Why we need to get tactile with data


We often put a lot of effort into creating a good looking dashboard or reporting system – but then what happens?

All too often it simply becomes background noise.

We get it every day and ignore or simply tune out – going blind to it while we get on with whatever is latest and loudest.

We tend to fall into patterns and things like data and information displays can simply become pretty pictures rather than being used for reflection and action.

Unless you work in a lean organisation, that is.

The Japanese have a word for a big room – Obeya – that they use to call a dedicated space that is where people come together, can see what is going on and collaborate.

A way to think about this is like a command centre, a war room or the bridge of a ship.

Japanese companies like Toyota use this every day – or even several times a day.

It starts with a simple idea – we have to hit certain targets every day.

We get together during the day and go through the numbers and see if we are on track or not.

If not, we can make changes and correct our course. Being in the same space helps with having that conversation.

The space doesn’t have to be physical – it can be a digital space where we can get together, share and modify information.

But the important bit is that we need to engage with information we get.

At Toyota they make updating information a manual activity – writing numbers by hand, drawing charts and updating status indicators.

It’s the process of interacting with the data and information we have in front of us – of trying to touch and feel it – that transforms it from being a pretty picture on the wall to the source of our next action.

We are more engaged when we understand what is in front of us – and that makes for better conversations and more useful collaboration between colleagues.

It’s interesting that as we have more and more powerful ways to dissect and distill the data around us we humans become the bottlenecks in being able to use the information and insights more effectively.

And that’s no bad thing – constraints are good for innovation.

If anything – we need to slow down even more.

We need to look beyond the dashboard as a result and focus on the end result – what are we trying to achieve each day?

We should get our fancy algorithms and computers to do the number crunching they are good at and give us the figures we need – that’s not work people should do.

Our job to use our time to get a feel for the numbers – getting tactile with them.

That frees us up to use our creative ability to come up with solutions – and we need all the creative time we can get.

Because there are a lot of interesting problems out there to solve.

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