm. Management information as well as pricing are the two sweet areas which we need to improve.

    If you love Tufte, I would recommend you also put the following book near the top of your (anti!) reading list too: “How to make an impact: influence, inform and impress with your reports, presentations and business Documents” by Jon Moon. This book is the business application of many of Tufte’s ideas. It is relevant to everyone in business, but accountants will especially benefit from this learning.

    I’ve been greatly influenced by Ron Baker’s work. I’m always saying to colleagues (although most often the other way round) that Jon Moon is to information design what Ron Baker is to value pricing.


  2. I love Tufte’s work. My passion is performance measurement, for which many people use surveys as the data collection method! Boy, have I seen some wastes of time and paper too.

    I love how Tufte reminds us to get in touch with the real, specific questions that must come before the deliberate design of information.

  3. Ed Kless says:

    Thanks, Chris and Stacey for you comments.

    @Chris – I have added Jon Moon’s book to my anti-library (read amazon wish list). For those of you in North America the link is

    @Stacey – what are your favorite performance manangement tools?

  4. Hi Ed,

    Depends on what you mean by performance management tools. The methodology (step by step process) that I use is my own (called PuMP). Balanced Scorecard is not really what I’d call a performance management tool – it’s the most well known but it’s more a strategy design tool in my humble opinion. If you mean technology, I like SAS SPM as a dashboard/scorecard tool.

    I don’t want to divert this blog, so Ed contact me at if you want to talk more on performance management tools.

  5. Thanks, Stacey, no diversion, I was just curious.

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