visual thinking

Visualization Important to Weight Loss

How the Visual Developed

When I decided to really loose weight and exercise, I decided that I also needed to document it, mostly because I knew I would forget and having a record would help me see how I was doing. So, after my first time with my trainer, I sat down with my exercise plan and my goals, and put it into Excel. My first iteration was pretty simple. I knew I wanted to lose 25 pounds by the upcoming VizThink conference in Berlin. That worked out to 1.2 pounds per week. I charted that as my goal (the red line on the graph below). Then every time I do strength training (usually 2-3x per week) and some times I do cardio training (the other 2-3x per week) I weigh myself and record the actual values (which became the green line on the graph below).

What I quickly found is that I wanted to know more and more information, so the chart began to grow and adapt. First, I wanted to know when I was going to no longer be considered obese, by the government standards. So, I divided the graph into a red section (for obese) and yellow section (for overweight). While that wasn’t a major goal, the graph made it very easy to see when I passed it and it certainly was something to celebrate.

Originally, the graph ended at October 14th. So my first goal, was at the right side of the graph. Once I saw that I was making progress towards my goal and was actually sticking with the exercise and food plan (a topic for another post), I knew I needed to set the next goal. It was a hard choice, but I finally landed on a weight comfortable inside the “normal weight” category. So, a new section (shown as green on the graph) was added to show where “normal weight” began which for me is 154.5 pounds.

I still didn’t expand the time range on the graph at that time. I wanted to make sure I stayed focused on the first goal before looking beyond. I still hadn’t decided (and really still haven’t) if my second goal of being comfortably inside the “normal weight” category is really my final goal or if I needed a third goal. So I began some research into the “ideal” weight. It turns out there’s quite a few research studies that say people are the healthiest at a Body Mass Index of 22. That translates to a pretty low weight for me about 137.5 pounds. That would put me at the weight I was when I entered my undergraduate program. It’s now represented by the dark green line on the graph. I still haven’t decided on what to do next, but at least I can see my progress towards it.

Once I got close to the first goal, I decided to go ahead and extend the graph out through the end of the year. However, that removed my artificial representation of the right side of the graph as my goal. So, triangles were added to the timeline to represent the goals. The 2 red triangles show the first two goals and when I want to achieve them. The (currently one) green triangle makes it easier to read when I reached my first goal (a little less than three weeks ahead of goal).

The Importance of the Visual

I love numbers and have lots of spreadsheets that almost always include lots of charts. This one though became of special importance. I have become nearly obsessed with it. It’s actually fun to see the progress in the chart. Sure, I can see the numbers get lower in the tables and I consciously know the amount of weight I’ve lost, but to see it change (almost) interactively is huge motivation especially as the lines inch ever closer to the major sections and the goals. It becomes a handy tool to forecast actual vs. plan. Adding a quick trend line makes it even easier to see.

I also want to point out that the graph also shows that it hasn’t always been a straight shot. I’ve lost both a little and a lot of ground many times. The back stepping was often due to scheduling conflict where I wasn’t able to stay on my workout or eating plan due to schedule conflicts with work, family, and friends. In fact, it usually turns out that the days I can’t work out area also almost always tied to days with opportunities for over eating. Not the best combination of situations. Weight swings of 1/2 pound to a couple pounds naturally led to moments of questioning. Have I reached my limit? Am I hitting a plateau? Can I really keep this up? As time progressed though, the visual became proof of the possibilities. I had lost some ground before and been able to recover. This time would likely be the same. It became a source of comfort, in a way.

One More Important Visual

One more visual has kept me motivated. While I did decide to lose weight as a New Year’s resolution, it wasn’t really until after the VizThink event in San Francisco this past January, that I really got my motivation. Our conference photographer, Andrew Campbell, captured quite a few photos of me on stage and throughout the conference. The one of the top below was particularly unflattering (not due to his work) showing me flowing over my 36″ khakis. His photo helped push me over the edge to finally get going for real. This past week my friend and colleague, Christine Martell, took the picture of me (shown on the bottom) doing my all day workshop for the Brandon-Hall conference in my new 32″ khakis.

While I’m not where I want to be yet, the visuals tell the story better than all the words on this page. Progress is happening, and the visual is helping me get there a little each week.

Safe Simulations?

