This is a contribution from Information Design Journal 17:3
© 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company
This electronic file...
Information Design Journal 17(3), 188–201
© 2009 John Benjamins Publishing Company
doi: 10.1075/idj.17.3.04jen
188
Julian ...
© 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company
All rights reserved
Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful deci...
© 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company
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190
Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful ...
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Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful deci...
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Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful ...
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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 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

  1. 1. This is a contribution from Information Design Journal 17:3 © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company This 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 of offprints, for their personal use only. Permission is granted by the publishers to post this file on a closed server which is accessible to members (students and 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 the Copyright Clearance Center (for USA: www.copyright.com). Please contact rights@benjamins.nl or consult our website: www.benjamins.com Tables of Contents, abstracts and guidelines are available at www.benjamins.com John Benjamins Publishing Company
  2. 2. Information Design Journal 17(3), 188–201 © 2009 John Benjamins Publishing Company doi: 10.1075/idj.17.3.04jen 188 Julian Jenkins From data and measures to meaningful decisions Designing useful information for senior managers and boards Keywords: decision-making, analytics, rhetoric, wicked problems, meaning-making, information overload Analytical approaches to organizational decision- making, with their heavy reliance on data, measures and increasingly sophisticated IT, work well for solving tame problems, but not for the wicked problems which increasingly confront organizational and government decision-makers. An alternative approach, drawing on the ancient tradition of rhetoric and focusing on the way that meaning is constructed and communicated, opens up new horizons for enabling decision-makers to overcome the problem of information overload and make good decisions. Applying this approach opens up new opportunities for information design to play a crucial role in organizational decision-making. One of the factors that has not been addressed fully in the wake of the global financial crisis is the extent to which the poor decisions that led to some spectacular corporate failures and to massive write-downs in value were caused by information overload and poor information design. Blaming the crisis on slack regulation and greedy corporate cowboys may well mask a much more fundamental problem, which will not be solved by imposing more regulation and reining in executive pay packets. I gained a strong appreciation of the nature of the information problem late in 2008, when I interviewed a prominent medical practitioner and academic about her role as a member of the Board Risk Committee for a large Australian corporation, and, more specifically, about the pack of papers she was accustomed to receiving a week in advance of each Committee meeting. The most recent set of papers consisted of no less than 400 printed pages, with over 60 discrete documents and a wide variety of formats – and my interviewee calculated that she regularly spent up to nine hours reading all these documents in preparation for the two-hour Committee meeting. When I asked her how confident she felt about her understanding of the organization’s risk systems and processes, however, she only rated it about 40–60%, in spite of the strong personal interest she had taken in risk over a number of years. Not surprisingly, she was dissatisfied with her experience as a user of the information, because her hours of effort in reading the papers were not generating the desired rewards in terms of clarity and insight. Clearly, a lack of intelligence was not the issue; the problem lay with the scale and format of the information, which was clogging up her cognitive capacity and dumbing her down. A question mark over how much the members of a Board Risk Committee understand about the systems
  3. 3. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 189 and processes they are responsible for overseeing would be a cause for concern at any point, but it was particularly worrying given the fact that the papers we were discussing were dated October 2008, right at the height of the near-meltdown of the global financial system.Yet nowhere in the 400 pages of text was there any obvious reference to the clear and present dangers that were threatening the very existence of this particular organization. If this scenario is indicative of the general state of affairs in large organizations, then there is something critically amiss in the state of organizational information and decision-making. The growing scope of management information You have to feel sorry for your average senior executive or board member. Not so long ago, large corporations were managed with little more than the financial accounts as the only real source of data that a decision- maker needed to worry about. Over the last twenty years or so, though, there has been an increasing awareness of the need to take a more holistic approach to measuring the performance of the business. The introduction of new buzzwords into the management lexicon, such as “triple bottom line”,“balanced scorecards” and“corporate social responsibility”, reflects an increased recognition of the need to look beyond just profit and loss to consider a much wider range of factors that indicate the health and well-being of the company. Not only has the range of topics on which data is being collected significantly expanded, but the scope and scale of many organizations have increased dramatically as we have moved towards a globalized economy. Many of today’s organizations are reporting across not just multiple business units and locations, but multiple geographies, cultures, markets and industries – hence the ever-increasing volume of information and diversity of document formats which are dramatically increasing the cognitive workload for the organizational decision-maker. On top of all this, every corporate scandal or economic crisis seems to generate another layer of external regulation, so that many of the meetings held by boards and management teams are dominated by compliance documentation.Whether or not this 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 was looking strong, it was easy to overlook the gaps inFigure 1.  The growing scope of corporate information.
