You ain’t seen nothing yet

Visualisation tools are going to become more and more important over time, as we struggle with problems like “information overload”, problems that have been with us so long they’ve become cliches.

Statistics are made to lie. The lies stick because Innumeracy is rife. Despite everything that John Allen Paulos has done. And Powerpoint, usually bad Powerpoint, rules over all. What makes the innumeracy unbearable is the fact that poor visualisation techniques are then used to propagate the lies.

A sorry state of affairs? Well, that’s why I found this representation of visualisation methods uplifting.

Don’t just look at the table. Run your cursor over it. Move it from element to element. See what can be done. We need ontologies and topologies like this one to help us work out what to do. Thanks to Cory for the find.

As if I need an excuse to mention the BTO track.

10 thoughts on “You ain’t seen nothing yet”

  1. I used to work at a University in their Visualisation Department. My primary focus was on the visualisation of complex multidimensional data. As part of my role I was required to teach students, lecturers and external organisations about visualisation techniques;

    “And Powerpoint, usually bad Powerpoint, rules over all. What makes the innumeracy unbearable is the fact that poor visualisation techniques are then used to propagate the lies.”

    This rings so true; the number of people who don’t know how to produce simple diagrams is astounding; the use of Gee-Whiz curves is unforgivable and the lack of understaning about the importance of clear communication boggles the mind. (Management Consultants are the worst for this).

    As you say PowerPoint has a great deal to answer for, as does the education system. Then there is also the lack of accessible and useful Visualisation Tools. Most people have to rely on simple two dimensional tools such as PowerPoint and Visio to try and communicate complex multidimensional ideas. Without the appropriate tools, it becomes harder for individuals to analyse and understand the data and therefore their ability to communicate its meaning.

    When I worked for the University, I was spoiled. I had access to an array of super computers, visualisation clusters, complex software and was surrounded by people with brains the size of plannets. Now I too have to rely on PowerPoint and am probably as guilty as the rest for poor communication.

  2. Once again, it appears that I have to raise the voice of ancient (or at least mediaeval) history! Once upon a time there was a “trivium” of “fundamental” scholarship: logic, grammar, and rhetoric. Our command of grammar has eroded considerably, perhaps because we have ceded control of it to Microsoft (who would have done better to stick to checking spelling). Information technology has probably made us more aware of logic but not necessarily made us any better at it. Meanwhile, rhetoric is the poor orphan left out in the cold. John Seely Brown used to talk about PowerPoint providing the basis for a new genre of rhetoric. Not only do I agree with him, but I have tried to perform exercises of my own to make his case:

    PowerPoint Rhetoric

    So it is not a question of whether or not “Powerpoint, usually bad Powerpoint, rules over all.” Rather, our use of PowerPoint is simply a symptom of the extent to which we have flushed the entire trivium down the toilet, logic and grammar along with rhetoric. It is not a question of what there is to see through new approaches to visualization but of whether or not we really have anything to say and whether or not it is worth saying.

    If this sounds too inflammatory, I apologize by informing readers that I spent last night listening to my President talk about his “new strategy” for Iraq!

  3. I really found that link useful. Thanks!

    For graphic representation and fast slice-n-dice I have become hooked on Tableau Software. Google it, try the demo. Its like pivot tables and graphs on meth. Very handy, but no panacea.


  4. I think visualization (logic, models and representation) are extremely important for analysts, managers (and students) to make sense of the complexity and dynamics that characterize the business systems today. I found the visual complexity site ( to be a good site that summarizes so many different ways to make sense of the data. I will blog on this more and link to some of the tools and approaches that we have been developing as we think about strategy 2.0 (a network approach to business strategy and value creation). Cheers.

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