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This article argues for a rhetorical approach to information design and organisational decision-making, as opposed to an analytical approach. The material was presented at the DD4D conference in ...

This article argues for a rhetorical approach to information design and organisational decision-making, as opposed to an analytical approach. The material was presented at the DD4D conference in Paris in June 2009 and was later published as an article in the Information Design journal.

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    Jenkins   idj article 2010 - final Jenkins idj article 2010 - final Document Transcript

    • John Benjamins Publishing CompanyThis is a contribution from Information Design Journal 17:3© 2009. John Benjamins Publishing CompanyThis electronic file may not be altered in any way.The author(s) of this article is/are permitted to use this PDF file to generate printed copies to be used by way ofoffprints, for their personal use only.Permission is granted by the publishers to post this file on a closed server which is accessible to members (studentsand staff) only of the author’s/s’ institute, it is not permitted to post this PDF on the open internet.For any other use of this material prior written permission should be obtained from the publishers or through theCopyright Clearance Center (for USA: www.copyright.com).Please contact rights@benjamins.nl or consult our website: www.benjamins.comTables of Contents, abstracts and guidelines are available at www.benjamins.com
    • Information Design Journal 17(3), 188–201 © 2009 John Benjamins Publishing Company d o i : 10.1075/idj.17.3.04jenJulian JenkinsFrom data and measures to meaningful decisionsDesigning useful information for senior managers and boardsKeywords: decision-making, analytics, rhetoric, wicked I gained a strong appreciation of the nature of theproblems, meaning-making, information overload information problem late in 2008, when I interviewed a prominent medical practitioner and academic aboutAnalytical approaches to organizational decision- her role as a member of the Board Risk Committee for amaking, with their heavy reliance on data, measures large Australian corporation, and, more specifically, aboutand increasingly sophisticated IT, work well for solving the pack of papers she was accustomed to receiving atame problems, but not for the wicked problems which week in advance of each Committee meeting. The mostincreasingly confront organizational and government recent set of papers consisted of no less than 400 printeddecision-makers. An alternative approach, drawing on pages, with over 60 discrete documents and a widethe ancient tradition of rhetoric and focusing on the variety of formats – and my interviewee calculated thatway that meaning is constructed and communicated, she regularly spent up to nine hours reading all theseopens up new horizons for enabling decision-makers to documents in preparation for the two-hour Committeeovercome the problem of information overload and make meeting.good decisions. Applying this approach opens up new When I asked her how confident she felt about heropportunities for information design to play a crucial role understanding of the organization’s risk systems andin organizational decision-making. processes, however, she only rated it about 40–60%, in spite of the strong personal interest she had takenOne of the factors that has not been addressed fully in in risk over a number of years. Not surprisingly, shethe wake of the global financial crisis is the extent to was dissatisfied with her experience as a user of thewhich the poor decisions that led to some spectacular information, because her hours of effort in reading thecorporate failures and to massive write-downs in papers were not generating the desired rewards in termsvalue were caused by information overload and of clarity and insight. Clearly, a lack of intelligence waspoor information design. Blaming the crisis on slack not the issue; the problem lay with the scale and formatregulation and greedy corporate cowboys may well mask of the information, which was clogging up her cognitivea much more fundamental problem, which will not capacity and dumbing her down.be solved by imposing more regulation and reining in A question mark over how much the members of aexecutive pay packets. Board Risk Committee understand about the systems188
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201and processes they are responsible for overseeing the performance of the business. The introduction ofwould be a cause for concern at any point, but it was new buzzwords into the management lexicon, such asparticularly worrying given the fact that the papers we “triple bottom line”, “balanced scorecards” and “corporatewere discussing were dated October 2008, right at the social responsibility”, reflects an increased recognition ofheight of the near-meltdown of the global financial the need to look beyond just profit and loss to consider asystem. Yet nowhere in the 400 pages of text was there much wider range of factors that indicate the health andany obvious reference to the clear and present dangers well-being of the company.that were threatening the very existence of this particular Not only has the range of topics on which data isorganization. If this scenario is indicative of the general being collected significantly expanded, but the scope andstate of affairs in large organizations, then there is scale of many organizations have increased dramaticallysomething critically amiss in the state of organizational as we have moved towards a globalized economy. Manyinformation and decision-making. of today’s organizations are reporting across not just multiple business units and locations, but multipleThe growing scope of management geographies, cultures, markets and industries – hence theinformation ever-increasing volume of information and diversity of document