  4. 4. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved 190 Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 the capability of decision-makers to fully process and understand the reams of data and information being presented to them. Now we are all too aware of just how many risks are created when you are buried so deep in the data and detail that you no longer have a clear view of the whole picture. Recognizing the problem of information overload is easy; knowing how to respond is much more difficult. There is no human equivalent to Moore’s law, which describes the long-term trend that computer storage capacity doubles every two years. In effect, this means that there are no real constraints on the volume of information that can be generated and stored, but there are very definite constraints on human processing capability. We should not just blame the computer revolution for the position we now find ourselves in, however. Computers are simply a technology that enables the phenomenon of information overload to occur. Underpinning this whole problem is a much deeper issue, a fundamental paradigm for how we have chosen to manage organizations using information. In order to find new ways to solve the problem of information overload, we need to understand the underlying paradigm, assess its strengths and weaknesses, and consider whether there are alternative frameworks of thinking that could open up some new approaches. In the process, we may well discover some important new horizons and opportunities for information design to play a crucial role in creating value for organizational decision-makers. The prevailing information paradigm The origins of the current paradigm for managing large organizations are rooted very firmly in the early stages of the modern industrial age. One of the early champions of the approach that we now take for granted as the way to manage an organization was Sylvanus Thayer, the Superintendent of the US military academy at West Point from 1817 to 1833. Inspired by a trip to the École Polytechnique in Paris, he applied a rigorous engineering mindset to running the academy based on relentless numerical measurement of student performance and regular reporting (daily, weekly and monthly) by those filling his newly invented role of line manager – with the result that he could manage the academy without having to leave his office. These methods were inculcated into a generation of graduates, who were to play a major role in guiding the Union side to success in the American Civil War, thanks to their superior logistical skill in manag- ing supply lines and co-coordinating troop movements (Hoskin, Macve & Stone, 2006, pp. 168–179). More intriguingly, several graduates of West Point also made their mark in the burgeoning world of the industrial corporation. Daniel Tyler (Springfield Armory), George W.Whistler (Western Railroad) and Herman Haupt (Pennsylvania Railroad) all became leading pioneers of modern“managerialism” and major contributors to the success of the organizations they worked for.With no formal business training to draw on, it was their experience of Thayer’s organizational culture at West Point that informed their approach to manage- ment – an approach that became embedded as the prevailing paradigm in the modern business enterprise (Hoskin et al., 2006, pp. 170–171). Now there is no doubt that the methods pioneered by Thayer and taken by his students out into the wider world have played an important role in the rise and success of the modern organization. The analytical methods and engineering mindsets which they employed have enjoyed substantial success in creating some of the most important elements of modern industrial production, such as efficient supply chains and produc- tion lines, rigorous examination and testing of product quality, technological innovation and financial controls.
