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 / Autumn 2008 / Issue 52(originally published by Booz & Company)


Managing to See

McCloud, an accomplished graphic artist, ingeniously uses the medium to explain the medium. He marries form and content, and the resulting integrity of his book makes it a great foundational read and a lexicon for visual language.

McCloud isn’t the only thought leader to integrate ideas and images. For a terrific daily exercise in how to share complex ideas with simple sketches, visit the blog Indexed. This ingenious exercise in visual alchemy should inspire any manager who immediately turns to decks to present his or her ideas. Blogger Jessica Hagy, whose recent book, Indexed, pulls together the best information graphics from her site, uses simple graphs, Venn diagrams, and other forms of visual shorthand to make a rich point through clever combi­nations of words and graphics. In­structive by example.

Revenge of the Right-brained
Many successful executives have based their performance on a linear mind-set. They are driven by numbers, they communicate (and direct) through written memos, and they work hard to focus on attaining stated goals. In a hier­archical, relatively structured, command-and-control organization, this approach pays off.

But today’s changing ways of managing call for something different — an approach that relies more on skills tied to visual management. A nice way of framing this approach can be found in Daniel H. Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Pink argues that the global outsourcing of jobs, the automation of work that once provided a healthy wage, and the sheer abundance of our current time have eroded the value of positions based on a logical, single-minded approach. To thrive in the new economy, individuals and managers must think with both the left and right sides of the brain, Pink says. “We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture ca­pabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age,” he writes.

This shift requires people to develop a whole-brain approach to work that is artistic, holistic, empathetic, and sensory. Understanding visual language and its role in stories plays an increasingly important part in this new form of thinking, Pink writes, because making meaning is the key to making money. And the key to doing so lies in being able to see work from a broad and holistic perspective: “Seeing the big picture is fast becoming a killer app in business,” Pink says. Indeed, that’s why he wrote the first business book presented in the Japanese comic format of Manga. Johnny Bunko, the hero of his new illus­trated career guide, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need, learns six insights about work through his encounter with an animated career guide.

Seeing with the mind’s eye is but one way for managers to make meaning. Honing one’s vision can also start with developing a keen eye for how things get done and how they can be improved. This ap­proach is embodied in the Toyota production system, codified and known as lean management. In this system, based on the principles of eliminating waste and engaging em­ployees by aligning all actions with the understanding of how one’s work creates customer value, visual tools have enormous leverage. Individuals use visuals to communicate key facts about the workplace, and leaders use them to ensure that everyone sees how they fit into the overall work system.

One of the most widely adopted applications is value-stream maps. In 1998 the Lean Enterprise Institute first published a modest workbook titled Learning to See. This resource was designed on a simple premise: that Toyota built part of its success through the organizational practice of mapping the streams through which information and materials travel from first steps to customer value. The authors, lean expert Mike Rother and Toyota veteran John Shook, knew from experience that people could monitor the flow of goods and the health of processes by creating maps comparing the ideal state with current practices. By analyzing the gap between these two conditions, individuals working together could greatly im­prove the processes, and see where and how their work fit with others.

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Visual Management Resources
Works mentioned in this review.

  1. Gwendolyn D. Galsworth, Visual Workplace, Visual Thinking: Creating Enterprise Excellence through the Technologies of the Visual Workplace (Visual-Lean Enterprise Press, 2005), 244 pages
  2. Jessica Hagy, Indexed (Viking Studio, 2008), 96 pages
  3. Matthew E. May, The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation (Free Press, 2007), 256 pages
  4. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (HarperPerennial, 1994), 216 pages
  5. Daniel H. Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (Riverhead Books, 2006), 276 pages; The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need (Riverhead Books, 2008), 160 pages
  6. Dan Roam, The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures (Portfolio, 2008), 288 pages
  7. Mike Rother and John Shook, Learning to See: Value-Stream Mapping to Create Value and Eliminate Muda, Version 1.3 (Lean Enterprise Institute, 2003), 112 pages
  8. Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd ed. (Graphics Press, 2001), 200 pages; Envisioning Information (Graphics Press, 1990), 128 pages; The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within (Graphics Press, 2006), 32 pages
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