23 December 2009

Values, motivation and business

I got these questions in an email interview by Garrick Gibson recently, and, since I get asked these things fairly often, I thought I would post my answers here.

1) What do you value most about what you are doing in your profession?

2) Name 3 of the most important actions taken to start your business?

3) How much of your personal values played a role in starting and operating your business?
How do these values show up in your business?

Here are the answers I gave Garrick:

Q: What do you value most about what you are doing in your profession?

I love that I can walk into a chaotic situation and help people make sense of it so they can make better decisions. It makes me feel useful and appreciated when people recognize and reward that.

Q: Name 3 of the most important actions taken to start your business?

1. When I quit smoking it made me realize that I could do anything when I set my mind to it, no matter how difficult it might seem. So, strange as it may sound, the first and most important step was quitting smoking -- it had nothing to do with business and everything to do with building my confidence.

2. Quitting my journalism job to take a much lower-paying job as a university professor. The importance of that step was that I was walking into a position with a definite end point. The position was a one-year contract, renewable up to a maximum of three years, so just as if I were an elected official, my job had a term limit. This set the clock ticking. It gave me a deadline, so to speak.

3. Expanding my world view. I felt strongly that to be successful in business I needed to understand all aspects, so I read voraciously about marketing, sales, strategy and finance. I also asked people who I deemed successful what drove their success. One of them once said to me "Nothing happens till somebody sells something." I took that to heart.

An understanding of sales was key to the success of my business. Turns out the biggest secrets of successful selling are great listening skills and an ability to turn understanding and empathy into action and results. These are great skills for anybody to learn, no matter what they plan to do.

Q: How much of your personal values plays a role in starting & operating of your business?

Personal values are huge. I believe that better clarity and understanding, in the long run, is better for the world. I feel that at XPLANE we are doing something good.

Q: How do these values show up in your business?

I felt strongly enough about company values that I worked with the team to create a culture map which we use to remain focused on who we want to be. You can see the culture map here.

We use this map as a compass to guide our actions and decisions. It turns out to be most useful with the more difficult decisions, not because it gives the answers but because it helps us ask the right questions.

Thanks Garrick, for asking the thoughtful questions that generated this post. thanks to you, reader, for reading it. I'd be very interested to hear how you would answer these questions.

Please leave a comment and answer Garrick's three questions, or just tell us about your values. How do they motivate you in your business endeavors?

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03 December 2009

Excerpt, OSS SabotageManual

ExcerptOSSSabotageManual, originally uploaded by @bfchirpy.

Thanks @bfchirpy for this little gem. How many of us have engaged in one or another of these activities over the years, without thinking of the long-term damage we were causing to the health of an organization we probably joined voluntarily?

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25 November 2009

Complicated vs. complex

When you make the complicated simple, you make it better. But when you make the complex simple, you make it wrong.

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12 November 2009

Empathy mapping

Empathy map, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

Just posted over on the Knowledge Games blog about Empathy mapping. Enjoy!

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27 October 2009

Mr. Fixit and the power of packaging

Mr. Fixit, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

Reason is a dangerous, two-edged sword. It can be seen as Newtonian thinking in a quantum world; a cause-and-effect approach in a world that's more complex than that. In relation to that concept I'd like to make two points, one about humanity and the other about reason.

First, humanity:

The idea that we are somehow logical, rational or reasonable creatures is a broadly accepted one, yet under close examination it appears completely ridiculous. Yes we are capable of using reason as a tool, but more often than not we ignore what reason tells us and tend to favor other biases, especially cognitive biases. We forget that we are not designed for reason so much as propagation and survival. Take a look at classical game theory, which presupposes that people will act in their own rational self-interest. Turns out that predictions you make based on this assumption go radically wrong. We make decisions based on other factors such as fear, doubt, paranoia, desire, greed, even altruism. Any sales or marketing person can tell you as much from personal experience. The best products don't win: Coke failed the taste test and Microsoft isn't the best operating system. This is not a bad thing -- our non-rational decision-making processes tend to work very well and protect us from harm in a lot of cases. It's just that there are deep blind spots that may actually drive us to extinction, which I think is what concerns many of us.

