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Fluid intelligence and making diagrams

Deirdre Wilson – Wednesday, October 30, 2013   


This is one of the things we do well: taking a mass of information and turning it into a simple diagram that explains the core concept. I have never understood how we are able to do it, I just know that the process of creating diagrams, talking about it to each other and waiting a while will result in insight that allows us to get right to the core of the information.

Recently I read about Fluid Intelligence – the capacity to learn new information, retain it and use that new knowledge as a foundation to solve the next problem. This explained to me why we are able to understand complex problems and turn them into diagrams.

It turns out that you can increase your fluid intelligence by doing these five things:

  • Seek novelty
  • Challenge yourself 
  • Think creatively
  • Do things the hard way
  • Network with people who are different to you

If you want to improve your fluid intelligence read this article and get out of your comfort zone, fast!

If you want to improve your fluid intelligence, get out of your comfort zone, fast!tweet this

Now for a behind-the-scenes look at how we unravelled the gordian knot of pallet ownership - fluid intelligence at work.

The problem was this: the ownership of pallets moves from company to company as pallets make their journey through a system, starting with the company that owns the pallets and ending up back at that same company. Along the way, the pallets are owned by the transport company, the manufacturer, the distribution centre – whoever touches them gets to own them for a while. However, if ownership isn't transferred in an accurate or timely manner then a company can own pallets that they no longer possess.

This is the original diagram we were given to explain the situation, complete with coffee rings.

Here's another diagram we were given to explain a different aspect of the same situation.

This is one of our early attempts to map both the path that the pallet and its ownership took.

Now here's the breakthrough:

Talking to the client about the process and the flaws in that process I was reminded of learning about how thermals work. I go gliding and in order to stay up it is necessary to find rising air thermals for lift. I remember learning that thermals need triggers to break the column of air off and allow it to rise. 

Triggers.The pallet process needs a trigger at each stage to move the ownership along to the next company. Without a trigger there is no change in ownership.

Here's a sketch of the structure of the final diagram. Now we could produce a diagram that explained the need for triggers – not a diagram that showed a typical process. The result is a simple diagram explaining a simple concept that can be applied to any stage in the process and in fact, explains a useful concept to understand for any process. 

And now I understand how this works – it's fluid intelligence at work, making connections.

Time spent go-karting & learning to knit is more beneficial to developing fluid intelligence than practicing the same thing over & over.tweet this

This also explains why the least creative student we had here on work experience was so uncreative – he/she was in the midst of their second design qualification and spent all their spare time practicing design. Time spent go-karting and learning to knit is more beneficial to developing fluid intelligence than practicing the same thing over and over.

This post is by Deirdre Wilson, Director of Hothouse Design – Australia's most sensible information design company.
Deirdre applies her background in industrial design and design management to the complex and wondrous projects undertaken by Hothouse Design.

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