A few weeks ago I wrote about visualisation, using flight patterns as an example. More recently I came across this. While the 9 snapshots of “a day in the life of US airspace” are by themselves interesting, what entranced me was the QuickTime movie. [For some reason I couldn’t load it into my VodPod; the error messages generated were ante-Web, a meaningless five digit error number, so I chose not to proceed.]
My thanks to Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs for bringing it to my attention.
As we see information continue to disaggregate and atomise, and as we see its velocity increase, we are going to need better and better visualisation tools and techniques. While there has been much progress in visualisation over the last decade or so (especially in the use of fractal representation, heatmaps, 3D, even simple video and animation), for some reason this has not made its way into business life.
Maybe that’s one more reason I remain Confused.
We’re still stuck in a world of PowerPoint presentations of scorecards and dashboards and RAG indicators, fed by Excel spreadsheets and simple databases, and with considerable manual intervention. Considerable use of derived data. Considerable throwing away of useful information. Considerable scope for sins of omission and commission when interpreting the derived data.
Now most large-scale organisations are under market and analyst pressure to report more accurately and more quickly, and everyone talks about real-time information. Real-time monitoring. Real-time reporting. Real-time events. We talk a good story, but when it comes to true decision support and management information, we go back to using dead-paradigm slow-moving hand-crafted tools.
Why? Maybe it’s because we want to.Â Maybe it’s because we want the control it gives us, the ability to edit and spin the summaries we create. So we spend enormous amounts of time creating, reviewing, refining and negotiating the content of these carefully hand-crafted artefacts. And we manage to convince ourselves that what we see is real and accurate and transparent. And that the Emperor has Clothes.
All this is going to change. It is changing now. One of the key outcomes from the march of Moore, Metcalfe and Gilder is our transformation into an event-driven society. We have the ability to sense so much more in real time. We have the ability to take the sensed information and move it around so much more quickly. And in this digital age, we have the ability to connect different sources of information more effectively, both by use of semantic tools as well as by heuristic learning methods.
Generation M, with their mobility and their multimedia and their multitasking skills, have an innate ability to leapfrog us. They haven’t been infected by Office. They don’t think that way. They’re already used to non-hierarchical ways of looking at things, at tag clouds and cluster maps and fractal images. They’re already used to seeing lots of atomised fast-moving information and making sense of it. They’re used to better simulations, better virtual worlds, more decentralised ways of behaving, quicker decisions, less pigeonholing, faster networking. They’re different. And God bless them.
I’m not saying that boardrooms are going to turn into 21st century air traffic control units overnight. What I am saying is that we waste enormous amounts of time and effort using tools that aren’t fit for purpose, and then somehow we manage to convince ourselves that all is well.
Generation M won’t fall for that.