Now, reason:

Reason is the best tool that we know of for overcoming our blind spots. I use the word tool for a reason here: A tool is something that's designed for a specific purpose and has certain ideas (about its use) built into it. A hammer sees everything as a nail, a saw wants to cut, etc. Reason, and the empirical method, can be seen as a set of tools based on a theory about the world: that everything is, or potentially can be, understood in rational terms. Yes, the current state of the tool is primitive when it comes to understanding complex relationships and ecosystems, but we are making progress. The quantum world, to make an example, was not discovered by mystics, it was discovered by physicists using empirical techniques. Complexity theory is making great strides toward understanding how nonlinear systems and complex interactions work. Brain science is advancing rapidly these days and helping us make similar strides toward understanding the fallibilities of our senses and cognitive functions. So let's not give up on reason.

At the same time let's be sure to understand its limitations. Philosopher of Science Paul Feyerabend advocated a separation of science and state to parallel the separation of church and state. Science, he thought, has enough power, pride and hubris to rival any social structure, religion or philosophy that opposes it. I might not go so far but I do think we need to remember that reason and empiricism are tools, and like any tools, they have their limitations. Reason cannot tell the carpenter what to build or what not to build, or why. Science and technology may influence destiny but they cannot tell us who we are or where we need to go. They cannot shape a vision or offer moral guidance. Reason can't keep a family together or avoid conflict within a community.

This gets to my main thesis here, which is that reason must be understood in context. I happen to like simple rules such as

First do no harm.
Seek to first to understand, then to be understood.
Leave no trace.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; and its corrollary: only if they want that!


Reason is super-effective but also alien to many people who are following the powerful survival-cues of their biological brains, and one thing that seems to be true over time is that the simple memes like those above appeal to the intuitive common sense of the common mind. To be clear: I'm not arguing against reason but for better marketing of it!

Can we package the idea of a rational world in simple terms? Can we employ the simplicity of Haiku for example?

The great philosophical and religious leaders were able to convey their messages in short simple stories and sayings. Why not reason?

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08 September 2009

Designing a narrative with index cards

Working on the workshop, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

I recently got an email from a teacher who wanted to know how she could help her students develop better presentations. I've been meaning to write down my method for awhile now and rather than write one email I thought I'd put it into a blog post.

When I develop presentations I like to use index cards to sort through ideas. Sometimes I use a bottom-up approach, sorting and sifting through myriad ideas until the best ones float to the top. Other times I use a top-down approach, starting with the audience and their interests, and building a structure underneath that. More often it’s a combination of the two approaches – I start top-down, with an audience and what I think will interest them. Then I start to develop ideas, but those ideas lead to other ideas and soon I have too many thoughts, after which I need to do some bottom-up sifting to let the best ideas emerge.

The image above is the sorting exercise I went through to develop a workshop I gave in Toronto in 2006. The approach borrows heavily from the card sorting method used in software design.


This is best when you know who you’re presenting to and what they want to know. If you don’t know where to start this is probably the best way to begin.

1. Start by thinking about your target audience and what they are interested in. It helps to imagine a real person that you know that fits the profile.

2. Now, brainstorm a list of questions that you think they might be likely to ask you about the topic in question. Write down one question per index card.

3. Now, try to sort the questions into a sequence that makes sense. Probably this means the most basic questions (such as “What is it?”) at the beginning, and the more action-oriented questions (Such as “how can I apply it?”) toward the end. Now you can look at the questions and see if they form a meaningful sequence that, say, introduces a topic, develops it, and reaches a conclusion. At this point you should have a sequence of cards running from left to right.

4. Now, under each question card, you can start to develop your “answer” cards – slides that will answer the question.


This is best when you have a lot of ideas to sort through but don’t know how to weave them together yet. If you know what you want to talk about you might want to start here.

1. Write down as many ideas on a topic as you can – all the elements that might be useful as part of a presentation. Write down one thought or idea per index card. I often like to sketch on the card as well, thinking about how I might illustrate the concept.

2. Sort the cards into piles that represent ideas that “feel like they belong together.”

3. Name each pile and create a “title card” for each group. Each title card now represents a group of related ideas that might form a section of your presentation.

4. Now, try to arrange the title cards into a meaningful sequence – put the cards into a row. This forms the basis of the narrative thread.