formats which are dramatically increasing theYou have to feel sorry for your average senior executive cognitive workload for the organizational decision-maker.or board member. Not so long ago, large corporations On top of all this, every corporate scandal orwere managed with little more than the financial economic crisis seems to generate another layer ofaccounts as the only real source of data that a decision- external regulation, so that many of the meetings heldmaker needed to worry about. Over the last twenty years by boards and management teams are dominatedor so, though, there has been an increasing awareness of by compliance documentation. Whether or not thisthe need to take a more holistic approach to measuring additional regulation is desirable or necessary is a moot point; the issue is that more and more trees are being added to the forest of management information (almost literally, given the amount of paper being consumed), without any corresponding increase in the time or cognitive capacity available to decision-makers to process everything they are being asked and expected to read. As America’s intelligence agencies discovered in the wake of 9/11, the sheer volume of information that has to be processed itself creates a risk that important insights and patterns will be overlooked. In the wake of the global financial crisis, we can probably say the same about organizational decision-making – whether in the context of government agencies or large corporations. When business was booming and the economy wasFigure 1.  The growing scope of corporate information. looking strong, it was easy to overlook the gaps in © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company 189 All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201the capability of decision-makers to fully process and way to manage an organization was Sylvanus Thayer,understand the reams of data and information being the Superintendent of the US military academy at Westpresented to them. Now we are all too aware of just how Point from 1817 to 1833. Inspired by a trip to the Écolemany risks are created when you are buried so deep in Polytechnique in Paris, he applied a rigorous engineeringthe data and detail that you no longer have a clear view mindset to running the academy based on relentlessof the whole picture. numerical measurement of student performance and Recognizing the problem of information overload is regular reporting (daily, weekly and monthly) by thoseeasy; knowing how to respond is much more difficult. filling his newly invented role of line manager – with theThere is no human equivalent to Moore’s law, which result that he could manage the academy without havingdescribes the long-term trend that computer storage to leave his office. These methods were inculcated into acapacity doubles every two years. In effect, this means generation of graduates, who were to play a major role inthat there are no real constraints on the volume of guiding the Union side to success in the American Civilinformation that can be generated and stored, but there War, thanks to their superior logistical skill in manag-are very definite constraints on human processing ing supply lines and co-coordinating troop movementscapability. (Hoskin, Macve & Stone, 2006, pp. 168–179). We should not just blame the computer revolution More intriguingly, several graduates of West Pointfor the position we now find ourselves in, however. also made their mark in the burgeoning world ofComputers are simply a technology that enables the industrial corporation. Daniel Tyler (Springfieldthe phenomenon of information overload to occur. Armory), George W. Whistler (Western Railroad) andUnderpinning this whole problem is a much deeper Herman Haupt (Pennsylvania Railroad) all becameissue, a fundamental paradigm for how we have chosen leading pioneers of modern “managerialism” and majorto manage organizations using information. In order contributors to the success of the organizations theyto find new ways to solve the problem of information worked for. With no formal business training to draw on,overload, we need to understand the underlying it was their experience of Thayer’s organizational cultureparadigm, assess its strengths and weaknesses, and at West Point that informed their approach to manage-consider whether there are alternative frameworks of ment – an approach that became embedded as thethinking that could open up some new approaches. In prevailing paradigm in the modern business enterprisethe process, we may well discover some important new (Hoskin et al., 2006, pp. 170–171).horizons and opportunities for information design to Now there is no doubt that the methods pioneeredplay a crucial role in creating value for organizational by Thayer and taken by his students out into the widerdecision-makers. world have played an important role in the rise and success of the modern organization. The analyticalThe prevailing information paradigm methods and engineering mindsets which they employed have enjoyed substantial success in creating some ofThe origins of the current paradigm for managing large the most important elements of modern industrialorganizations are rooted very firmly in the early stages of production, such as efficient supply chains and produc-the modern industrial age. One of the early champions tion lines, rigorous examination and testing of productof the approach that we now take for granted as the quality, technological innovation and financial controls.190 © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201Total Quality Management, Process Engineering and Six Two types of problems and two intellectualSigma are all modern management approaches rooted toolkitsfirmly in this tradition. However, much has changed in the business and Long before the advent of the Internet, this issue waswider cultural landscape since Thayer laid the founda- understood and addressed by none other than thetions of modern management