  5. 5. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 191 Total Quality Management, Process Engineering and Six Sigma are all modern management approaches rooted firmly in this tradition. However, much has changed in the business and wider cultural landscape since Thayer laid the founda- tions of modern management in the early nineteenth century, culminating with some paradigm-shifting developments towards the end of the twentieth century. The dominant metaphor at the center of the economy and society is no longer the machine, but the web. The manufacturing economy which fuelled the Industrial Revolution has given way to a knowledge- and service- based economy as the engine of future growth, and the key driver of business success is no longer efficient production lines, but the quality, simplicity and emotion- al resonance of the customer experience. Moreover, we have come to recognize that hierarchical organizations based on command and control are out of step with an interconnected world, where real power rests in inter- personal influence far more than in formal authority structures.Why else would politicians have embraced Twitter so enthusiastically? If the world has changed so much, then shouldn’t we be asking ourselves whether our information paradigms and decision-making practices need just as radical an overhaul to cope with the new realities and increased complexities of the twenty-first-century environment? The problem is not with analytical methods per se; they still have much value to contribute to the world. The key issue is whether they are the right methods to apply to the sorts of questions that organizational and govern- ment decision-makers are increasingly confronted with. To understand that point, we need to recognize that not all problem spaces are the same, and that we need more than one problem-solving methodology in our toolkit to work effectively in the world. Two types of problems and two intellectual toolkits Long before the advent of the Internet, this issue was understood and addressed by none other than the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who recognized that there are two types of problem in the world: those where“things cannot be other than they are”, and those where“things can be other than they are” (Golsby-Smith, 2001, pp. 195–202). Situations where things cannot be other than they are include much of the natural world, where order is fixed by laws of physics, chemistry and biology; and also the linear world of machines, which are governed by processes of cause and effect. In both of these situations, the scientific method and analysis (which Aristotle was also instrumental in founding) can be applied admirably as a basis for knowledge. Objective measurement of a fixed reality (such as the distance between the earth and the sun at a given point in time, or the past performance of a Formula 1 racer) can be made with considerable confidence and used to predict future reality (in the former case) or modify future performance (in the latter case). However,Aristotle was wise enough to realize that the use of objective data processed via rational intelligence was not an adequate basis of knowledge for all the problems in the world. He recognized that there was a whole different class of problems that required an entirely different epistemological approach – one where“things can be other than they are”. These types of problems are much more fluid in nature, not governed by natural laws or objective facts, but by open possibilities and multiple options. In short, this is the realm of human decision-making. A much more modern articulation of a similar 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
  6. 6. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved 192 Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 addressed in a relatively linear way to achieve a specific, quantifiable objective. Consider, for example, travel to the moon. For centuries, such a notion was in the realm of fancy, or mystery. But careful application of analytical methods (involving both gathering of objective data and rational deduction of the laws of physics, such as gravity and aerodynamics), combined with the technological know-how to build a reliable machine fit for the intended purpose, enabled mankind to find a solution to the problem and achieve what had seemed an impossible goal. Flying to the moon is the sort of problem that the scientific method is well equipped to solve. The nature of the problem may be incredibly complicated and technically difficult, but with sufficient perseverance, number-crunching and brainpower, it is possible to develop a“correct” answer – correct in the sense that it is viable and will deliver the intended outcome. The progression of science and in particular of technology is a process of taking problems that seem intractable and making them achievable – of moving from mystery to repeatable algorithms (Martin, 2004, pp. 7–10). However, wicked problems are of a different order altogether. They are fluid and highly contextual, with very little in the way of fixed laws or measurable parameters that can be reliably used to solve the problem.Wicked problems are multilayered and not readily reducible to clear notions of cause and effect; the nature of the problem itself is a matter of subjective perception or interpretation.Wicked problems exist within complex systems with multiple interdependencies, so that it is almost impossible to predict in advance what the exact result will be of any intervention. There are no“correct” answers, only actions with better or worse consequences. And once you have taken a step in a particular direction, the starting conditions have changed, so that you can never grapple with the same problem in exactly the same formulation twice. Wicked problems are seldom answered. Twenty years ago, Francis Fukuyama boldly proclaimed the“end of history” (Fukuyama, 1993), by which he meant that the perennial wicked problem of which form of government and economy worked best was finally on the verge of being tamed. That was in the halcyon days after the Cold War, before the Bush administration sullied the reputation of Western liberalism and the global financial crisis brought capitalism to its knees. In other words, just when you think you have a wicked problem contained, new dimensions of wickedness emerge – the complexity can never be turned into an algorithm. Most of the problems that confront us in human society are wicked problems – issues such as how to respond to climate change, how to create a lasting peace in Afghanistan, how to stimulate an economy