Little kids are pretty effective communicators. If they want something, and they don’t get it, you soon know about it.
The way they learn to communicate is instructive. They recognize what they see before they can conceive of the idea of a name for it. Their language is visual before it is verbal. It’s not just that they draw images before they write words, it’s that they learn words by associating them with images.
If you’ve ever found yourself traveling in a country where you can’t speak a word of the language, you might have experience of returning to that pre-lingual phase. You have a want you can’t verbalize. You feel tense frustrated you can’t make yourself understood. Hopefully you don’t start screaming.
Quickly you realize that you don’t need to know the word for ‘banana’ to get a banana. You point, you gesticulate, you get what you want.
The power of visual communication will never wane. Recently I was speaking with a customer of ours who brought this home to me with real force. Responsible for orchestrating critical maintenance work on nuclear reactors – this stuff’s not child’s play – this customer was presented with a 117-page scheduling document for him and his team of engineers to digest and follow.
These documents are heavy going. People struggle to stay focused trying to absorb that much information in the written word. “These things drive you nuts,” he told me.
What this customer did was remarkable. He used Canvas X, our core application, to condense everything he and his team needed to know of the maintenance schedule into a single visual image, to which they all had access. With a single glance, anyone could see precisely where each team member was at any given time, and what they were working on, when each phase of the project began and concluded and so on.
The plant managers took a look at this and, before long, 65” monitors were installed throughout the plant, and in the control room, so everyone could see what was happening.
Nobody was looking at that 113-page scheduling document.
“Everybody loves the visuals,” our customer explained. “People need information at a glance. It’s like a car dash. One look and you can see all the essential information. It stops the phone ringing, so we can get on with the work.”
Amazing. I hadn’t seen Canvas X used for anything like this before. I asked him why he used Canvas to do it.
“No scheduling program can represent that much data on a single sheet,” he said.
Now his customers are asking for every maintenance schedule to be displayed using Canvas.
Real-world examples like this remind me that our experience of learning to communicate never leaves us. Just like those little kids, we can be highly effective at understanding – and being understood – by using visual communication.
And unlike those little kids, we don’t get frustrated and go nuclear.