Radiators and sinks

The best place to hide information is on a computer.

The worst place to hide information is on a wall in public view.

So why is the default performance information system made of expensive software and not made of blue tack and A3 paper?

No idea. But here’s why they shouldn’t be.

Performance information should draw people in and encourage them to ask different and better questions. People won’t be drawn in if

  • they can’t see it and don’t know it’s there or
  • they don’t want to look or do want to but cannot.

Computer systems are brilliant ways of doing the above by the following tactics:

  • ration user accounts
  • give user accounts to the wrong people
  • password protection which adds to the pile of system passwords for users to forget
  • put people off by having user accounts and passwords at all
  • make use of the system so infrequent that people encounter it fresh as if for the first time every 3 months, so they forget and have to be taught all over again
  • make the system invisible to all but a very few users, so it’s drawbacks are only known to a very few, keeping it’s reputation as a gee-whizz system for non-users who would like a user account that they can’t have as it’s rationed
  • change the system frequently so there is no consistent look or navigation
  • give it to some other people to set up and manage so it’s not owned by the people who use it, but is designed and ran by people who never have to put information into it.
  • have the system make the user feel stupid for all the above

These systems are Information Sinks.
Pour information into these systems and pull the plug, watch them drain away down the plughole and drain away into the info-sewer, and who knows where after that.

What’s the alternative?

Information Radiators.

Look at these examples.

Keen eyed readers may have noticed that the last photo above isn’t in a work place. It is in a Primary school. It also shows work on walls, but really really well. It satisfies the criteria of a good information radiator.

  • Is large and easily visible to the casual, interested observer
  • Is understood at a glance
  • Changes periodically, so that it is worth visiting
  • Is easily kept up to date [link]

How to tell whether you have an Information Radiator or an Information Sink:

-Does it draw people in to come and look in groups, like people huddling around a fire for warmth?
-Or it is a solitary experience where information is sucked away so it is never seen again?

Answer that and you know what you’ve got.

This post was prompted by a small child looking at the below photo


It was an infographic in the Guardian about the Olympics, the small child was drawn in to it and started studying it intently. “Why is Britain third in the medals when it got less medals than Russia?”

Spot the first word.
Your performance information system must draw people in, but that’s nothing unless they ask why?

NB: I am not Agile, I’m barely spry, so I am not talking about the use of these in IT settings. I have no experience or knowledge of IT other than using it. But I have used the above photos from searching Google and all it threw up was use in IT settings. This piece is about it in ANY setting. Any comments from people more knowledgeable than me on this type of caper in IT are gratefully accepted in the comments below.

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10 Responses to Radiators and sinks

  1. I work in IT, I consider myself IT/Tech-savvy (aka iPhone addict), BUT I still say there’s no substitute to writing it down and showing it to someone. My favourite IT tool? The humble whiteboard.


  2. Do you remember when UK Jobcentres used to display jobs on cards on big boards? You used to be able to see them there, right in front of you .You could get the measure of them in one eyeful. Then they hid all the jobs on computers, repelling and intimidating the jobless.
    This blog is brilliant!


  3. drumming manager says:

    where I work our senior managers and kaizen team keep trying to get people to put things up on walls (or visual control boards as we jargonise it) – main problem is offices designed without enough wallspace and people’s presumption (not driven from the top) that it must be better if it’s on computer. The argument that “I travel all over the region in this job so you need to put our visual control borad on the computer” is a bit more of a problem, but for most of our front line teams that ain’t an issue, and we are slowly, slowly getting there – but it’s great to be reminded about why charts on walls are such a great idea.


  4. Roy Madron says:

    Excellent. Will circulate to friends, colleagues and clients.


  5. wilfwilliamson says:

    Excellent. Will circulate as widely as possible


  6. ThinkPurpose says:

    Thanks for the nice comments!


  7. Pingback: 3 reasons why I hate pretty graphs | thinkpurpose

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