in recession, how to bring up teenagers. Equally, many of the strategic issues in today’s globalized business environment are wicked problems – whether it is establishing an enduring brand identity, re-engaging a disillusioned workforce, fostering productive collaborative relationships with governments and major clients, creating a culture of innovation or identifying the most compelling strategic pathway through a global economic crisis. To believe that we can solve these problems using the thinking tools, information styles and decision-making processes of the old management order is a recipe for disaster. If nothing else, the global financial crisis has done us a big favor in two key respects – it has highlighted all too powerfully the wickedness and non-linear interconnectedness of the modern business environment, and has exposed the limitations of information and quantitative analysis to save us from our own folly. Now more than ever we need to find new ways of thinking and decision-making. It’s not as if we have to come up with an entirely new intellectual toolkit. Long before the rise of data and
  7. 7. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 193 computers as the dominant tools for decision-making, whole civilizations were built on a different set of thinking processes, based not in objective measurement of current realities, but in argument and persuasion about future possibilities. Not only did Aristotle recognize that there are two types of problem in the world, but he also bequeathed us two problem-solving methodologies. It is an indication of the overwhelming predominance of the scientific world view in Western culture that the term“rhetoric” has been reduced to a pejorative, often associated with the adjective“empty”, rather than being celebrated, in the terms of Aristotle and two thousand years of scholarly tradition that followed him, as a fundamental and creative thinking art. The weakness of organizational decision-making in today’s world can be attributed in part to the substantial neglect of the study of rhetoric – that is, study of the ways in which arguments can and should be constructed, study of the skills of asking penetrating questions, study of the social processes and interactions that shape the way decisions are made. Using rhetoric as our toolkit opens up a whole range of subjective, interpersonal and value-laden factors that are deliberately (though somewhat disingenuously) discarded from the analytical toolkit. Moving to a rhetorical approach to information and decision-making The traditional response of many organizations and agencies when confronted with an information problem is to invest large sums of money in building bigger and better IT systems, since improving our technology is our preferred answer to most of the problems we confront in the modern world. But in many respects, the ever- increasing power and storage capacity of computers, and the proliferation of information channels spawned in the digital era, form a major contributor to the problem of information overload. Expanding the range of data to be collected, working hard to improve data accuracy and align measures across organizations, and, increasingly, building data warehouses in which to house all this information, while valid activities in themselves, are not going to solve the fundamental problems of information overload. So, what if we shifted our paradigm and applied a rhetorical approach to the issues around information and decision-making in the modern organization? How would it change things? Figure 2.  Two types of thinking toolkit. Figure 3.  An analytical approach to decision-making.
  8. 8. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved 194 Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 For a start, we would stop treating senior manag- ers and boards like human supercomputers, expected to process larger and larger volumes of information in smaller and smaller timeframes, and embrace a much more basic and profound view of human beings as being meaning-makers. The dominant refrain right through my interview with the member of the Board Risk Commit- tee, in response to the masses of information she was being asked to process, was“but what does it mean?” Her problem was not with understanding any of the individ- ual parts or specific topics that she encountered, but in being able to bring them together into a coherent whole, and to discern their relative significance and meaning. If we make“meaning-making” our focus, we can envisage a very different decision-making pathway, with a number of new elements to consider in the process. A conceptual framework Meaning-making begins with a conceptual framework, a gestalt of the system or set of processes that you are administering. Most system or process diagrams tend to be rather confusing, engineering-inspired flow charts, but that is not what we mean here. Rather, people need a high-level mental map which enables us to locate infor- mation and recognize where it fits. This is particularly 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 knowledge With a mental map in place, we are now ready to receive specific information about current issues and perfor- mance, but not the volumes of data and reports that are typically the current inputs to organizational decision- making.We need to take a leaf out of Elliott Jaques’ book, and recognize that most of the material presented to senior managers and boards is at the wrong level of work (Jaques, 1998). Much of the information that fills management reporting is operational data, suitable for middle managers who are responsible for monitoring and improving the performance of the organization’s key operating systems and processes. In a large organization, this data is collated together, and then passed upwards to senior management teams and boards, with very little value added. The result is that the organizational deci- sion-makers get detailed data across multiple operating units, and are expected to make sense of it, in spite of the fact that they are quite removed from the operating contexts out of which the data has been generated, and so have limited capability to understand the circum- stances that have given rise to the data, or to quickly assess its significance within that context. The automation of reporting systems often perpetu- ates this problem, as IT systems are good at collating and aggregating information, but cannot synthesize data to recognize strategic themes or explain the stories and contexts that sit behind the trends and anomalies in the Figure 4.  A rhetorical approach to decision-making.