5. Under each title card, you can now create a “column” of index cards with the ideas that form the main points for each section.

6. Now, identify gaps in the story, eliminate redundancies and irrelevant information, and go from there.

As I said, usually I work with a hybrid of the two approaches. It’s much like a conversation, where one person’s thoughts influence the next person’s ideas. Moving back and forth between what the audience wants to hear (the “top”) and what I want to say (the “bottom”) helps me develop a synthesis that integrates my most valuable knowledge with what people are really interested in hearing.

I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on this approach, and I’d love to hear about your experiences using this or similar approaches in your work. So be a mensch and leave a comment!

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25 August 2009

Bitching about work means you like it the way it is

It sounds counterintuitive, but when you bitch about work you are only feeding the problems you talk about.

Bitching about work is like scratching an itch -- it may make you feel better in the short run, but in the long term you are only making it worse.

When you bitch about work you keep your issues and concerns in the dark, as far as your organization is concerned. You also feed negative feelings, divisiveness and cliquishness in your workplace, which makes the office unpleasant and generally brings everybody down.

By raising your issues appropriately, in a public forum, you bring them to light, which allows them to be discussed and addressed. Even if you don't agree with the outcome, at least you have been heard and your opinion is known.

There are two ways to solve a work situation you don't like: Change the situation or find another job. By bitching in private you're not doing anything to change the situation, and in addition you're making the workplace less fun for everybody.

By making your concerns public you have a chance to address them, and even if you don't get what you want, you can make the decision to live with it or move to another job.

The third alternative, staying in a job you hate, is like staying in an abusive relationship. It only reinforces negative behavior all around.

Your relationship with your co-workers is like any other social relationship. It's not likely to ever be perfect, but focusing on the positive will generate more positive feelings and results, while focusing on the negative will only make things worse.

So next time you have the urge to scratch that itch, don't tell yourself it's okay because you're "only venting." Ask yourself if it's worth the damage you'll cause.

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29 June 2009

Toward a theory of information relativity

Visual thinking, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

People often ask me how to visualize information. They ask things like “How can I visualize my industry ecosystem?” or “How can I visualize how my product works.” My first instinct is to try and back them up a bit. This is because they are already defining their project in terms of an answer or solution, and before you can deliver an answer you need to know the question. Getting the question right is the most important component in information design, and it’s the most common point where information design goes wrong.

This is because information is always relative. Always. Before you can undertake any kind of visualization exercise, you need to know what question you want to answer, and for whom. A look at the history of information will confirm this point.

Science is a process by which we attempt to compare our perceptions with something we call “reality” but in fact reality is something we can never really know for sure. Like the flickering shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave, reality is something we can only see dimly, because it’s distorted by our perceptions and beliefs. Every observation and fact has a margin of error, which is directly related to the observer’s background, beliefs, culture and limitations. It is written in the Talmud, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.”1

By beginning with an audience and a question you give yourself a focusing device. Like a flashlight, the audience and question will illuminate the information that’s relevant to your goal, while leaving the rest in the dark. Good information design is as much about what you leave out as what you put in.

What to put in: Information that’s relevant to your target audience, and that answers a real question that they have. What to leave out: Everything else. The best rule of thumb is “When in doubt, leave it out.”

So if you want to create a visual in order to explain something, ask yourself the following questions first:

“Who am I explaining it to?”
“What do I want them to do?”

At XPLANE we call this the WHODO, and it’s a required input to any project we undertake. Once you understand the WHO (your audience) you will have a sense of their level of existing knowledge of the subject.

For example if you are explaining scientific or technical information to engineers or scientists you can assume a high level of sophistication and readiness. Based on the cultural expectations in science and engineering fields, you can also assume a high level of skepticism and a need for evidence and proof.

Explaining the same information to a group of executives, or salespeople, would be a completely different exercise. You can expect that they will have a different set of questions and probably will be more focused on practical applications and will get impatient with scientific or technical explanations.

Thus, the same information will need to be presented very differently based on the audience that you are talking to.

Understanding the audience is only part of the equation. The other half of the WHODO is DO. Before you can undertake any explanatory task you need to know what outcome you expect. Describing this as a change in understanding is not enough. Understanding is difficult to observe. People often will say they understand something just to get you out of their hair.

