Trip to Italy

May 15, 2009

cinque terre small

I’m shortly off on a week’s vacation to Cinque Terre (above), Florence and Pisa – posts will resume on my return!

Picture credit here.


Make Reports and Presentations Sparky!

May 15, 2009

TinyGraphs Excel 2008

Picture: Sparklines Used In A Spreadsheet

A sparkline is a ‘type of information graphics characterized by its small size and data density. Sparklines present trends and variations associated with some measurement, such as average temperature or stock market activity, in a simple and condensed way’.

An example of sparkline use is given by the mini-chart column in the spreadsheet above. This approach to visualising data can sometimes be more effective that a separate listing of larger graphics (which can easily break the flow when either reading or presenting).

There are various tools available for producing sparklines, both open source and commercial (see link above).

I run two blogs (this and Fleet Pond Blog) and I’m going to play around with analysing them using sparklines to see how effective they are in discovering and communicating trends.

Picture: Screenshot of sparklines procduced with a Tiny Graph sample using Excel 2008 (Office for Mac 2008).

Thinking Afresh With Mind-Maps

May 12, 2009

business mapping

Thinking about things from different viewpoints to get new insights is helped by using different approaches and visualisation is a powerful one. Some interesting examples of things to do within a business context are discussed by Chuck Frey using mind-mapping (and summarised in the mind-map above).

There are lots of nice mind-mapping tools around these days (standalone and online, free and commercial) and Chuck Frey’s blog also reviews these as well as giving many examples of other uses.

Picture above generated with XMind 2009 (free version).

The Houdini Technique

May 9, 2009

From Seth Godin:

Make easy things look difficult.

Make difficult things look easy.

Flying a plane from one city to another, on time, is incredibly difficult. There’s a million things that can go wrong. And yet, for years, the airlines worked hard to make it appear easy. They wanted to appear competent and to make us feel safe.

The other day, as I waited for a flight, I heard the dreaded announcement. The flight was delayed, there was a mechanical problem. Angst filled the gate area.

Five minutes later, they announced that the problem was fixed, and we could board… we ended up leaving ten minutes early. Joy throughout the land!

Where did the joy come from? It came from the rapid shift in expectations. For a moment, the airline made it look hard. then they did the trick and we were saved.

Houdini never said, “check out these trick handcuffs and watch how easy it is for me to take them off.”

The Enduring Fascination of ‘Lessons Learnt’

May 8, 2009

A few years ago I carried out a consultancy project for a Company Director who, when reviewing progress on his major bids for new work, found that similar mistakes were being made over and over again.

The staff were bright, hard-working and committed and significant resources had been put into personal coaching, leadership and communication skills, project and bid management etc. Leading-edge IT support systems were in place and this overall change programme had been going on for over 5 years.

What was going wrong? This was a big and difficult question of course, encompassing both people, processes and systems, but part of this was how can we at least ‘learn better through mistakes’.

What low cost interventions could be put into place that would likely lead to high impact steps or leaps forward?

This project got me interested in the whole area of ‘lessons learnt’ (this phrase is not the best to describe the situation but is useful as a catch-all) and some of my initial thoughts are here.

As an online experiment, I’ll start capturing typical lessons learnt write-ups on this blog to see if any new connections or insights crop up as well as commenting on different approaches.

All comments and suggestions greatly appreciated along the way of course!

PDF To Excel Free!

May 8, 2009


From freewaregenius:

The verdict: an excellent service. Although most people with PDF conversion needs are probably looking to convert them to Word DOC/RTF files, for those with data tables in their documents this service will prove invaluable. Simply terrific.

Science Is Story-Telling

May 5, 2009


From John Polanyi, Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry in 1986:

Science never gives up searching for truth, since it never claims to have achieved it. It is civilizing because it puts truth ahead of all else, including personal interests. These are grand claims, but so is the enterprise in which scientists share. How do we encourage the civilizing effects of science? First, we have to understand science.

Scientia is knowledge. It is only in the popular mind that it is equated with facts. That is of course flattering, since facts are incontrovertible. But it is also demeaning, since facts are meaningless. They contain no narrative.

Science, by contrast, is story-telling. This is evident in the way we use our primary scientific instrument, the eye. The eye searches for shapes. It searches for a beginning, a middle, and an end.

What we see is as a consequence, culturally conditioned. This is open to misunderstanding. It might be construed to mean that our conclusions are simply a matter of taste, which they are not. Though we explore in a culturally-conditioned way, the reality we sketch is universal. It is this, at its most basic, that makes science a humane pursuit; it acknowledges the commonality of people’s experience.

A really interesting thought!

John Polanyi is the son of distinguished Hungarian chemist Michel Polanyi, who is usually credited for introducing and emphasising the role of ‘tacit’ knowledge in creative acts. Good reference on the general area of informal learning here.

Picture credit here.