  9. 9. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 195 data. It is a great irony that organizations keep spending large sums of capital on bigger and better computer- ized reporting systems or dashboards, but do not really invest in realizing the value of an expensive resource that they are already paying for – the intelligence and practical experience of their middle managers. Rather than just passing unprocessed data up the line to their superiors, middle managers should be playing a vital role as alchemists of knowledge – taking the base operational data and transforming it into nuggets of strategic insight, by drawing on their deep experiential knowledge of the operational context to highlight where the most signifi- cant strategic issues lie. Judgment Once they have clear knowledge of the context and the issues, then decision-makers need to make wise judg- ments.Well-designed data can certainly play an impor- tant role in providing knowledge about the current state of a problem, or in forecasting the likely numerical consequences of a particular course of action, but choos- ing the most appropriate and meaningful action for a particular organization or society in a unique context faced with very specific and complex issues in a wicked problem space is another thing altogether. Too many organizational decision-makers think they can make decisions based on neat and tidy mathematical models, while ignoring the real-world, human impacts of their decision-making. Analytical models try to downplay the role of human judgment on the basis that it is too subjective, but in actual fact, we humans have a far greater capacity to weigh up multiple factors, both quantitative and quali- tative, and make a decision that is appropriate to the context and the organization. To do this, we need to draw on three important elements that are typically excluded from the analytic paradigm: – a well-defined vision and set of values which can inform intelligent decision-making – and which are actually much rarer than the proliferation of mission statements in most organizations would suggest – human experience – both the professional experience of the organizational decision-makers in the rele- vant fields of business or policy, and their personal experience and insights into the nature of the human condition – human empathy – a quality which is seldom recog- nized as important at senior management and board level, but which is the critical wellspring for wisdom and innovation in a wicked problem space. One recent example in Australia highlights the impor- tance of these elements. The management and board of James Hardie Industries spent some years grappling with the wicked problem of how to deal with the consequenc- es of their involvement in the production of housing materials made with asbestos from the 1950s to the 1970s. Most of their deliberations seem to have focused on analyzing the economic costs to the business and finding legal ways to avoid any financial obligations, rather than engaging with the human and social dimensions of the problem. The failure of the decision-makers to base their corporate response on a noble vision, clear values and human empathy destroyed a previously highly regarded brand, and has led to legal proceedings against the directors of the company (Judge slams deception, 2009). Clearly, it was not a lack of data or analytical capability, but rather a lack of judgment, that led to the collapse in reputation of the company and its board. Process A fourth key element on a rhetorical decision-making pathway is the process that is used to make decisions, involving both cognitive and social aspects.Anyone who has participated in decision-making processes, whether
  10. 10. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved 196 Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 in organizations or in any human context, will know just how important a role the process itself can play in shap- ing the decision that is made. We generally assume that information is just there to support a process, and underestimate how influential a role information has in actually shaping the process.We can make people smart or dumb, and either facilitate or inhibit efficient and effective decision-making, depend- ing on the type of information we provide and the way it is structured. Poorly designed information that is not fit for purpose will make people passive or render them powerless to act, whereas well-designed information will engage people in the thinking process and help lead them towards the decision that needs to be made.Worse still, the wrong sort of information or the wrong infor- mation format will create confusion and communication breakdowns, which can make the social processes far more complicated and fraught with tension than they need to be. As one board member pointed out to me, if all you provide to the board by way of information is a detailed set of financial statements, then you are likely to end up with a frustrating process of line-by-line interrogation of the accuracy of specific numbers, rather than a more meaningful conversation about the strategic direction