in the early nineteenth ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who recognizedcentury, culminating with some paradigm-shifting that there are two types of problem in the world: thosedevelopments towards the end of the twentieth century. where “things cannot be other than they are”, and thoseThe dominant metaphor at the center of the economy where “things can be other than they are” (Golsby-Smith,and society is no longer the machine, but the web. The 2001, pp. 195–202). Situations where things cannot bemanufacturing economy which fuelled the Industrial other than they are include much of the natural world,Revolution has given way to a knowledge- and service- where order is fixed by laws of physics, chemistry andbased economy as the engine of future growth, and biology; and also the linear world of machines, whichthe key driver of business success is no longer efficient are governed by processes of cause and effect. In bothproduction lines, but the quality, simplicity and emotion- of these situations, the scientific method and analysisal resonance of the customer experience. Moreover, we (which Aristotle was also instrumental in founding) canhave come to recognize that hierarchical organizations be applied admirably as a basis for knowledge. Objectivebased on command and control are out of step with an measurement of a fixed reality (such as the distanceinterconnected world, where real power rests in inter- between the earth and the sun at a given point in time,personal influence far more than in formal authority or the past performance of a Formula 1 racer) can bestructures. Why else would politicians have embraced made with considerable confidence and used to predictTwitter so enthusiastically? future reality (in the former case) or modify future If the world has changed so much, then shouldn’t we performance (in the latter case).be asking ourselves whether our information paradigms However, Aristotle was wise enough to realizeand decision-making practices need just as radical an that the use of objective data processed via rationaloverhaul to cope with the new realities and increased intelligence was not an adequate basis of knowledge forcomplexities of the twenty-first-century environment? all the problems in the world. He recognized that there The problem is not with analytical methods per se; was a whole different class of problems that requiredthey still have much value to contribute to the world. The an entirely different epistemological approach – onekey issue is whether they are the right methods to apply where “things can be other than they are”. These types ofto the sorts of questions that organizational and govern- problems are much more fluid in nature, not governed byment decision-makers are increasingly confronted with. natural laws or objective facts, but by open possibilitiesTo understand that point, we need to recognize that not and multiple options. In short, this is the realm of humanall problem spaces are the same, and that we need more decision-making.than one problem-solving methodology in our toolkit to A much more modern articulation of a similarwork effectively in the world. epistemological insight is found in Horst Rittel’s distinction between tame and wicked problems (1973, pp. 155–169). Tame problems are those that can be © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company 191 All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201addressed in a relatively linear way to achieve a specific, Wicked problems are seldom answered. Twenty yearsquantifiable objective. Consider, for example, travel to ago, Francis Fukuyama boldly proclaimed the “end ofthe moon. For centuries, such a notion was in the realm history” (Fukuyama, 1993), by which he meant that theof fancy, or mystery. But careful application of analytical perennial wicked problem of which form of governmentmethods (involving both gathering of objective data and economy worked best was finally on the verge ofand rational deduction of the laws of physics, such being tamed. That was in the halcyon days after theas gravity and aerodynamics), combined with the Cold War, before the Bush administration sullied thetechnological know-how to build a reliable machine fit reputation of Western liberalism and the global financialfor the intended purpose, enabled mankind to find a crisis brought capitalism to its knees. In other words, justsolution to the problem and achieve what had seemed when you think you have a wicked problem contained,an impossible goal. new dimensions of wickedness emerge – the complexity Flying to the moon is the sort of problem that the can never be turned into an algorithm.scientific method is well equipped to solve. The nature Most of the problems that confront us in humanof the problem may be incredibly complicated and society are wicked problems – issues such as how totechnically difficult, but with sufficient perseverance, respond to climate change, how to create a lastingnumber-crunching and brainpower, it is possible to peace in Afghanistan, how to stimulate an economydevelop a “correct” answer – correct in the sense that in recession, how to bring up teenagers. Equally, manyit is viable and will deliver the intended outcome. The of the strategic issues in today’s globalized businessprogression of science and in particular of technology is environment are wicked problems – whether it isa process of taking problems that seem intractable and establishing an enduring brand identity, re-engagingmaking them achievable – of moving from mystery to a disillusioned workforce, fostering productiverepeatable algorithms (Martin, 2004, pp. 7–10). collaborative relationships with governments and major However, wicked problems are of a different order clients, creating a culture of innovation or identifyingaltogether. They are fluid and highly contextual, with very the most compelling strategic pathway through a globallittle in the way of fixed laws or measurable