Thursday, December 22, 2005

Visualizing Complexity

Humans have a number of ways of coping with complexity:
  1. We pretend it doesn't exist, and are surprised when our simple "cause and effect" worldview doesn't work.
  2. We dissect and fragment it. The bits soon take on a life of their own, often creating comforting rituals bereft of context and initial purpose.
  3. Occassionally, someone helps us re-synthesize and "get the big picture" once again.
In striving to increase my ability as a "complexity visualization" agent, I have experimented with a variety of mediums, and watched how others have successfully transformed information. A company that has aptly demonstrated this achievement is Xplane. On their web site, they show how fragmented, prolific content can be transformed into powerful, information-intense visuals.

Eduarde Tufte, the data visualization guru, also has produced some innovative work in visualizing complexity. On his web site, he demonstrates how sparklines (intense, word-sized, simple graphics) can be applied to healthcare data, powerfully communicating a wealth of information.

Recently I've also stumbled across Dan Willis' web site. Dan has captured a number of complex development and design activities in an effective visual form. His on-line article includes a great visual presentation on creating personas. It's also worth a look at his "No-Duh Documentation" page.

I've had the chance to leverage many of these ideas and the pleasure of watching the "lights come on" for people as they reconnect with the big picture. Even though I'm not an artist, the various drawing and visualizing tools available today make it possible for analysts, communicators and catalysts to readily leverage the power of visualization, helping drive performance and understanding to a new level. Yes, it takes extra time, but the effort pays off in spades!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What's in a Name?

Choosing creative, meaningful and available business names is not a task for the faint of heart. In my recent endeavours, I found the following tools to be very helpful:

  • Marcia Yudkin has assembled a useful process that, although does not do the work for you, is rife with links to useful tools. Your best friends in this process are a thesaurus, homonym and cliche references, rhyming dictionaries, and various name databases.
  • To check for domain availability, try out these web sites:
Good luck!

Purpose - The Heart of Design

I have had the great privilege of participating in the rediscovery of key design principles through the recent renaissance led by the likes of Alan Cooper (The Inmates Are Running the Asylum) and the folks at IDEO. Using a fresh emphasis on observation and the capture of customer behavior and goals, they have successfully realigned our methodologies of how to sustain success in this overengineered culture.

The questions, "Why are we building this?" and, "How can we make this more compelling?" have gone far towards improving our existing offerings. More importantly, they have helped us connect with the core purpose of our products and services, a critical conduit to the value opportunities in an increasingly complex world. In addition to rejuvenating our production value, the same principles can also be applied to the organization as a whole. When business leaders help their teams effectively connect with their shared core purpose, it creates a significant synergy resulting in optimal performance.

In his book, "Leading with Purpose", Richard Ellis highlights this trend:

"The leaders of these companies have long known that providing value to customers--not the maximization of shareholder wealth--is fundamentally why their organizations exist and that this purpose is key to their companies' outstanding performance. This linkage between customer-focused purposes and performance will be even truer in the intensely competitive, knowledge-based global markets of the future."

Like companies, this holds true for individuals as well. If our lives operates like overengineered, feature heavy software, we end up spending many CPU cycles producing little or uncertain value. By stopping to observe and connect with our purpose, confidence and entire new possibilities emerge!