and performance of the organization. Communication With a clear conceptual framework, useful strategic knowledge, human-centered values and insights for making judgments, and a constructive thinking process, we have a much better chance of producing a good decision. But the meaning-making pathway doesn’t stop there. The decisions that senior managers and boards make need to be communicated to a whole range of stakeholders – including clients, investors, analysts, regulators, the media and the general public – in a way that promotes shared meaning, a coherent story and focused action. The power and promise of a good deci- sion can be utterly squandered if it is not communicated in a meaningful way.A rhetorical approach will focus not only on the decision-makers themselves, but on all the other audiences who will be affected by, and either mobilized or demoralized by, the way in which decisions are communicated. New horizons for information design What does all this mean for information design? Under the current paradigm for knowledge and decision- making in organizations, the perceived value of informa- tion design has been largely limited to making objective data more accessible, to a focus on“the visual display of quantitative information” (Tufte, 1990). Much valuable work has been done within this realm, from pioneers such as Otto Neurath and Edward Tufte, through to the high-tech and online tools now being developed. However, by broadening the scope of our thinking and embracing new models of knowledge and decision- making based in rhetoric, we open up some important new opportunities for information design. In many respects, design is the modern incarnation of rhetoric; both disciplines focus attention on the experience of the user as their starting point, and seek to create new modes of interaction and deeper levels of connection with the user. Exploring the new opportunities for information design created by taking a rhetorical approach to using information is the ongoing focus of the work we do at 2nd Road. Our intent is to use these tools and ways of thinking about the world to liberate organizational decision-makers from the tyranny of information overload, to lift the level of strategic thinking and organizational intelligence, to design more efficient and satisfying decision-making processes, and to create more
  11. 11. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 197 coherent stories and arguments around the decisions that are made. For example, we use our visual design skills to create simple conceptual models for intangible systems, such as a business planning and reporting cycle, which help to orient people and give them a coherent picture of the whole. Creating a shared mental map and shared language around the management systems and processes they are implementing, or about the wider environment in which they are operating, is a vital element in enabling a group of decision-makers to build a common platform of understanding as the basis for their discussion. We also use our design skills to lift the level of information provided as inputs to decision-making processes to a more strategic level.We have developed a user-based approach to organizational reporting, which involves structuring the new reports around the key strategic questions that senior managers and boards need answered, rather than around specific measures and KPIs (key performance indicators), and using a layered approach to information to create a simple cognitive pathway. Not only does this style of reporting significant- ly reduce the workload and improve the comprehension of the readers of the reports, but it also creates the opportunity to build the capability of middle managers to add value to their reporting by placing more emphasis on their contextual knowledge, strategic insights, and judgments as to where the most significant issues lie (Jenkins, 2008, pp. 68–77). One of the most compelling ways in which we have brought a rhetorical toolkit to the decision-making process arises in the context of building human empathy. One of the most powerful ways of shaping the thinking of organizational decision-makers is to bring the voice of key stakeholders into the boardroom – whether it be customers, employees or investors. Using our skills as qualitative researchers, we conduct interviews with rele- vant stakeholders and then create an immersion experi- ence for organizational decision-makers, in which they are directly confronted with the faces, experiences and emotional responses of the people affected by their deci- sions and by their organization’s processes and culture. There is nothing quite so powerful as seeing top execu- tives immersed in the human realities of the decisions they have made, the negative impacts of the systems they have created, or the opportunities to connect at a more meaningful level through their communications with key stakeholders. Figure 5.  A simple conceptual map of an end- to-end management process.
  12. 12. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved 198 Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 Figure 6.  Front page of a Top-down Report™.