For years, I’ve been talking about one of the major benefits of simulations: a safe environment. Flying planes, firefighting, police work, and surgery are dangerous jobs with many dangerous tasks. One of the often stated benefits of a simulation is that they allow practice in a safe environment. If the learner makes a mistake, people (airplane passengers, victims, and patients) don’t die. However, it seems we (and especially I) may have been wrong.

In a conversation today with Eric Kramer from Trimm, a Netherlands-based simulation company, he made a statement that threw that concept out the window. In a conversation on the levels of realism necessary in simulations, he said “If it’s safe, it’s not real.” For me, it was like being hit over the head with a new revelation. Of course we don’t want simulations that are so real that people die, that defeats the point of a simulation. However, it’s important that the learner feel that the patient could die, that the plane could crash, or that people could die in the fire. The appropriate (a very important word) level of realism needs to include the environment, visualizations, decisions, responses, and results/impacts in order to create the impression of danger. If it feels safe, it won’t have the same learning impact.

All too often in learning (whether classroom or online), designers work to take out the risk. Here are just a few of examples:

  • Writing multiple choice questions with an obvious correct answer (lest anyone get a less than perfect score)
  • Not letting a learner finish a course unless they meet a minimum score (everybody must pass after all)
  • Letting people move forward/graduate/get certified regardless of whether they’ve demonstrated mastery in the material
  • Make sure everybody feels comfortable and happy (lest they give the instructor a low rating)
  • Designing learning modules for the lowest common denominator
  • Designing easy simulations, games and activities that don’t challenge the learner

Let’s put the realism (and the danger) back into the learning modules and simulations that we create.

For more on Eric’s work on simulations with their local police department, be sure to check out the upcoming Visualization in Learning report being published by VizThink in about a week. In addition, Eric will be facilitating a session on realism in simulations at our next big event which is being held in Berlin, October 12-14, 2008.

One Year Anniversary

Can you believe that VizThink has been going for a year? Today is it, which also means today is my one-year anniversary with the company. We’re somewhat linked that way. It’s been a crazy, exciting year. We did two posts today one celebrating and one telling our story. Be sure to check them out and join in the celebration.

Minority Report for Real with the Wii

Much thanks to Peter Durand over at the Center for Graphic Facilitation blog for the post pointing this out. Want multitouch, but the big multi touch screens are too expensive or unavailable? How about converting your Wii into a glove sensor device with all the same functionality and more? They don’t talk about it in the video, but you could go well beyond the demonstration of moving and sizing photos. Multitouch has a limitation. It’s forced to be on a 2D surface (hence the “touch” part of the name). Therefore, any 3D manipulation is forced and unnatural. The gloves remove the 2D limitation and give the entire 3D space to work with (as long as you can reach it). Imagine rotating 3D objects or zooming in on them, simply by grabbing them and turning or pulling them closer. Very cool.

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Very cool comic creator

I know, I know, I’m so far behind in my personal blog. I’ve been posting over on the VizThink blog ( How people do multiple blogs with multiples posts a day, I’ll never know. Anyway, this one was good enough to break my silence with.
Check out this very cool, very easy, very powerful web-based comic creator:

It was in Beta for the ever-popular SxSW (south by southwest) conference. Be sure to try it out!

Visual Thinking & eLearning

Have you wondered how Visual Thinking applies to eLearning? or What is Visual Thinking anyway? You’re not alone. So, over at the VizThink community (website, wiki, blog), we’ve decided to do a series of podcasts and webinars covering these topics. Here are the first 3 topics:
Who is TechSmith and what do they do with Visual Thinking? (with Tony Dunckel)
What is idea mapping and how can it be used? (with Jamie Nast & Susi Watson)
How is Visual Thinking related to eLearning? (with Dave Gray & Tony Karrer)

Many more are on the schedule including sessions on graphic recording, presentations, and many others. All of the podcasts and webinars are FREE, but some require registration. Be sure to bookmark the VizThink blog or add it to your reader in order to get the latest updates.

Creative Facilitation Using Photos

I had the pleasure of sitting in on Christine Martell’s engaging session at the Brandon-Hall conference last week. While I’ve done facilitation for years, this is one of the most unique approaches I’ve seen in a long time. The topics for sessions can be almost anything and for conferences, she often uses the conference theme as the topic. So for this one, the question to be addressed was “What is Innovation in Learning?”, which was the theme of the conference.

The first exercise was for each individual to answer the question. They had to create their response by selecting images from a pile of specially designed stock photos in order to tell their story.