parameters economic crisis. To believe that we can solve thesethat can be reliably used to solve the problem. Wicked problems using the thinking tools, information styles andproblems are multilayered and not readily reducible decision-making processes of the old management orderto clear notions of cause and effect; the nature of the is a recipe for disaster.problem itself is a matter of subjective perception or If nothing else, the global financial crisis has doneinterpretation. Wicked problems exist within complex us a big favor in two key respects – it has highlightedsystems with multiple interdependencies, so that it is all too powerfully the wickedness and non-linearalmost impossible to predict in advance what the exact interconnectedness of the modern business environment,result will be of any intervention. There are no “correct” and has exposed the limitations of information andanswers, only actions with better or worse consequences. quantitative analysis to save us from our own folly. NowAnd once you have taken a step in a particular direction, more than ever we need to find new ways of thinkingthe starting conditions have changed, so that you can and decision-making.never grapple with the same problem in exactly the same It’s not as if we have to come up with an entirelyformulation twice. new intellectual toolkit. Long before the rise of data and192 © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201computers as the dominant tools for decision-making, Moving to a rhetorical approach towhole civilizations were built on a different set of information and decision-makingthinking processes, based not in objective measurementof current realities, but in argument and persuasion The traditional response of many organizations andabout future possibilities. Not only did Aristotle agencies when confronted with an information problemrecognize that there are two types of problem in the is to invest large sums of money in building bigger andworld, but he also bequeathed us two problem-solving better IT systems, since improving our technology is ourmethodologies. It is an indication of the overwhelming preferred answer to most of the problems we confrontpredominance of the scientific world view in Western in the modern world. But in many respects, the ever-culture that the term “rhetoric” has been reduced to a increasing power and storage capacity of computers, andpejorative, often associated with the adjective “empty”, the proliferation of information channels spawned inrather than being celebrated, in the terms of Aristotle the digital era, form a major contributor to the problemand two thousand years of scholarly tradition that of information overload. Expanding the range of data tofollowed him, as a fundamental and creative thinking art. be collected, working hard to improve data accuracy and The weakness of organizational decision-making in align measures across organizations, and, increasingly,today’s world can be attributed in part to the substantial building data warehouses in which to house all thisneglect of the study of rhetoric – that is, study of the information, while valid activities in themselves, are notways in which arguments can and should be constructed, going to solve the fundamental problems of informationstudy of the skills of asking penetrating questions, study overload.of the social processes and interactions that shape the So, what if we shifted our paradigm and applied away decisions are made. Using rhetoric as our toolkit rhetorical approach to the issues around informationopens up a whole range of subjective, interpersonal and decision-making in the modern organization? Howand value-laden factors that are deliberately (though would it change things?somewhat disingenuously) discarded from the analyticaltoolkit.Figure 2.  Two types of thinking toolkit. Figure 3.  An analytical approach to decision-making. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company 193 All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 important in today’s business world, where the systems and processes being managed are not tangible produc- tion processes easily viewed from an office above the factory floor, but are intangible and non-spatial. It became abundantly clear during the global financial crisis that many organizational and governmental decision-makers had no clear picture of the systems and processes that they were operating within. Strategic knowledgeFigure 4.  A rhetorical approach to decision-making. With a mental map in place, we are now ready to receive For a start, we would stop treating senior manag- specific information about current issues and perfor-ers and boards like human supercomputers, expected mance, but not the volumes of data and reports that areto process larger and larger volumes of information in typically the current inputs to organizational decision-smaller and smaller timeframes, and embrace a much making. We need to take a leaf out of Elliott Jaques’more basic and profound view of human beings as being book, and recognize that most of the material presentedmeaning-makers. The dominant refrain right through my to senior managers and boards is at the wrong level ofinterview with the member of the Board Risk Commit- work (Jaques, 1998). Much of the information that fillstee, in response to the masses of information she was management reporting is operational data, suitable forbeing asked to process, was “but what does it mean?” Her middle managers who are responsible for monitoringproblem was not with understanding any of the individ- and improving the performance of the organization’s keyual parts or specific topics that she encountered, but in operating systems and processes. In a large organization,being able to bring them together into a coherent whole, this data is collated together, and then passed upwardsand to discern their relative significance and meaning. to senior management teams and boards, with very little If we make “meaning-making” our focus, we can value added. The result is that the organizational deci-envisage a very different decision-making pathway, with sion-makers get detailed data across multiple operatinga number of new elements to consider in the process. units, and are expected to make sense of it, in spite of the fact that they are quite removed from the operatingA conceptual framework contexts out of which the data has been generated, and so have limited capability to understand the circum-Meaning-making begins with a conceptual framework, stances that have given rise to the data, or to quicklya gestalt of the system or set of processes that you are assess its significance within that context.administering. Most system or process diagrams tend to The automation of reporting systems often perpetu-be rather confusing, engineering-inspired flow charts, ates this problem, as IT systems are good at collatingbut that is not what we mean here. Rather, people need a and aggregating information, but cannot synthesize datahigh-level mental map which enables us to locate infor- to recognize strategic themes or explain the stories andmation and recognize where it fits. This is particularly contexts that sit behind the trends and anomalies in the194 © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201data. It is a great irony that organizations keep spending – a well-defined vision and set of values which canlarge sums of capital on bigger and better computer- inform intelligent decision-making – and which areized reporting systems or dashboards, but do not really actually much rarer than the proliferation of missioninvest in realizing the value of an expensive resource statements in most organizations would suggestthat they are already paying for – the intelligence and – human experience – both the professional experiencepractical experience of their middle managers. Rather of the organizational decision-makers in the rele-than just passing unprocessed data up the line to their vant fields of business or policy, and their personalsuperiors, middle managers should be playing a vital role experience and insights into the nature of the humanas alchemists of knowledge – taking the base operational conditiondata and transforming it into nuggets of strategic insight, – human empathy – a quality which is seldom recog-by drawing on their deep experiential knowledge of the nized as important at senior management and boardoperational context to highlight where the most signifi- level, but which is the critical wellspring for wisdomcant strategic issues lie. and innovation in a wicked problem space. One recent example in Australia highlights the impor-Judgment tance of these elements. The management and board of James Hardie Industries spent some years grappling withOnce they have clear knowledge of the context and the the wicked problem of how to deal with the consequenc-issues, then decision-makers need to make wise judg- es of their involvement in the production of housingments. Well-designed data can certainly play an impor- materials made with asbestos from the 1950s to the 1970s.tant role in providing knowledge about the current Most of their deliberations seem to have focused onstate of a problem, or in forecasting the likely numerical analyzing the economic costs to the business and findingconsequences of a particular course of action, but choos- legal ways to avoid any financial obligations, rather thaning the most appropriate and meaningful action for a engaging with the human and social dimensions of theparticular organization or society in a unique context problem. The failure of the decision-makers to base theirfaced with very specific and complex issues in a wicked corporate response on a noble vision, clear values andproblem space is another thing altogether. Too many human empathy destroyed a previously highly regardedorganizational decision-makers think they can make brand, and has led to legal proceedings against thedecisions based on neat and tidy mathematical models, directors of the company (Judge slams deception, 2009).while ignoring the real-world, human impacts of their Clearly, it was not a lack of data or analytical capability,decision-making. but rather a lack of judgment, that led to the collapse in Analytical models try to downplay the role of human reputation of the company and its board.judgment on the basis that it is too subjective, but inactual fact, we humans have a far greater capacity to Processweigh up multiple factors, both quantitative and quali-tative, and make a decision that is appropriate to the A fourth key element on a rhetorical decision-makingcontext and the organization. To do this, we need to draw pathway is the process that is used to make decisions,on three important elements that are typically excluded involving both cognitive and social aspects. Anyone whofrom the analytic paradigm: has participated in decision-making processes, whether © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company 195 All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201in organizations or in any human context, will know just that promotes shared meaning, a coherent story andhow important a role the process itself can play in shap- focused action. The power and promise of a good deci-ing the decision that is made. sion can be utterly squandered if it is not communicated We generally assume that information is just there to in a meaningful way. A rhetorical approach will focussupport a process, and underestimate how influential a not only on the decision-makers themselves, but on allrole information has in actually shaping the process. We the other audiences who will be affected by, and eithercan make people smart or dumb, and either facilitate or mobilized or demoralized by, the way in which decisionsinhibit efficient and effective decision-making, depend- are communicated.ing on the type of information we provide and the wayit is structured. Poorly designed