“Help the mechanical engineers and electrical engineers communicate better.”
I thought this was a strange assignment for my first job out of engineering school. But it set the direction for my mission in life.
In that first job, I wound up using the project’s brand new computer-aided design and drafting system to create a block diagram that got people in different groups talking to each other to figure out how their systems would interact in the complex vehicle we were designing.
Since then, I’ve been using computers daily and learning everything I can about visual thinking and communication, to solve problems and improve communication through the use of graphics. Here are a few ways I’ve used these concepts over the years, and still do today.
As an engineer and programmer, I wrote computer programs to show areas where an aircraft would be exposed to radar detection, or hidden from it by intervening terrain. I wrote post-processors to analyze the results of complex simulation runs and display them in graphs, which were used in reports and presentations, and to rank the relative importance of various system operational characteristics. In Total Quality teams, we created diagrams to document and improve our processes.
As a computer system administrator, I used simple sketches with boxes, arrows, and labels to explain computer system concepts to users. I drew network and system block diagrams to map our system and configurations, and to troubleshoot problems.
As a windsurfing instructor, I draw sketches for my students, to explain concepts to make them easier to understand and to remember.
In my daily life, I create mind maps to plan projects, and to summarize things I learn so I’ll remember them better. I make sketches and diagrams to clarify my thinking, or explore new ideas, to lay out a web page, and to plan the site structure and navigation.
The seeds for this website were sown in 1999-2000. That was when I was introduced to the ideas of learning organizations, as articulated by Peter Senge et al. in The Fifth Discipline, and visual thinking and communication, as articulated by Robert Horn in Visual Language. At around the same time I started reading about the implications of modern physics as a new paradigm to replace mechanistic world views for understanding the world around us. I am still working on integrating these ideas into my thoughts and actions, but I am very excited about the possibilities they open for improving the quality of life by improving our abilities to think, individually and in groups.