If you are interested in learning more about the larger context within which visual mapping fits, then you will really enjoy Malcolm Craig’s excellent book, Thinking Visually: Business Applications of 14 Core Diagrams. This book, suggested by visual communication expert Dave Gray in his Communication Nation blog, gave me a deeper appreciation of some of the theory behind visual diagramming and why it is so effective as a business problem-solving tool.
The book is structured into three main sections: part one is an introduction to diagramming, part two focuses on applying core diagrams and part three focuses on managing information, theory and pitfalls. The author opens part one with an overview of business diagramming and its applications, including these common business needs:
- Problem solving
- Producing ideas
- Writing reports
- Understanding a process
- Working in groups
- Mining for knowledge
Craig provides some compelling theories that help to explain why it is a potent tool for executives challenged by complex business issues. He also explains at a high level what some of the core applications of business diagramming are. I found this part of Thinking Visually to be fascinating, because it gave me a deeper appreciation of how business needs and challenges are different today, and how visual diagramming can be used to address them. This section of the book also contains a chapter on drawing, reading and interpreting diagrams, including common lines and shapes used in business diagrams and their function.
Part two of Thinking Visually takes an application focused approach to diagramming, concentrating on six key areas:
- Mapping the business: the system map, the mind map
- Relationship and influence: relationship diagram, tree diagram, influence diagram
- Control in business: input-output diagram, control diagram
- Thinking about causation: multiple cause diagram, fishbone diagram, sign diagram
- Diagramming for change: force field diagram, window diagram
- Thinking about flow: flow diagram, the algorithm diagram (which diagrams flow as a series of questions and yes/no responses), ring diagram
Part three of Thinking Visually contains a wealth of practical advice on how to use the diagrams to manage information overload. Craig correctly points out that one of the major challenges businesspeople face today is how to separate meaningful information from a mountain of inputs, research and data. He points out that most businesses don’t make good use of available knowledge, and suggests that business diagramming can help us to do so more effectively.
When I picked up Thinking Visually, I was expecting something dense and theoretical, but found Craig’s writing style to be highly accessible and informative, and over 60 illustrations add an important visual dimension to this important book.
I like the fact that Craig doesn’t attempt to position visual thinking and business diagramming as a panacea for all of the challenges that businesses face. He actually devotes a chapter to eliminating some of the pitfalls of diagramming, and coaches the reader on how to avoid them.
If your work involves process mapping, innovation or any use of visual aid depicting knowledge, information or data, then I highly recommend that you read this book!