information that is not New horizons for information designfit for purpose will make people passive or render thempowerless to act, whereas well-designed information What does all this mean for information design? Underwill engage people in the thinking process and help lead the current paradigm for knowledge and decision-them towards the decision that needs to be made. Worse making in organizations, the perceived value of informa-still, the wrong sort of information or the wrong infor- tion design has been largely limited to making objectivemation format will create confusion and communication data more accessible, to a focus on “the visual display ofbreakdowns, which can make the social processes far quantitative information” (Tufte, 1990). Much valuablemore complicated and fraught with tension than they work has been done within this realm, from pioneersneed to be. such as Otto Neurath and Edward Tufte, through to the As one board member pointed out to me, if all you high-tech and online tools now being developed.provide to the board by way of information is a detailed However, by broadening the scope of our thinkingset of financial statements, then you are likely to end up and embracing new models of knowledge and decision-with a frustrating process of line-by-line interrogation making based in rhetoric, we open up some importantof the accuracy of specific numbers, rather than a more new opportunities for information design. In manymeaningful conversation about the strategic direction respects, design is the modern incarnation of rhetoric;and performance of the organization. both disciplines focus attention on the experience of the user as their starting point, and seek to create newCommunication modes of interaction and deeper levels of connection with the user.With a clear conceptual framework, useful strategic Exploring the new opportunities for informationknowledge, human-centered values and insights for design created by taking a rhetorical approach to usingmaking judgments, and a constructive thinking process, information is the ongoing focus of the work we dowe have a much better chance of producing a good at 2nd Road. Our intent is to use these tools and waysdecision. But the meaning-making pathway doesn’t stop of thinking about the world to liberate organizationalthere. The decisions that senior managers and boards decision-makers from the tyranny of informationmake need to be communicated to a whole range of overload, to lift the level of strategic thinking andstakeholders – including clients, investors, analysts, organizational intelligence, to design more efficient andregulators, the media and the general public – in a way satisfying decision-making processes, and to create more196 © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201coherent stories and arguments around the decisions that opportunity to build the capability of middle managersare made. to add value to their reporting by placing more emphasis For example, we use our visual design skills to create on their contextual knowledge, strategic insights, andsimple conceptual models for intangible systems, such judgments as to where the most significant issues lieas a business planning and reporting cycle, which help (Jenkins, 2008, pp. 68–77).to orient people and give them a coherent picture of One of the most compelling ways in which we havethe whole. Creating a shared mental map and shared brought a rhetorical toolkit to the decision-makinglanguage around the management systems and processes process arises in the context of building human empathy.they are implementing, or about the wider environment One of the most powerful ways of shaping the thinkingin which they are operating, is a vital element in enabling of organizational decision-makers is to bring the voicea group of decision-makers to build a common platform of key stakeholders into the boardroom – whether it beof understanding as the basis for their discussion. customers, employees or investors. Using our skills as We also use our design skills to lift the level of qualitative researchers, we conduct interviews with rele-information provided as inputs to decision-making vant stakeholders and then create an immersion experi-processes to a more strategic level. We have developed a ence for organizational decision-makers, in which theyuser-based approach to organizational reporting, which are directly confronted with the faces, experiences andinvolves structuring the new reports around the key emotional responses of the people affected by their deci-strategic questions that senior managers and boards need sions and by their organization’s processes and culture.answered, rather than around specific measures and There is nothing quite so powerful as seeing top execu-KPIs (key performance indicators), and using a layered tives immersed in the human realities of the decisionsapproach to information to create a simple cognitive they have made, the negative impacts of the systems theypathway. Not only does this style of reporting significant- have created, or the opportunities to connect at a morely reduce the workload and improve the comprehension meaningful level through their communications with keyof the readers of the reports, but it also creates the stakeholders. Figure 5.  A simple conceptual map of an end- to-end management process. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company 197 All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201Figure 6.  Front page of a Top-down Report™.198 © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201Figure 7.  A user experience immersion workshop. Figure 8.  