28 February 2006

27 February 2006

Why you need to simplify your diagrams

A 1997 study found that when people create visual diagrams, they use about 6 to 12 visual elements, or "nodes" to describe a system.

What's interesting to me is that this is true no matter what tools they used and regardless of the complexity of the system.

Tools didn't matter: Whether people made diagrams with paper cutouts, online diagramming tools or pencil and paper, the result was the same.

The complexity of the system didn't matter: Whether people were diagramming something as simple as a pencil sharpener or as complex as the British Parliamentary system, it did not seem to have much effect on the complexity of the diagrams they used to represent the systems.

In fact the only thing that did seem to affect the number of nodes people used is when the experimenter instructed them to take as long as they needed and to make diagrams that were as detailed as possible. And even then the number of nodes maxed out at about 13.

This is worth thinking about if you are going to use diagrams to communicate with other people. What insights can we glean from this? Here are some of my thoughts:

1. People construct "mental models" when trying to understand how things work

2. Most mental models seem to be made up of 6-12 components

3. A diagram with more then 13 components will probably not become integrated into people's consciousness as a mental model

To me, that means that if you want your system to be understood and integrated into people's thinking as a mental model,

you had better boil it down to a simple picture.

The study -- Correction: A picture is worth 84.1 words -- was conducted by Cambridge researcher Alan F. Blackwell and funded by the Medical Research Council and Hitachi Europe Ltd. Update: Alan suggested I point out that he was a Ph.d. student at the time this study was conducted -- more recent research can be found on his website.

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

26 February 2006

The magic number is 6

Interesting post from ext337:

The magic number is 6: "We don't make communities for 1M, 100K, 10K or even 1K. The communities we make are for 6 people. Make that -- share it, write it, meet with it -- and let each of those spawn more communities of 6. Keep it small enough to really care about and relate to."

Dave speaking now: I have been thinking about magic numbers recently and I actually think the magic number is 5 -- but why split hairs? The important idea is that big things happen when small groups get energized. I believe in small numbers and cellular growth (More later on cellular growth, the number 5 and why I think it's magic).

I found this post via Nancy White's blog.

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

25 February 2006

When was your last transformation?

Do you remember the last time you underwent a transformation?

By transformation I mean one of the following:
- You started to see the world in a fundamentally different way
- Something made you question your assumptions or belief system
- You made a life-changing decision
- You were converted to a new way of thinking or a new pattern of behavior
- You changed your mind about something that you felt strongly about

Transformative experiences don't happen that often, but they are powerful moments that can seem to turn the world inside out.

If we can find a way to engineer more transformative experiences, it might be a first step towards making real and lasting change in our world -- a world that seems stuck in patterns of behavior that seem unproductive, sometimes even destructive.

I am curious about what kinds of things can trigger these kinds of major insights. Think back to the last time you really looked inside and questioned your own assumptions; the last time you truly tansformed as an individual:
- What triggered your transformation?
- Were you alone, with another person, or with a group?
- What frame of mind or emotion made you receptive to such major change?
- If you were with other people, what did they do or say that helped the transformation happen?
- What happened afterwards?

Please share your thoughts on this important topic.

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

24 February 2006

Hot button

Sometimes an innocent comment triggers a violent response. Did you stumble on a hot button? Careful! Once a hot button is pressed, it doesn't matter what you say — people need time to cool down.

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

23 February 2006

Talking at each other

We're talking at each other instead of to each other. Each person seems like they are waiting for their next chance to talk, when they should be listening.

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

22 February 2006

Perspective shift

Your perspective can impact your ability to see a situation clearly. Try to see the situation from another point of view.

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

19 February 2006

How to improve your conversations

Here are a couple of tips that will help you have better conversations:

1. Whether you are religious or not, tell yourself that God is speaking to you through the other person.

2. Imagine yourself in a game with the following rule: "Whoever talks first loses."

Do you have ideas or best practices that improve the quality of your conversations? If so, please take a moment and leave a comment.


Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

17 February 2006

Improve the silence

Jerry Michalski recently shared a concept with me, which he learned from Quaker meeting:

"Speak only if it will improve upon the silence."

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

16 February 2006

15 February 2006

The seeds of change

Do you want to see more change in the world? Do you want to see more of your ideas come to fruition? To see them become adopted by others and thrive?

You might want to start thinking smaller -- and thinking less.

Whether it's a change initiative, new product or new project, most people have a tendency to overplan when launching change. This is because the longer you think about anything and the more people are involved, the bigger and more unwieldy it becomes. The bigger it becomes the more you feel the weight of doubt and risk.

The planning process can become so cumbersome and anxiety-ridden that the initiative is never launched at all. Some people call this analysis paralysis.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by your plans, you might want to start planting seeds. You don't need a budget -- just an idea for how to make things better. Here's how to start planting your ideas in the world:

Think small
Don't try to solve the problems of the world in one go. Don't convene a committee or ask permission. Just start the change at a grass-roots level and see what happens. Take small steps in the right direction. Plant seeds: small things that you can give sustained attention and energy to over time. If it works, people will notice and start to follow your lead.

Trust the universe
Not every idea is a good one. Trust the universe to accept and adopt good ideas. Think Darwin and natural selection: if the "seeds" of your idea are good and they fall on fertile ground, they will bear fruit. If they are not bearing fruit it could be for two reasons:
1. The ideas are no good!
2. You are planting your ideas in hostile or barren ground. It might be time to move on.

Let things die
If your ideas don't catch on, don't think of it as failure, but as a learning experience. Keep planting. The more ideas that you plant, the more you will learn. Persistence and passion are more important than genius.

Ideas need some care and nurturing if they are to take root, and with ideas, success is usually achieved through other people. Look for ways to create feedback loops. Listening to your "customers" can help you see opportunities to hone your thoughts and make them more useful to others. Adoption is the key to success.

Progress, not perfection
If your idea stays in the planning stages you'll never know if it could have changed the world. It doesn't have to be perfect. Get it out there and start making things happen.


Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

14 February 2006

10 February 2006

07 February 2006

Visual thinking school is number one!

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

Dave Gray interview: Squidoo

Heath Row of Squidoo just interviewed me about visual thinking school. Here's a transcript:

Squidoo: How did you decide what to make your lenses about?

Dave: The world is getting more and more complex, and it's getting harder and harder to communicate clearly amongst all the noise. Visual thinking is an ideal way to get your message across -- a picture is worth a thousand words.

Visual Thinking School needed to happen for many reasons -- if there had been no Squidoo, I would have had to figure out some way to do it. Lucky for me Squidoo arrived just in time -- and it seemed like the perfect way to get these ideas in front of a wider audience.

Squidoo: Do you maintain a web site or blog otherwise?

Dave: Yes. I have a blog called Communication Nation, a blog on communication, management and visual thinking. My company also has a web site.

Squidoo: What have you done with your lenses that you can't do elsewhere?

Dave: While a blog is an excellent publishing platform, there is no easy way to organize your posts. A lens is a great way to organize the information that's in your blog, so people can find things more easily.

I also find the Flickr module fascinating. I choose tag words for concepts I want to illustrate and watch what Flickr picks out for me. I have made several new friends this way, probably because common tags means we may be thinking along the same lines already.

Squidoo: Could you explain the idea behind your interlinked grouping of visual thinking-related lenses?

Dave: Initially, I tried to make Visual Thinking School work with just one lens, but it became too difficult to organize. The first time I directed people to the lens, they told me it was difficult to navigate.

So I came up with the idea of having a "table of contents" lens. Each lens is like a module or chapter of a book (I called them "mini-courses," and the "table of contents" lens is a way to organize all the chapters together into a cohesive whole.

If one of the "chapters" starts to become difficult to manage, it can be broken down into multiple lenses. This kind of hierarchical approach ends up making your lens infinitely extensible -- it can grow to accommodate as much content as you can think of or imagine.

Squidoo: What do you think of the visual opportunities offered by Squidoo?

