icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an  ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

Chronological Index | Subject Index

A picture is worth a thousand words - or zero

About the challenges of visual communication in an hyper-connected global digital world

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2012). A picture is worth a thousand words - or zero. About the challenges of visual communication in an hyper-connected global digital world. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 1.1 (March).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2012). A picture is worth a thousand words - or zero. About the challenges of visual communication in an hyper-connected global digital world. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 1.1 (March).

March 2012. - Earlier this year I had to prepare some short presentations about my Data Project Management methodology.

I like written words - that usually take time to be understood. Wherever you put them, they shape your world like sculptures do with the surrounding air. But is reading still an habit for the challenged mind of young professionals? and which words can reach the fast educated brains of young executives and project managers? Can we effectively communicate technical and managerial notions with traditional languages even in rushing, deceptive and blunt digital times?

There is no evidence that the arts offer better approaches to knowledge translation and management then STEM methodologies. But they are surely positively biased approaches compared with mathematics, physics or even history.

Visual communication has been so effective in persuading people for millennia and in so many disparate cultures that you do not need me to explain why a picture is worth a thousands words.

The proverb is very well known in many languages. There is an English version of it that adds "and yet picture books are for infants". We should remind it also to Chief Executives and scientists.

The story: referral fees and defamation of character

I have recently learned a story about an old man who went brainwashed by a group of attachment therapists, close friends of his second wife (a psychologist). He was persuaded that the daughter he had from his first wife should be excluded from his will on the grounds of allegations based on some photographs.

Being excluded from her father's will, the daughter was persuaded by a lawyer to start a defamation claim against her step-mother who allegedly architected the conspiracy. The claim failed in Court as it was absolutely inconsistent but the poor lady had spent in the meantime a lot of the money she indeed inherited after his father’s death just to pay the solicitor’s fees with little moral satisfaction: years later she learned the lawyer was suspended and barred from practicing for abuse of trust and misconduct in several other similar circumstances of weak and vulnerable family relationships.

This is a feuilleton-story in which personal data acquired through the legal process of a divorce case have been passed from a lawyers’ firm to another one, abusing of the referral fees mechanism, and used to fabricate a real case of defamation of character impacting several innocent people in two families. In fact, out of its context, a picture is just worth as any other picture especially if it is a fake put in the wrong pot of family law: zero. It had had no value and power to enable any change at all. But engagement experts and social media activists seem pretty much able to socially engineer whatsoever has the power to entertain people for ages, exploiting repetition, memes and sequel mechanisms, transforming bunches of data and stories in zero-valued goods: built upon faked evidences with arguable profitability, such stories can generate traffic and misrepresent people, products, places, events, relationships with secondary purposes, including cybercrime and political interferences. We all, no matter our level of expertise, often do not spot the weak reasoning or the lack of substance from quick readings, browsing and scanning contents through web pages and phone apps.

Is change management just a matter of changing perceptions?

Seeing is believing, and it can spoil or corrupt even a father's love - but it cannot easily change the law nor data structures we design in order to disambiguate meanings and make people more resilient in front of the risks of manipulation and deception. It is a fundamental assumption of my approach to change management that information design has a role to play.

The story helped me to prepare some funny slides about my Data Project Management methodology (London, National Maritime Museum, MLA Group Meeting, 22 March 2012) choosing an unusual and little dissonant combination of languages: on one side, my speech was concentrating on concepts derived from normative, policy or procedural findings of my own practice and research on data project management. On the other, the images I chose for my presentation offered references and suggestions not particularly pertinent to the notions I was talking about but for having a special quality in that: in whatever way I tried to stretch them or to manipulate them they did not lose their original power of conveying, of representing concepts they had in their first instance or original context (I must admit, sometimes such quality of unambiguity was assured by their titles, descriptions and copyright notes) - or at least this was the prevalent opinion of the few people I showed them before making my own choices. That is to say that the images could bring to my audience more suggestions and ideas, besides what I would say during the presentation, in ways not dissonant, not distorting or conflicting with my intended messages. They would offer an array of other possible meanings.


Anyhow, we could argue for ages on the best ways in which we facilitate or prevent changes in perception for which cyber criminals are increasingly more skilled than public relations and data engineering experts! We humans, especially in some of the most developed Countries, have reached such a perfection in communication tasks and interaction skills that the languages we use have often lost their properties, impact and power to teach something outside a specific frame or context.

Most of the times our conversations and interactions risk therefore to be trapped in emotional reactions that make a zero-value game.

Post scriptum: The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) introduced a ban on referral fees in personal injury cases in England and Wales, that came into effect on 1 April 2013 although it is known that it has not stopped the unethical and now illegal practice of trading personal damages cases, very common among legal firms particularly in England. The Lake Keitele painting by Gallen-Kallela I mentioned in the suggested exercise on how to change data policies in the presentation about Data Project Management in 2012 that I quoted here is now on display in Room 41 of the National Gallery.