What is visual-data decision making?

Human beings are always working to make the best of our current circumstance. In the context of the long now, we notice that for most of human history, we’ve lived in small tribes in an unpredictable wilderness, as nature marched on to the beat of her own ecological drum.

In this context, our brains began to refine the gathering and categorising of data, via the human senses of Sight. Hearing, Touch, Smell, Taste (and a Sixth sense that is harder to pinpoint).


Our eyes look for visual cues, and the meaning we can make of patterns, shapes, and movement (trends). We seek to understand what they are telling us.

We know that some visual indicators are better than others, showing a more accurate (more complete) view of the current reality, and seek them out so we can make the decisions that will benefit our tribe/organisation.

In this one piece of visual data (below), David McCandless reveals how much data each of the senses is processing, by comparing it to the processing power of computer technology, and scaling the coloured segments accordingly. Sight comes out as the clear winner!

In his TED talk (below), McCandless turns complex data sets, like worldwide military spending, media buzz, and Facebook status updates, into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world (or our organisations).


Visual information is transformed in our brain, and becomes memory, and our organisations have been gathering this data in computer (or cloud) memory for years. We sense it’s a treasure, but we haven’t invested the resources to learn how to drill into it, for its hidden insights.

Every time I show someone how to drill into the details of the data at will, and as they begin to feast on the pictures it reveals, the sense of delight is a palpable.

Now it has become affordable to take our data assets, and turn them into pictures, so the shapes and patterns in visual-data become easy to read. This is the art, and what follows is what I have come to term visual-data decision making.


Melissa Pollock suggests visual-data, speeds up informed decision making.

“As business leaders, we are also driven by visual data. Decision-making relies on data, and visualisations make it easy to understand the volumes of market, company, employee and customer analytics. And seeing the data represented in comparative trends, speeds our ability to identify where and how to pivot in order to meet goals!”


We generally accept that collaboration is part of the organisation’s decision making process. So a question arises: Who do you need to share your data-inspired insights with, and who’s insights will you include in your analysis?

If we can capture (as images) the visuals we find on our exploration of the data, we maybe able to help each other see things we might otherwise have missed. Such collections of shared insights, have the power to offer a more complete picture, and make the next decision obvious.

Next I’ll look at the questions of:

  • What sort of data?
  • Where does it come from?
  • How current is it?

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