In many areas of business, there’s a distinct link between the processes and techniques we use and science. Sometimes we go with our gut instinct, get it right and see success, whilst other times it doesn’t go to plan and we can look to science to find out why.
One such process-science relationship is apparent when it comes to data and how we receive it, process it and act on it. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve received too many e-mails, to the point that we’ve struggled to open and respond adequately to each one and it’s a familiar sight seeing colleagues trying to juggle a dozen different jobs at once, not actually delivering to the highest quality on any of them.
There are plenty of resources available for individuals and teams to use to get their data and information processing in order, but the problem that’s very often found is they simply put everything in one folder or e-mail for you to look at, not effectively helping you deal with the problem of an information overload.
We’ve been talking about how the human brain doesn’t work like a filing system and isn’t good at multi-tasking for some time now, and how we should be looking for a better way of working that suits the way the mind naturally works.
We decided to investigate this further and explore to what extent this principle is true. We conducted a scientific study, which provided some very interesting insights into how we process data and how we can become more efficient, with the key point being the use of visualisation.
Carried out by Mindlab International at The Sussex Innovation Centre, the study looked into how office workers manage existing data through traditional software and what developments could be made to impact on the efficiency of how it was managed.
And as we first suspected, integrating visualisation into the way we manage and process information increases how efficient we are – but the results were far more startling than we thought.
For example, one of the key findings of the research suggests that when carrying out routine, everyday tasks in the office, if the data is displayed more visually, such as through visual maps, individuals are 17% more productive and need to use 20% less mental resources.
What’s more, teams collaborating on a joint project use 10% less mental resources and are a whole 8% more productive when using visualisation tools.
So if we need to use such a substantial amount of mental resources less to deal with the same information once displayed in a more visual way, this instantly increases our efficiency levels, as we’re able to deal with a greater amount of information in a successful and effective manner.
But what does this mean?
We spoke to Dr. Lynda Shaw, PhD CPhsychol, who explained “The results underscore that the human brain loves visual images and processes information presented in this way much more easily. …[the brain] stores information in sensory cortical areas and reconstructs meaning based on previously obtained knowledge, tied together by a complex web of connections. Visual mapping emulates this process with visual items that engage more areas of the brain, allowing us to see, explore and understand large amounts of data at once and convey abstract information in intuitive ways.”
Throughout the last few decades in particular, the amount of data we have to process has increased substantially, but we’ve made very little movement forward in how we’re helping our brains to cope with such a huge influx. In the last 150,000 years, our brain’s structure has developed minimally, if it all, yet we’re still expecting them to be able to cope with more and more increasingly complex documents, spreadsheets, databases, e-mails, social resources, specialist software and everything else above and beyond.
There’s no doubt we can continue to process data in the same way many of us are doing now and see the same results we’re currently seeing, but there’ll come a breaking point. A time where we physically can’t cope with the data that’s needed – and expected – to be managed.
And according to our research, a visualisation-based way of working could prove to be the shining light at the end of what is likely to be for many a very dark and difficult tunnel.