Once completing their story, they analyzed their approach and shared their stories with the other people at their table. Then, each table had to create a shared story on the same topic. The outcomes were amazingly diverse in approach and visually rich, yet the learning outcomes were incredibly consistent.

Do you have people that need to brainstorm answers to challenging problems? Do they need to get aligned on strategic initiatives? Then this is a great approach. It takes advantage of creativity and design without the hurdles that are often in place for some of the population with sketching or other creative endeavors.

Many more details are available on this session, her blog, and her company. We’re also excited to have her as a member of the VizThink community and one of our facilitators at our upcoming conference in San Francisco. Register today to attend great sessions like this.

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Visual DNA

For many people, art seems to be a completely subjective medium. What works for some is completely strange for others. Imagini uses those preferences to compare you to others and see what that says about you. Here’s the results from mine:

While I’m not convinced of the validity of the interpretive descriptions they do, the selection of the visuals definitely communicate a bit more about me. For more about the use of the visual arts for communication, be sure to check out VizThink and register for our upcoming conference.

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Increasing the Odds

As many of you know, I spent most of last year in Saratoga Springs. I went back late this summer to visit a great set of friends from my time there. While the water (it is named for that after all) is what it was once known for, horse racing is one of the things it is still known for. Yes, technically you can still drink from the springs, but how anybody ever considered something that tastes that awful to be healthy, I’ll never understand.

Horse racing in Saratoga is approaching 145 years old. That’s a pretty long tradition, in the U.S. anyway. For those who have never been to a race, it seems pretty basic…horses run, you bet on the winner, if you guess right you win. However, when you go to figure out and place your first bet, you learn what 145 years of organic growth causes…enormous complexity and completely unique terminology. Even the most basic bets–1st, 2nd, and 3rd which are known as Win (obvious), Place, and Show–get more complicated when you layer in boxes, daily doubles, exatcas, trifectas, quinellas (huh?), pick four, and pick six, and that’s only the beginning.

How do you pick the horse? How does the horse’s previous performance matter? How many races have they run? What kind of track’s did they run on? What were the conditions? How did they do? How fast were they? How long were the races? Is it the jockey? Is it the trainer? Is it the owner? What about the horse’s lineage? How’s the horse’s short distance speed vs. long distance? Grass vs. dirt? When was the horse’s last race? How does the horse behave in the paddock (i.e. the staging area)? Has the horse raced at this track before? To horse racing veterans, all of these factor into their bets. Their forms for each horse look something like this:

However, for newbies (like me) that amount of data is way too overwhelming. So the New York Racing Association puts together another form about 1/3 the size that probably should be called Horse Racing for Dummies (but that probably already exists). These forms make excellent use of visuals to simplify the process of selecting a horse. Pictured below, somebody selected the 7 most important categories that will determine a horse’s success. Are they the most important? I don’t really know. Hopefully, somebody ran a regression analysis or something to figure it out. Anyway, if the horse performed in that category, they get an icon. Of course it’s still up to the bettor to determine how to weight the 7 categories, but it certainly makes the process much easier.

For this bettor, in my 4 trips to the track, this form has allowed me to come out even each day after betting on 8 or so races each time. OK, so coming out even may not speak for this being the best process to win lots of money, but I think not losing lots of money is better than most of the people there. And best of all, you still have a fun afternoon with friends.

For more information on Visual Thinking approaches like this, check out

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New Southwest Seating Plan

OK, so Southwest finally took my advice! Back in early December 2006 I blogged about Open Seating on Southwest Air Pt 1 & Pt 2. I was complaining about the cattle call set up for Southwest and how people will stand in line for hours even when there’s no plane at the gate and it’s been delayed for two hours just to save their place in line for open seating. I gave a bunch of ideas how to fix it, and they actually took one of my ideas!

OK, so it probably wasn’t the most original idea ever, but I think it will make things better. In Pt 2, I suggested they assign numbers to people and have them line up by number. That would eliminate people standing for hours in the cattle gates waiting for the plane and that’s exactly what they’ve done! Check out this quick performance support piece on the new way to board the plane. (Nice visuals too, with the usual Southwest sense of humor). Somebody should have told them that performance support pieces are better when available in the moment rather than hours or days before they’re needed, but, hey, it’s a good attempt.

I’m flying Southwest in a few weeks, so, if they’ve implemented it by then, I’ll report back on how it went.

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