People will also believe that they understand something when they don’t really understand it. Have you ever left a meeting where everyone seemed to be in agreement, yet their later actions made it clear that they didn’t agree after all? It’s common to see nodding heads in a room when people don’t agree – they think they agree but in reality they don’t. This is because when an explanation is sufficiently vague, people are free to believe what they want to believe. Politicians often use this rhetorical principle to great effect. Words like “freedom, justice and fairness” mean different things to different people. Vague explanations are common in business, and they can give the illusion of agreement. But they don’t get results.

Here’s the key: When people understand things differently, they do things differently. What they say is less revelatory than what they do. So if you want to build a rock-solid explanation, focus on what you want people to do. If they understand what you are saying, what changes in behavior would you expect to see?

Once you have defined your WHODO, next you need to anticipate the questions they will ask. This again will depend on your audience and the information they will need to make a decision. Part of this is also cultural. Scientists will want to see scientific evidence. They will want technical explanations and probably a lot of detailed analysis. Busy executives may want different kinds of proof, such as what customers are buying and what competitors are doing. They will also be less generous with their time and expect you to get quickly to the point.

But you don’t have to go in cold. If you understand the mind of your audience, you will be able to generate a list of questions that they are likely to ask.

Once you have defined your WHODO and generated a list of questions, you can start thinking about how to visualize the information. Will they need a broad overview or detailed charts and specifications? Will they need to see the value to the customer, or the technical operational details?

In the fields of information science and knowledge management there is a model known as the Data Information Knowledge Wisdom Hierarchy, or DIKW for short. This has become a standard for defining the terms and how they relate to each other.2 Here’s how defines the hierarchy:

Data has no particular significance beyond representation. It consists of symbols that stand for objects, events or their properties. Data is a collection of facts3 – also called “know-nothing”4 to reinforce the point that data, by itself is dumb; it has no meaning.

Information is data that has been organized so that it is useful, usually because of relational connections – also called “know-what.” Information answers questions like who, what, where, when and how many.

Knowledge is information that has been integrated into the mind, memory and body, such that it can be applied to doing and making things, also called “know-how.” Knowledge is usually acquired through experience, or through stories about other people’s experiences.

Wisdom is the ability to perceive value, make judgments, and evaluate long-term consequences. Russell Ackoff describes the difference between knowledge and wisdom as the difference between doing things right and doing the right thing. Wisdom requires values, and values are perhaps the most relative thing of all.

So I propose the beginnings of a theory of information relativity:

1. All information is relative, and it’s always relative: relative to the observer and the observer’s point of view; relative to the culture and its values; relative to the situation; relative to what has come before, and to what will come next.

2. The value of information is always relative because it is directly related to it’s usefulness, which depends on the user, the context and the situation.

3. Information design must therefore be driven by the context within which it will be experienced. Information design must serve the needs of real human beings doing real things. Information wants to be used.

At its heart, information design is about change. It’s about increasing the amount of useful information in the world. Good information design should result in changes to understanding – increases in knowledge and wisdom – which can be directly measured by observable changes in human behavior.


1. Also attributed to John Milton, H.M. Tomlinson, Anais Nin and others.

2. Harlan Cleveland first wrote about the DIKW hierarchy in a December, 1982 article “Information as Resource” in The Futurist, citing inspiration from the following lines written by T.S. Eliot:

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

~T.S. Eliot, The Rock, 1934

3. Even the things we think of as facts are relative to the observer and a particular point of view. The problem of facts is as old as science itself and is still unresolved. See “Free the Facts” by Dave Gray, 2009.

4. Milan Zeleny, “Management Support Systems: Toward Integrated Knowledge Management,” Human Systems Management 7, no 1, 1987.

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17 June 2009

Yuri Engelhardt's notebook

Yuri Engelhardt's notebook, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

Yuri Engelhardt's notes, taken when he was working on The Language of Graphics. Click here for a closer look.

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28 April 2009

Reader interaction with Marks and Meaning

Opa!, originally uploaded by Edward Vielmetti.

