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The rise of the Internet reveals that information doesn’t make you smart: anybody can learn about anything, and still sound as stupid as when they started. Instead it’s the application of information that makes or breaks you, revealing the difference between someone who truly learns and someone who’s turned themselves into a walking encyclopedia.

To live a smart life in such an age you can’t claim any advantage from having heard of things: an embarrassment of informational riches makes it meaningless. The real trick is turning an assortment of thoughts, theories, and tangents into a focused plan, and a big part of that is admitting that human brains aren’t actually very good at that. We weren’t built for the web; we were built to evade predators, so tools which turn an endless ocean of info into something we can visually process are an essential tool. Here we look at a few:

1. The Mind Map

Many business buzzwords are just “things everybody knows but someone gave it a fancy name.” The Mind Map is almost exactly that, but it works because many people won’t actually draw a picture of their plan until you convince them it’s okay to. A “Mind Map” is nothing but a the visual track of a thinking session, conversation, or planning meeting, but is still extraordinarily useful because of that. The human brain has fewer short term memory registers than the average phone, and bullet-point lists operate under the insane assumption that human beings think in a logical, linear manner.

Mind Map

Mind Map

True, most mind maps are utterly incomprehensible to anyone who wasn’t there when they were drawn — but it’s not for them. This is the truest visualization tool, something only intended to illustrate connections and spur insights in the people creating the information. Whether yours is hand drawn or assisted by professional (e.g., ConceptDraw) or open-source software (e.g., VUE), you really should be using mind maps when planning.

2. Intelligent Reporting Tools

A truly Smartlife isn’t about stating how things should be — that’s a Frustratedlife — but acknowledging how things are and using your smarts to smooth things for yourself and those you care about. An unavoidable annoyance for many is the dreaded PowerPoint, the weekly/review/status/whatever meeting where a trained professional has to sacrifice “actually doing what I was hired to do” time to make pretty pictures to convince people who can’t do what that person does that they’re doing it. And if you think that sentence’s grammar was tortuous, the situation it describes is even worse.

Intelligent Reporting Tools

Intelligent Reporting Tools

Project Manager’s Intelligent Reporting Tools promise exactly what you need:  instant, informative graphics summarizing all the numbers you already have to hand.  These are obviously useful in actual management too — so much more is obvious in visual form where before there’s only a deluge of digits — but we’re going to come out and say that the ability to spontaneously spawn slide-sized graphics could save a truly smart person more time than they could imagine.

3. Fidg’t

For the truly tech-happy we present Fidg’t, an excellent tool for visualizing the traffic on your local network.  Some might scoff at such an idea, but they’re reading this in binary projected on a vacuum-tubed CRT anyway, so we can say 0100011001010101 and get on with the regular humans.

Fidg't

Fidg't

Fidg’t is for the social, sonic cybercitizen, allowing you to examine your network neighborhood in terms of musical preference, creating a visual map of auditory preferences in your local region. Because sifting the masses to find the few whose interests are yours is one of the best uses of the Internet.

4. The Whiteboard

Don’t ever confuse technology for top-notch — how many times have you seen somebody stabbing at their smartphone, waiting for something to start, when the stub of a pencil would have done faster? The glorious whiteboard is one of the most important “applications” the real world offers the thinker, allowing you to visualize anything you want in any way you can imagine. The real point is remembering that no matter how smart you are, coming up with ideas is human: organizing them inside your skull is not.  Whether it’s whiteboard, tablet PC, or simple pen and paper, start visualizing what you’re doing.

Don't worry, your work doesn't have to be quite this level.

Don't worry, your work doesn't have to be quite this level.

Of course, there is an application too — because it’s not smart to abandon essential tools because of a trivial factor like “they’re on the other side of the world.” Dabbleboard offers a communal whiteboard for use in online meetings, complete with collaborative tools and ability to extract saved images, for anyone using conference calls or Skype systems in work.

Because a picture is worth a thousand words. A plan of action is worth a million.

Image credit: Dizzo / iStockphoto

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