Friday, February 15, 2008

Visualization Doesn't Matter

Sense-making matters. I've always been cognizant of the fact that people without sight have exactly zero use for visualization. (Probably not 100% true, I bet.) The point is that there is nothing presumptive about visualization that makes sense-making possible. It is the human mind that makes sense-making have even meaning enough to give way to possibility. Communication matters, too. Certainly visualization makes communication possible by providing an entire medium/channel/wavelength such that when we lack it our communication may likely be impeded.

Obviously I think there is value in visualization. So why do I say it doesn't matter? Because visualization is never more than a means to an end. That end could be to have fun or it could be to make an important decision or it could be to send a message. But in any case, there can be 1001 means to achieving those ends and visualization is never more than one of them.

Why is this point worth understanding and remembering?

Selling. Working for customers. Providing a service to people. I am a computer scientist and a technologist and a visualization "guy" but my work and my business are all about people. Sometimes people forget what the word "technology" means.

And so when I'm talking to a customer about visualization and I find that we are talking too much about visualization then something is not right. We should be talking about the customer's wants, needs, pains in intellectual terms that are not constrained by any one means of achieving an end. It's up to me to decide how, where, why, and when visualization matters. That's what I'm getting paid to do.

Ok, so enough with the hand-waving. What is a practical example?

I have a customer who wants and needs to make an investment in visualization and part of his information technology capability. I know going in that the reason I am doing business with this customer is because he values visualization and knows he needs help integrating it into his IT portfolio. So I'm sitting down in front of him and giving him his first brief on what I am doing for him. Most of the hour long presentation (demonstrations, actually) is/are in terms of how visualization is used to present and interact with his domain data. He finds that all well and good in about 5 minutes, but what he really wants to know is "which of my problems does it solve?" And that's where it gets tricky. Because the answer is that visualizing domain information doesn't solve any problems de facto.

So do you want to talk about my visualization services or do you want to talk about your problems? What matters? I'm happy and comfortable discussing either. But in my business, people solve problems and it just so happens that my people are skilled at using visualization as a means toward that end.

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