Marks and Meaning is designed to encourage readers to interact with the book in various ways, and I have been thrilled to see the various ways people have chosen to do that. Ed Vielmetti has peppered his copy with sticky notes. The image above is from his copy of version zero.

For more images like this check out the Marks and Meaning photo pool.

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27 April 2009

Visual note-taking workshop

I'm very excited to announce that three of my favorite visual thinkers -- Sunni Brown, Mike Rohde and Austin Kleon -- will be delivering a workshop on visual note-taking on Tuesday, May 12.

The image above are some visual notes that Austin Kleon took during one of the conference calls as we planned the workshop. This is a chance to learn from some people who are truly masters at what they do. Your notes and whiteboard scrawls will never be the same!

More about the workshop:

Ever since Leonardo put pen to paper, visual note-taking has been a route to improve the quality of your thinking, make information more memorable, and make your ideas easier to share with others. Read more.

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18 April 2009

Guiding principles for VizThink

Some of you may have noticed that I have been knocking on a lot of doors lately, asking people to participate in the future of VizThink in one way or another.

One of the questions I have heard pretty frequently is "What are Vizthink's guiding principles?" and "What is the vision/mission for VizThink?'

To try to answer these questions we have created a draft document with the help of some of our members. I have posted the current draft on the VizThink forums, here.

There is no charge to participate in the forums, although you must register to post.

Thanks in advance for your feedback -- and please, share your thoughts!

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16 April 2009

Marks and Meaning, v. 0.5

Marks and Meaning, v. 0.5, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

Just released version 0.5 of my unbook, Marks and Meaning. You can buy a copy here. Read the warning label!

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02 April 2009

The Demon-Haunted World

A beautiful and haunting story about the future of cities by Matt Jones.

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05 March 2009

Unbook download

For those who wanted Marks and Meaning as a download, it's now available for $9.95 here. Tell your friends!

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03 March 2009

Design Lively Elearning with Action Mapping

This presentation lays out a very interesting, and, I suspect, very effective, method for developing e-learning aimed at getting results for your business.

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18 February 2009

The unbook movement

As some of you know I have been keenly interested in a movement, started by Jay Cross, called the unbook. I have gotten some questions about how the unbook differs from a traditional book, so I thought I would answer them here.
The driving forces behind the movement are the acceleration of business change and the inability of traditional publishing to keep up. With new technologies such as print-on-demand and online marketplaces, authors can now publish books, in both electronic and print formats, at the push of a button. The unbook, due to these factors, operates in a fundamentally different way than the traditional book.
A traditional book is released in editions. When a work is revised or updated, a new edition is released. These revised or updated editions usually offer small, incremental changes, such as a new preface or introduction, a new chapter, or small changes to the content.
An unbook is more like software:
1. An unbook is never finished, but rather continually updated, based on feedback from users andtheir evolving needs.
2. An unbook is released in versions. As in open source software, version 1.0 of an unbook is a significant milestone, indicating that it is stable and reliable enough for use by the general public. The significance of a new release is indicated by the size of the gap: For example, the difference between 1.1 and 1.1.3 is minor, while the difference between 1.1 and 2.0 is major.
3. An unbook is supported by a community of users who share their experiences and best practices with each other, and help each other troubleshoot problems encountered in their practice areas. An unbook’s community is a very real part of the unbook’s development team.
I have published an unbook, Marks and Meaning, to catalogue my continuing efforts in the field of visual thinking and information design, and to develop a user community focused on that discipline.
An unbook is mindware: software for the mind: And in the case of Marks and Meaning, my hope and intent is to develop not just software, but an operating system which improves on our current thinking models and makes our minds more useful and usable.
In the same way that graphical user interfaces (GUIs) improved the usability of computing devices, I hope, with your help, to develop a graphical operating system for the mind.
The field of information design is developing so rapidly that I believe an unbook is the only way to do this.
I believe that the unbook form has real potential, especially for emerging disciplines like information design, such as user experience design, agile software development, social media, and knowledge management, as well as established disciplines which are undergoing significant change (finance? government?).
To support these efforts, Jay and I have set up a website to support the unbook movement and provide a comprehensive catalogue of available titles. Please take a moment to visit theunbook.com and leave us a note! And if you are working on an unbook or plan to start one, let us know so we can add it to the uncatalogue.

