Visualizing complexity is a design approach that has always been used to handle multi-layered facts and perspectives. By using creative methods to visualize dry data, diverse people in an organization can be engaged in critical decision-making, from the outset of a project through to continuous improvement out on the marketplace. Turning dry facts into deep insights enables rapid and relevant decision-making. And it is only the people within a company who can know what relevant steps are needed for innovation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Doing the right things based on the wrong assumptions is not innovation.
Maps have to be ‘designed’ correctly for the task at hand. Take the world map as we know it today. The Gerardus Mercator’s projection was first published in 1569, and became widespread because it depicts a line of constant bearing as a straight line, which was relevant at the time for marine navigation. But the drawback of using that map today, to visualize new and existing business markets, is that it distorts the shapes and relative sizes of all the countries. The map also distorts our perception of the world. The map of True Africa created by Kai Krause, shows that Africa is far larger than we think. Then see the maps on land area to population, or amount of money per head spent on healthcare, and we instantly gain a more informed picture on which to base our innovation strategies.
Innovation is not so much of an outcome, as a process of asking the right questions at the right time, and asking them again and again, reiteratively. Since a company’s offering exists in real-time, across connected or digitally enabled networks, so too do the insights and information that continuous questioning and decision making are based on need to be in real-time. Innovation means never being satisfied with the obvious assumptions. And to break preconceived ideas we now have big data and data visualization.
Although a company cannot map all the potential outcomes of its activities, visual maps can play a large part in nurturing breakthrough thinking so that a company can focus on what it does best – and partner for the rest. Data visualization has yet to find its role in delivering real-time information for communications within a company, for critical decision making, or for real time communications between a company and its network, who, in a connected world, should be more deeply engaged in the ongoing strategies, activities and outcomes that bring to life a brand’s vision of innovation.
Maps don’t always make good online interfaces, but they do help us understand data in an intuitive way. Moving into a service-driven world, a company’s offering is continuously evolving and data visualization can be used to engage different types of stakeholders in the ongoing process of value generation. Imagine, for example, a call to action to developers to test and hack a beta digital service “pre-launch”. Or real time, localized invitations for users to swarm around an open innovation event, on and offline. Or adding services by using data collected from the public realm, such as traffic or weather reports, or national averages on life expectancy in relation to lifestyle choices. Innovation should be continuous rather than be an occasional manned mission to Mars. When users are informed and communicated with in more personal and transparent ways, they are more likely to offer up their own data to share in the benefits of ongoing innovation.
Maps in themselves do not tell us what to do: but they can help us harness knowledge and creativity to solve problems, and that is true innovation. No market research report or marketing message can compete with factual, real time information. We need to use technology and its designs to help us question all the assumptions that we take for granted- and make sure our good intentions result in meaningful activities.