(Source Mind Map: here)
>A must read…The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam presents a topic near and dear to me: the power of Visual Thinking.
Visual thinking—”taking advantage of our innate ability to see–both with our eye and with our mind’s eye–in order to discover ideas that are otherwise invisible, develop those ideas quickly and intuitively, and then share those ideas with other people in a way that they simply get.”
In visual thinking (similar to me to “mind mapping”), we solve problems with the power of pictures. The ability to effectively visualize enables us to see difficult problems and “nearly invisible solutions.”
What kinds of problems can be solved with pictures?
“The answer is almost all of them. Pictures can represent complex concepts and summarize vast sets of information in ways that are easy for us to see and understand.”
How do we do this?
Look—“collect and screen” information (In user-centric enterprise architecture, we call this capture)
See—“select and clump” (catalogue the architecture information)
Imagine–see what isn’t there (analyze the baseline, target, and transition plan)
Show–make it all clear (serve up the information in useful and usable ways i.e. make it user-centric)
Visual thinking provides us a way to clarify vague ideas, synthesize and analyze information, communicate and collaborate with others, and tackle difficult problems.
Dan’s approach is particularly interesting to me as I have also been developing and implementing a visualization-based approach to problem solving–User-Centric Enterprise Architecture.
In fact, my approach began as a response to the usual way of doing business, which was to produce fairly lengthy and convoluted technical documents or “artifacts” to solve pressing problems, and then to find that nobody read them.
While enterprise architecture is not a “back of the napkin” exercise, Dam Roam’s approach of visual thinking is compelling and consistent with how we can implement a more User-centric Enterprise Architecture.
User-centric EA uses visualization techniques like mind mapping to brainstorm and develop information products that are useful and useable to the end user.
Mind map—“a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing. It is an image-centered diagram that represents semantic or other connections between portions of information. By presenting these connections in a radial, non-linear graphical manner, it encourages a brainstorming approach to any given organizational task, eliminating the hurdle of initially establishing an intrinsically appropriate or relevant conceptual framework to work within…The elements are arranged intuitively according to the importance of the concepts and they are organized into groupings, branches, or areas. The uniform graphic formulation of the semantic structure of information on the method of gathering knowledge, may aid recall of existing memories.” (Wikiepdia)
Mind maps are all about linking information and portraying it in a simple, clear, and easy-to-read way for people to understand and use.
Similar to a Mind Map that visualizes linked items to a central idea, the Social Graph is “an image of a person’s connections to friends, family, and colleagues,” where the person is in the center and his connections (or links) span outward.
MIT Technology Review, on 28 December 2007 reports in “Mapping Professional Networks” that “IBM‘s Atlas tool aims to help businesses visualize connections between colleagues…[it] works in conjunction with its Connections software, [and] aims to help professionals network more efficiently within large companies. Its My Net component helps people visualize how closely they’re staying in touch with professional contacts. The closer a contact is to the center of the circle, the more frequently the user communicates with her.
The Atlas tool “collects information about professional relationships based not only on job descriptions and information readily available through the corporate directory, but also through blog tags, bookmarks, and group membership. Atlas can be configured to look at e-mail and instant-message patterns, and to weigh different types of information more or less heavily.”
“Atlas’s four features are Find, Reach, Net, and My Net. Find and Reach are both focused on finding experts in particular fields. Through Find, a user enters search terms and receives a list of experts, ranked based on information gleaned from social data, the level of the expert’s activity in the community, and any connections he may have to trusted associates of the user. Reach then helps the user plot the shortest path to make the connection, suggesting people the user already knows who could put him in touch with an expert. Net and My Net are primarily meant to help people analyze their existing networks. Net shows patterns of relationships within particular topic areas at a company-wide level. For example, it might analyze data on people interested in social computing and produce a map of how those people connect with each other through blog readership and community involvement. My Net allows individuals to analyze their own networks, showing them who they are connected to and how frequently they stay in touch with those people.”
The Atlas tool is a cool visualization technique that organizations can use, for example, after a merger or acquisition to see how well two organizations are integrating or that an individual in the organization can use to locate and stay connected with the subject matter experts they need to do their jobs.
Mind maps and social graphs are two interesting examples of how information visualization can be used to enable better organizational information understanding, analysis, and decision-making. User-centric EA maximizes the use of information visualization to communicate effectively. This is especially true when it comes to senior executives in the organization, who with their busy schedules, frequently look for a quick snapshot of actionable information, which summarizes lots of information for them, and helps them hone in on problems areas or opportunities, and options and recommendations for addressing these. In User-centric EA, Profiles (like mind maps or social graphs) are the high level products that portray a satellite view of information. Profiles capture a broad, strategic view of information and visualize it for executive consumption and decision-making. Further, user-centric EA links profile-level products to more detailed information products in the architecture, like models and inventories, so users can easily navigate up or down the hierarchy of information to get to what they need. Similarly, a mind map or social graph could also be a navigation mechanism to get to more detailed information on the objects or people linked to those products.