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03 February 2009


I accidentally deleted some recent comments while trying to delete some spam. Unfortunately Blogger doesn't let you "undo" that particular operation. If you commented recently, and your comment didn't show up, I am very sorry. If you re-post your comments I promise they'll go through this time (unless you're a spammer!:).

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26 January 2009

Why you need to go to VizThink 09

Dave Davison sketches, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

VizThink, for those who haven’t heard of it, is a global community of visual thinkers that I helped to launch in 2007. The community was formed in recognition of a broad and emerging trend that offers a new path to innovation in business thinking.

VizThink is very different than other conferences in several ways:

VizThink is about differences: Most conferences try to create a space for like-minded people to gather and learn from each other. VizThink is exactly the opposite. It's a conference about differences. It attempts to cast the widest possible net of people and disciplines that stand to gain from visual thinking.

Why would you want to explore differences? One of the greatest strengths of visual thinking is its ability to connect disparate points of view, to build bridges that cross disciplines and connect ideas that might otherwise never be connected. The one thing that connects the VizThink community is that they are innovators who share an interest in visual thinking; who know that looking outside your own field is necessary if you want to innovate.

VizThink is about innovation: The connective power of visualization is one of the reasons you'll find visual thinking at the core of innovation and discovery.

Is your industry undergoing rapid change? Are you stuck in a business or an industry rut? Do you need truly new ways to approach or think about your business? If so then VizThink is for you.

Do you want to learn how people are using visual thinking today, in a wide variety of fields and disciplines, to navigate change and grow their businesses? If so, then VizThink is for you.
At VizThink you will find computer scientists, developers and engineers. You will find project managers, business executives, researchers and strategists. You will find marketers, salespeople, social media experts, educators, psychologists.

You’ll find a wide range of industries, from non-profits to consumer goods, technology, health care, government and education.

VizThink is about design: Yes, you will find designers at VizThink, and people who care about design. Design with a capital “D.” Design as a path to business advantage. Design for world-changing. Design as a method for growth and transformation.

You’ll find user experience designers, product designers, software designers, information designers, industrial designers, web designers, instructional designers, map designers, form designers, e-learning designers, presentation designers and more.

VizThink is about new voices: In January of 2008, Dan Roam’s presentation at VizThink launched a year-long book tour for his first book, the breakaway hit Back of the Napkin, named #1 business book of the year by both Business Week and Fast Company.

Nancy Duarte also presented at VizThink in January of 2008. In September she also launched her first book, Slide:ology, which Prezentation Zen master Garr Reynolds called “My favorite presentation book of all time.”

Both Nancy and Dan will be back at VizThink 2009, along with a host of other speakers who represent a broad spectrum of innovative thinking, including:

Robert Horn, one of the earliest innovators in the visual thinking field, who founded the company Information Mapping in 1967 and wrote the book Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century.

Colin Ware, Director of the world-reknowned Data Visualization Lab at the University of New Hampshire, who has written groundbreaking books on information visualization and visual reasoning, designed 3D geospatial visualization systems, and written over 100 scientific papers related to visualization and perception,

David Sibbet, Founder of the Grove consultancy, who has helped numerous businesses and non-profits develop vision and strategy through visualization,

Luke Wroblewski, Senior principal and product designer at Yahoo, who leads a team that designs and refines the user experience of online products and services,

Jock MacInlay, Xerox PARC veteran and information visualization expert, Director of Visual Analysis at Tableau software,

Joyce Hostyn, Senior Director of Product Design at Open Text, whose focus is bringing interaction design principles to Enterprise Software,

Tom Wujec of AutoDesk, who works with leading-edge Fortune 500 companies to help them incorporate visualization and collaboration into their innovation initiatives,

Jerry Michalski, social media expert who works with leading organizations around the world to help them build trust and community,

Darin Westrich, who has led global brand design for several P&G hallmark brands, such as Crest, Vick’s and Iams,

And many, many, more, too many to name here.

Last year I found VizThink to be a life-changing experience. I have never in my life felt so much electric energy in one place.

This is a tough economy and I know that it’s not easy to find money for conferences. But think about this: The speakers aren’t being paid to be there; they are all going at their own expense, because they want to be a part of this growing community.

