We have been taught over the past decade or so to visualize our goals. Teachers are told to plan their lessons with the end (the assessment of learning) in mind; doctors devise treatment plans consisting of various components to cure a patient; and athletes are coached to visualize the race in their heads before exiting the gate. Making it to the end,however, isn’t just about seeing a smiling student waving an “A+” test, a cancer patient sobbing with joy at being told they are in remission, or a skier crossing the finish line. Visualization also consists of being able to see – and thus plan for – the steps involved in the process.
The New York Times recently ran a terrific series of graphics involving Olympic Slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin’s winning run. The graphic is composed of a series of pictures taken yard-by-yard just as she had trained to see it. This type of visualization has been called small multiples by Edward Tufte, who has been called the world’s leading analyst of visual information. Small multiples, says Tufte, “visually enforce comparisons of change,” allowing for uninterrupted visual reasoning.∗ Notice, at one point how Shiffrin almost loses control, falls back on her skis for the slightest moment, but recovers to win the gold medal. Small multiples are just one way to visualize the steps to success.
Business journeys rarely run completely smoothly. Almost inevitably, a business will “fall back on its skis” as some problem occurs that has the potential to knock it off course. But, like the teacher, the doctor and the athlete who have planned their course, when a customer can harness the power of the visualization process, they have the ability to readjust and, using their visual map of steps to successful outcome, they can recover and achieve their goal.
Tufte, E. (1990). Envisioning Information. (p. 67). Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press LLC.