Celebrating 100+ Years of the Venn Diagram (and one more anniversary, too!)

March 29, 2019 Editor

It may not look like a centenarian, but it is! Birthday greetings to the “Venn Diagram.” The popular assembly of overlapping shapes (circles most commonly) that illustrate the various relations between a small number of different finite sets – both what they share and what they don’t. 

Surely, you’ve seen them before. There’s even one at the top left corner of your screen! 

What we call the Venn Diagram, began in 1880 by British mathematician and philosopher John Venn. He introduced the diagram in a paper entitled “On the Diagrammatic and Mechanical Representation of Propositions and Reasonings.” A real page-turner, no doubt, this scholarly review presented assorted ways to graphically depict associations between two or more groups, including both common (where the space intersected with another one) and exclusive coverage (where it didn’t). 

In addition to the simple bi-circle and tri-circle versions you’re probably more familiar with today, most of the diagrams discussed in the paper were a good deal more complex – mathematicians really like “complex.” 

But it’s the less-adorned simplicity of the Venn Diagram that so accurately and clearly illustrates sets and their relationships that has inspired continued use of the diagrams in today’s literature, education, politics, and business.

Curiously, and perhaps modestly, Venn never referred to the drawings as Venn Diagrams. He called them “Eulerian circles” (pronounced “oil-LER-ian”) referencing yet another mathematician, the 18thcentury Swiss Leonhard Euler, who was an early arbiter of mathematical analysis and function. 

The term “Venn Diagram” itself didn’t surface until 1918 as written and referenced by the well-known American philosopher and logician C.I. Lewis. Since that time, the name Venn Diagram has become the official name for the useful graphic device.  And it is the value and impact that the Venn Diagram has had on simplifying complex topics that we recognize today on National Venn Diagram Day. 

But don’t blow out the candles just yet! 

SPH Analytics celebrating with balloons and anniversary image

We also mark this day as the silver anniversary (+ 1) of SPH Analytics! Taking its cue from – you guessed it – a Venn Diagram assembled with the Triple Aim of healthcare (improving health, reducing cost, and improving the experience of care), SPH provides greatest impact where this trifecta mutually intersects at what we call the “Nexus Platform™.

Mining and ingesting data from the three disparate sources – clinical, financial, and experience – and then transferring this wealth of knowledge into actionable reports for quality improvement, reducing financial risk, or understanding consumer experience in concert with direct patient/member outreach is what we do. There’s much more in the SPH solution set, of course. But deriving an award-winning and successful business model like SPH’s out of three simple intersecting circles has got to make any 18thcentury mathematician proud. And we think quite a few Chief Medical and Quality Officers, too!

 

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