VizThink is only weeks away, and due to current economic conditions, VizThink is not planning another global conference until the economy improves. So if you’re thinking, “I’ll go next year,” then think again. This year you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of this emerging community and I hope you will take advantage of it.

Who will be the breakaway new voices, and which ideas will drive innovation and transformation in 2009? Join me at VizThink 2009 and we’ll find out together.

Update: VizThink CEO Tom Crawford just gave me a discount code you can use to get $200 off the registration fee: When registering, just use the code FCDG01.

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23 January 2009

Unbooks and more

I'll be speaking at the upcoming O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York, which runs from February 9-11. I'm speaking on a panel called Building a Better Web-Based Book.

The reason I was asked to join the panel was partly because of my thoughts and experiments with the unbook. So I have three questions for you:
1) Do you have any thoughts on how we can build a better web-based book? Or thoughts about the future of the book as we enter an age that's more and more digital and distributed?
2) Is anyone else out there experimenting with ideas about delivering book content, whether it's a mix of paper and electronic media or something else?
3) Is anyone specifically doing an unbook, or an unbook-related project? I'm asking because I want to start an online list that links to all the known unbooks out there.
And I also have a suggestion: If you're interested in the future of the book, or the future of paper, you might want to join me and a few others in Albany NY the weekend before the conference at Papercamp, where we'll be exploring exactly ideas in a very open forum. Papercamp was started by Matt Jones, who has already run one in the UK. You can read a great writeup about that one here (This one's probably going to be smaller).
So I suppose I have a fourth question: Are you coming to Papercamp NY?
As always, please share your thoughts!

(Image above is a photo of Jerry Michalski demonstrating his note-taking methods)

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Visual Thinking workshop

I'll be conducting a pre-conference workshop on visual thinking the day before VizThink 09 in San Jose, CA. The photos above are from previous workshops.

This is the last day-long workshop I'll be doing for awhile, and it will be the last VizThink conference for at least a year. I hope you can make it!

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19 January 2009

Comment spam

Dear readers,

I guess it's a measure of popularity, but comment spam on this blog has gotten a bit out of control in recent months.

For those who don't know the term, comment spam refers to comments that are blatantly promotional and link back to the commenter. They say things like "Visit my pharmaceutical site" and "WOW power-leveller." Comment spam is an unethical way for web-based businesses to raise their rankings in the search engines.

It does not refer to comments that legitimately address the ideas in the blog post, however controversial those may be.

As this blog gets a fair amount of traffic, it seems to have become a target. I prefer not to moderate posts but at this point I am spending too much time every day going through comments and deleting spam. It's like weeding the garden, which was never my favorite chore.

So, reluctantly, I am instituting some weed-control measures. I have set comments on this blog to "moderated." I'm still allowing anonymous comments and I promise to publish any comments that relate to the posts, regardless of whether I agree or disagree. I'll even publish rude comments as long as they are relevant and not obscene. In matters where the decision is difficult, I will apply Robert Scoble's living room test.

I hope that this extra step will not discourage you from commenting on this blog. Your comments and the discussions they generate are the main reason I blog, so I hope they will continue.

Best regards,


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17 January 2009

Free the facts!

Facts are an important element of any decision-making process. When we as a society make decisions that affect our future, facts, and conversation or argument about what they mean, is a critical part of those decisions.

But what is a fact, and how do we know that something is a fact? Is there a "keeper of the facts?"

This little thread is an exploration of facts: What they are, how they come to be, who has access to them and why. It's especially focused on the facts that make up the sum of our scientific knowledge.

If you enjoy this series you might also enjoy the thread where this conversation and inquiry began.

Read this thread, with all comments, on Flickr.

Read more about open access.

Read an open letter to the U.S. Congress, signed by 26 Nobel Prize winners.

Join the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, a diverse and growing alliance of organizations representing taxpayers, patients, physicians, researchers, and institutions that support open public access to taxpayer-funded research.

Learn more about what you can do to promote open access.

Write your U.S. Representative to demand open access for publicly funded research.

Contact your U.S. Senator.

Vote to make open access to research a priority for the Obama administration.

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