Decision-makers interacting with information as part of a conversation-based process. The immersion workshop is a good example of a situ- built around the strategic decisions that have been made,ation where we design not only the information inputs, and to enable a wider group of stakeholders to embracebut also the social process. There is a huge difference and engage with the implications of the decisions. In onenot only in the user experience, but also in the quality landmark project, we worked with a new business unitof engagement and outcomes, between a process based that had been created out of a corporate merger, andon “death by PowerPoint”, where the audience is passive used our information design skills to help create a visualand their brains are worn down by an overload of data, picture of the future state of the merged entity basedand one based on a conversation, where the audience is on the metaphor of a city. Not only did this metaphoractively participating throughout and where the informa- become an important communication tool that createdtion can be interacted with. 2nd Road has pioneered the a high level of ownership and engagement, but it actu-use of the Strategic Conversation™ as a rhetorical process ally enabled staff from two very different organizationalfor organizational decision-making, and has created a cultures to quickly locate themselves and build a sharedpurpose-built facility in Sydney which enables groups of language and understanding around their new reality.decision-makers to interact with information in creative As a result of this process, this particular business unitways, including moveable furniture and walls, and wrap- made much more rapid and successful progress towardsaround floor-to-ceiling whiteboards. integration than other areas of the merged organization. Finally, we also put a lot of effort into the communi-cation and implementation of organizational decisions,to ensure that there is a coherent and meaningful story © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company 199 All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 Figure 9.  A visual representation of the newly integrated “city”.The importance of information designers as thinking tools of rhetoric, information designers aremeaning-shapers ideally placed to play a critical role as meaning-shapers, who design not just the information, but the thinkingHal Varian, the chief economist at Google, has recently process and the user experience. By taking up the mantledeclared that “the ability to take data – to be able to handed down to us by Aristotle and numerous succeed-understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to ing generations of rhetoricians, we have the opportunityvisualize it, to communicate it – that’s going to be a to exert influence at a much deeper level, and to ensurehugely important skill in the next decades” (Manyika & that the needs of the user, not just for information, butVarian, 2009, para. 13). While he was making an argu- for coherence and empowerment, are being met.ment for the “sexiness” of statisticians in the twenty- In a world increasingly confronted with wickedfirst-century knowledge economy, he also stated quite problems, information design provides the opportunityclearly that the analytical skills of statisticians needed to to create a pathway to the simplicity on the other side ofbe combined with the communication and visualization complexity. While we may not be able to promise that weskills that information designers can bring to the table. can avert a future global financial crisis, we can none- If senior managers and boards are going to be able theless enable leaders in both the corporate and widerto make the sort of decisions we need them to in today’s social and political worlds to make wiser, more human-complex world, we need to move beyond just improving centered, more meaningful decisions about our future.the quality of the data to improving the quality of thedecision-making experience. Drawing on the ancient200 © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved
    • Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201References About the authorFukuyama, Francis (1993). The end of history and the last man. Julian Jenkins is a senior consultant and London: Penguin. thought leader for information design at 2ndGolsby-Smith, Tony (2001). Pursuing the art of strategic conversa- Road, a Sydney-based management consul- tion: an investigation into the role of the liberal arts of rheto- tancy specializing in using design thinking ric and poetry in the business world. Unpublished doctoral and the principles of rhetoric to transform dissertation, University of Western Sydney. management processes in large organizations.Hoskin, Keith, Macve, Richard, & Stone, John (2006). Accounting Much of his work focuses on designing infor- and strategy: towards understanding the historical genesis mation to support the work of senior leadership teams, in areas of modern business and military strategy. In A. Bhimani such as planning and reporting. (Ed.), Contemporary issues in management accounting (pp. 167–197). London: OUP.Jaques, Elliott (1998). Requisite organisation: A total system for Contact: effective managerial organization and managerial leadership 2nd Road for the twenty-first century. 2nd revd edn. Arlington,VA: Cason Zenith Centre, Tower B, Level 9 Hall. 821 Pacific HighwayJenkins, Julian (2008). Information design for strategic thinking: Chatswood Health of the system reports. Design Issues, 24:1, 68–77. NSW 2067Judge slams deception by Hardie Board (2009, April 24). Austra- Australia lian Financial Review, p. 1. julian.jenkins@secondroad.com.auManyika, James (Interviewer) & Varian, Hal (Interviewee) (2009, January). Hal Varian on how the web challenges managers. McKinsey Quarterly. Retrieved August 1, 2009 from http:// www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Hal_Varian_on_how_the_Web _challenges_managers_2286Martin, Roger (2004). The Design of Business. Rotman Manage- ment, Winter edn, 7–10.Rittel, Horst (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155–169.Tufte, Edward (1990). The visual display of quantitative informa- tion. 2nd edn. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company 201 All rights reserved