  13. 13. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 199 The immersion workshop is a good example of a situ- ation where we design not only the information inputs, but also the social process. There is a huge difference not only in the user experience, but also in the quality of engagement and outcomes, between a process based on“death by PowerPoint”, where the audience is passive and their brains are worn down by an overload of data, and one based on a conversation, where the audience is actively participating throughout and where the informa- tion can be interacted with. 2nd Road has pioneered the use of the Strategic Conversation™ as a rhetorical process for organizational decision-making, and has created a purpose-built facility in Sydney which enables groups of decision-makers to interact with information in creative ways, including moveable furniture and walls, and wrap- around floor-to-ceiling whiteboards. 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 built around the strategic decisions that have been made, and to enable a wider group of stakeholders to embrace and engage with the implications of the decisions. In one landmark project, we worked with a new business unit that had been created out of a corporate merger, and used our information design skills to help create a visual picture of the future state of the merged entity based on the metaphor of a city. Not only did this metaphor become an important communication tool that created a high level of ownership and engagement, but it actu- ally enabled staff from two very different organizational cultures to quickly locate themselves and build a shared language and understanding around their new reality. As a result of this process, this particular business unit made much more rapid and successful progress towards integration than other areas of the merged organization. Figure 7.  A user experience immersion workshop. Figure 8.  Decision-makers interacting with information as part of a conversation-based process.
  14. 14. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved 200 Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 The importance of information designers as meaning-shapers Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google, has recently declared that“the ability to take data – to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it – that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades” (Manyika & Varian, 2009, para. 13).While he was making an argu- ment for the“sexiness” of statisticians in the twenty- first-century knowledge economy, he also stated quite clearly that the analytical skills of statisticians needed to be combined with the communication and visualization skills that information designers can bring to the table. If senior managers and boards are going to be able to make the sort of decisions we need them to in today’s complex world, we need to move beyond just improving the quality of the data to improving the quality of the decision-making experience. Drawing on the ancient Figure 9.  A visual representation of the newly integrated“city”. thinking tools of rhetoric, information designers are ideally placed to play a critical role as meaning-shapers, who design not just the information, but the thinking process and the user experience. By taking up the mantle handed down to us by Aristotle and numerous succeed- ing generations of rhetoricians, we have the opportunity to exert influence at a much deeper level, and to ensure that the needs of the user, not just for information, but for coherence and empowerment, are being met. In a world increasingly confronted with wicked problems, information design provides the opportunity to create a pathway to the simplicity on the other side of complexity.While we may not be able to promise that we can avert a future global financial crisis, we can none- theless enable leaders in both the corporate and wider social and political worlds to make wiser, more human- centered, more meaningful decisions about our future.
  15. 15. © 2009. John Benjamins Publishing Company All rights reserved Julian Jenkins  •  From data and measures to meaningful decisions idj 17(3), 2009, 188-201 201 References Fukuyama, Francis (1993). The end of history and the last man. London: Penguin. Golsby-Smith, Tony (2001). Pursuing the art of strategic conversa- tion: an investigation into the role of the liberal arts of rheto- ric and poetry in the business world. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Western Sydney. Hoskin, Keith, Macve, Richard, & Stone, John (2006). Accounting and strategy: towards understanding the historical genesis of modern business and military strategy. In A. Bhimani (Ed.), Contemporary issues in management accounting (pp. 167–197). London: OUP. Jaques, Elliott (1998). Requisite organisation: A total system for effective managerial organization and managerial leadership for the twenty-first century. 2nd revd edn. Arlington,VA: Cason Hall. Jenkins, Julian (2008). Information design for strategic thinking: Health of the system reports. Design Issues, 24:1, 68–77. Judge slams deception by Hardie Board (2009, April 24). Austra- lian Financial Review, p. 1. Manyika, 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_2286 Martin, 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. About the author Julian Jenkins is a senior consultant and thought leader for information design at 2nd Road, a Sydney-based management consul- tancy specializing in using design thinking and the principles of rhetoric to transform management processes in large organizations. Much of his work focuses on designing infor- mation to support the work of senior leadership teams, in areas such as planning and reporting. Contact: 2nd Road Zenith Centre, Tower B, Level 9 821 Pacific Highway Chatswood NSW 2067 Australia julian.jenkins@secondroad.com.au

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