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Visual thinking

It is widely understood that data analysis is an extremely broad term. The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear these two words is number crunching in Excel. In fact, I find it hard to think about anything else – macro’s, calculations aghhh! But there are a countless number of data analysis techniques. And what we can be sure of, is that the amount of data we have to deal with in this increasingly connected world can sometimes feel overwhelming.

So, what are the best ways to deal with a problem. There is no doubt that with the proliferation of data, businesses are having to utilise more effective ways to deal with this information effectively.

“The formulation of the problem is often more essential than the solution”

– Einstein

Analysis must be conducted carefully. Before diving into detail, we must be sure of what we are conducting it for. As Dr Tony Wagner quite aptly stated “we often answer questions that haven’t been adequately explored, and we try to develop solutions for problems that people don’t yet understand.”

Through my experience, working with visuals is one of the most effective ways to look at issues from different perspectives. This method may not suit everyone, but I know that I learn best with imagery, and it helps me make sense of a situation. The most well-known form of visual technique for data analysis is likely to be a mind map, where a diagram is drawn which links ideas, tasks, and information to a central word, phrase or idea. This is a widely used technique, however, the visual approach to tackling problems encompasses many more techniques.

Visual thinking

In a previous role of mine I was introduced to the term visual thinking. Dave Gray, the founder and chairman of consultancy XPLANE, uses visual thinking tools to guide clients from complexity of clarity on various topics. The term itself embodies the concept wholly. Visual thinking tools employ pictures, sketches and diagrams, to represent points across the thought process, and the methodology is becoming more widely used at a senior level to tackle a wide variety of every day business issues.

The XPLANE team typically uses a considerable amount of Post-it™ notes and coloured markers, taking clients on visual journeys through current issues they are faced with. These issues can range from distribution strategy analysis to assessing a new market entry.

Visual thinking is used in a way to construct and discuss meaning, and deconstruct and rebuild challenging business issues. As Osterwalder & Pigneur state in their book, Business Model Generation, these visual tools give ‘life’ to a business issue and enable participants to asses complex issues from an alternative point of view.

The XPLANE team states that visualisation at a management level makes information more tangible. The business benefits of making information and data clearer improves decision making by providing more accurate understanding of business issues.

Visual thinking techniques are extremely valuable to businesses and can uncover key insights, which can ultimately improve any business’s performance. They also add a little bit of fun to business, and that can’t be bad.

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