It had to happen eventually. A chart has become a bestseller.
Chris Anderson's book has hit the NYT list, and considering that the entire book can be summarized as a single visual, says good things about the power of visual thinking.
It also says a lot about the power of blogs, good ideas, good writing, and tireless promotion (I'm in awe), but I'm more interested in that little chart. I love the way that the combination of the name (The Long Tail) and the image (a long tail) combine in the mind to create a truly memorable cognitive nugget.
What a better way to spend a few quiet French vacation days with my daughter than building Lego villages? None -- especially now that Lego has finally woken up to the fact that more than half of all children are girls, and have released Lego Belville. This, combined with the marvelous Lego Factory and Digital Designer, mean that there is now no reason to do anything BUT play with Legos.
Of course, I'm supposed to be working on my book... but then again Legos do figure prominently in the chapters on how to create images in the mind's eye AND in the chapters on how we can see in 3 dimensions even with our eyes closed.
And here's where things get cognitively interesting: when I compare the visual and tactile act of working with the plastic bricks to the tactile-free act of working with the digital bricks, a completely different experience takes place. Building with the plastic bricks is effortless and relaxing. Building with the digitally simulated bricks is tedius and frustrating. I like Legos, and I like building three dimensional models on computers, yet I don't like building Legos on the computer. What's going on?
In spite of the great efforts the Lego Digital Designer team have made in developing a seamless and intuitive 3D desktop interface, the lack of the tactile experience is the problem. Without the feel of the bricks in the hands, the ease of immediately rotating them in any axis, and the satisfying SNAP when they pop together, the digital desktop bricks are simply dead.
Don't get me wrong. I love the idea of digital bricks (and have recreated Lego blocks in several 3D programs myself) and I hope Lego keeps pushing forward, but they're not there yet. That said, I can see that making the side-by-side comparision of plastic bricks to digital bricks is going to be a great test for a bunch of cognitve and visualization processes.
Again, thanks Lego! And my daughter thanks you, too.
The subtitle of my book is "solving problems with pictures", which I have always meant to describe the kinds of problems typically encountered in business (who is doing what, why are they doing it, where do I fit in the plan, what is the plan, where should we be going, how are we going to get there, etc.) and the pictures that can help clarify the answers (an org chart, a schematic, a concept map, a Venn diagram, a timeline, etc.).
Yet when I discussed my book ideas with my brother in law Patrick Achi over dinner the other night in France, he interpreted my title differently. Patrick is an ex-Andersen consultant and now is the Minister of Economic Infrastructure of the Ivory Coast. As an ex-consultant, he perfectly understood understood the rational direction of my thinking, but as a politician in a troubled country he was more interested in the emotional power of imagery.
In only the past four years, Ivory Coast has gone from being the showcase nation of Western African democratic and economic achievement to yet another African nation tottering of the edge of outright civil war. The fall has been fast and terrible, and Patrick was full of angst and wonder at the speed with which formerly friendly peoples can turn on each other.
As a Minister in the coalition National Unity government, Patrick spends most of his time listening to as many people across his country as he can, and conveying their voices to the world at large. In listening to his countrymen and women describe to him their difficulties, he constantly sees how words fail to adequately convey the root ideas that people wish to express. He challenged me to think about how images might help bridge this gap in the power of language. I'm left humbled by this challenge.
Patrick's insights into the power of images comes from many sources, and of late he has been studying the symbol priests of ancient Egypt. These priests spent decades learning to use hieroglyphics to describe the space between ideas and words, and Patrick suggested that I spend time researching what was already known 6,000 years ago.