I have a Monday night ritual, and it’s Sunday night shows. Specifically, it’s HBO’s current Sunday night lineup, which is in my opinion one of the strongest blocks on TV, streaming or otherwise. While certain offerings on the premium network slip and slide under the weight of their own pretense (*cough* Westworld *cough*), Silicon Valley has always been a surefire winner in my book.
Imagine my delight, then, while watching the season finale this week, and discovering that real-time dashboards were not only featured in the episode, but in fact were pivotal to the plot and final showdown between Pied Piper and the dueling corporate foes Gavin Belson and Laurie Breem.
Dashboards Save the Day on “Silicon Valley”
Spoilers for the Season 5 Finale of Silicon Valley follow.
After a lackluster crypto-launch and two months of barely getting buy, the Pied Piper team has the chance to celebrate what they originally think is a win – a sudden surge in their users. Desperate for good news, the CEO Richard Hendricks takes the gain at face value and don’t question it too much.
Here’s where data visualization (and some healthy skepticism of data anomalies) come in to start the main storyline. Monica has a theory that something is amiss. Though there is a huge spike in users, there’s been no corollary jump in the price of their new cryptocurrency. She grabs Gilfoyle and they spend the whole night decoding the data to see who has authorized those users and where they’re coming from.
The resulting dashboard lets them see clearly that all these new users are coming from a single, unknown source, which they deduce to be the work of their competition, a Chinese New-New-Internet headed up by their former VC head Laurie Breem. The problem: if a single user base takes control of 51% of the total user count, they’ll have the authority to completely change or destroy Pied Piper.
They’ve now used data visualization to identify and pinpoint the problem. Now they just need to take action on it. Easy, right? Unfortunately, as we all well know, choosing the next course of action is not quite as simple as looking at a dashboard. Fortunately, combining the new knowledge from the data visualization with the knowledge they already have of their situation, the Pied Piper team is able to identify the real issue, and with it the real solution.
Chiefly, they have two main players vying for 51% stake. The lightning bolt moment comes when they realize that adding a third major player will buy them enough time to patch the software and eliminate the vulnerability. Enter Perma-Nemisis Gavin Belson, newly ousted from Hooli and ready to stir up some conflict.
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Richard persuades Gavin to use some of his servers to mimic new users, splitting the two way race into a three. Predictably, though, Gavin immediately turns around and uses this new leverage to try to negotiate a new deal with New-New-Internet. He persuades the competition to turn off their users, giving him the 51% stake and ultimate control of Pied Piper. Dashboards are everywhere – at Hooli HQ, at Pied Piper HQ, and on Richard’s laptop as he watches Gavin’s users creep up to that limit (and while Gavin makes celebratory ice cream the old-fashioned way).
At the 11th hour, Richard makes a passionate plea for Gavin to spare Pied Piper’s code and to simply take over the company. He plays to Gavin’s ego masterfully, saying he’s the only one who can see his vision of a decentralized internet through. He even goes so far as to scribble a contract, ostensibly signing over the entire operation to Gavin’s control.
Fortuantely, after Gavin has effectively squashed his nascent deal with Breem and celebrated his seeming victory, it’s revealed that Richard has NOT signed over the company (instead writing a rhyming puerile taunt that doesn’t bear repeating here). He was in fact buying time, while his team wrangled a deal with another company to get the user Pied Piper needed to reach the 51%. How did they know they had reached the threshold? How were they able to communicate it to all the relevant parties? You know the answer. It was dashboards.
While the situations in Silicon Valley can reach the realm of absurdity, the tech and theory supporting the show is famously rooted in reality. This particular episode and storyline felt realistic – a company that needed to look further into their data to identify the issue, and then creatively solving that problem, all the while monitoring their progress on real-time dashboards. Data visualization isn’t a magic bullet – it won’t automatically save you from, say, a hostile takeover. But it can help you to more clearly see the challenges and opportunities your organization is facing.