Dave: I love them. I'll say it again: I love love love them. As Squidoo grows, I hope you will add even more visual tools and options for how images are displayed.

As I said before, a picture is worth a thousand words. By using Squidoo's visual functions, you can make your lens communicate more deeply and powerfully than you ever could with words alone.

Squidoo: What advice or ideas would you offer other lensmasters?

Dave: Follow your passion. Have fun and enjoy yourself. It's contagious!

Photo by Riaz, XPLANER (I think!).

Here's a link to the interview (You'll need to sign up as a Squidoo lensmaster to read it)

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

06 February 2006

The computers you don't see

Embedded devices are the computers you don't see. They're inside more and more things all the time.

Why should you care? Where are these devices and what do they do?

To find out, take a look at the Windows Embedded Universe, brought to you by your friends at Microsoft and XPLANE.

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

05 February 2006

Visual thinking practice: Letting go

By Chris Brogan

We carry within us a certain need for things to "look right." To some, this extends to perfectionism. For others, it can become a bad case of writer's block (or artist's block). This exercise attempts to prove that you are capable of communicating through images based on your willful intent, and not the perfection of the lines you draw.

Take your sketchpad and pen/pencil of choice, close your eyes, and just draw all over the page. Try variations on physical sensations, like long flowing arcs and short, zippery, zig-zags. We're just loosening up your mind and your hand. Fall off the page. Who cares? Spread out and do big circles, and little ones. Pick the pen up and let it come down a few times. Try this for 60 seconds or so.

On a fresh page, close your eyes and draw two figures in some kind of situation. It can be as basic as two people standing around waiting for the bus. Focus on their roundish heads, their shoulders, how their arms move away from their bodies. Don't be afraid to pick the pen up, if you want. See if you can get them to convey an emotion, or a scene.

On a fresh page, close your eyes and draw a face. Try drawing someone famous, or someone you know. This time, think about the person, and think of things other than visual queues to who they are. Robert Di Nero is jumpy. Madonna is slinky. Shaq is powerful and yet playful. Can your non-visual self find the imagery in just the flow of your pencil?

Try doing this for two minutes. Take a fresh page, close your eyes, and just go. Think about your life. Think about things you have to get done in the coming days. Think about what's bugging you, what\'s making you happy. And do it with your pen or pencil moving. Try pouring some of what you're feeling, or scenes, or bodies, onto the page with your eyes closed. See what comes of it.

And post your results to the Visual Thinking School blog. It'd be great to hear your thoughts and feeling on this exercise when you're done.

Visual thinking is the practice of using pictures to enhance your ability to solve problems, think about complex issues and communicate effectively. You can learn more about visual thinking in visual thinking school.

Q: (Is this what you were looking for, Dave?)

A: (Yes Chris :))

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

News flash!

Lifehacker just joined the back-to-paper movement!
Shown: XPLANER Rob Dersley, briefly distracted from his love affair with paper.

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

04 February 2006

A new voice enters the blogosphere

Last week in Seattle I put out a call. This week a new blog is born. I feel so proud!

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

02 February 2006

Worth reading twice

"People rarely become less interesting when they talk less."
-- Toby Getsch

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.

01 February 2006

Do you live in Seattle?

Do you live in Seattle?

Anyway I will be in Redmond on Wednesday and Thursday of this week (February 1st and 2nd) to do some consulting work with a large technology company ;). If anyone's interested we could meet up somewhere nearby for a happy hour or something.

If you'd like to hook up send me an email at dgray [at] xplane [dot] com.

Update: Hi all -- I will be in the bar at the Westin in downtown Bellevue (Washington) tonight (Wednesday) at 9pm. Here's the Hotel info: 600 Bellevue Way NE Bellevue, Washington 98004 United States Phone (425) 638-1000 Fax (425) 638-1040 I have never been there before so if they have more than one bar I will be in the whichever is the quietest. Hope you can stop by and say hello! [BTW I look exactly like the blog photo except I have a beard now.]

Update: Sorry you missed it! It was awesome :)

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.