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Why Infographics are an Important Leadership Tool


You can’t look at a magazine, a newspaper, a Web site, or a TV channel without coming across infographics. USA Today is acknowledged as a pioneer of the widespread use of infographics – in the lower left-hand corner of each of their sections. Today, infographics have become an art form, of sorts. They’re also becoming a valuable tool for leaders.

To put infographics in context, think about the road/highway metaphors we routinely use to communicate our goals and describe our progress. We develop strategy “road maps.” We hope to “drive results.” We try our hardest to avoid “blind spots.” And we either “step on the gas” or “put the brakes” on our projects.

But the most useful tool on the road, road signs, have not been part of a leader’s vocabulary—but that may be changing. Infographics may well become the leader’s road signs en route to success.

Infographics can help you quickly get your point across with visuals. It’s an engaging medium of communication and helps focus large, abstract, and complicated ideas and concepts.

Here are four reasons why infographics are efficient, helpful, and quick tools to help you engage and communicate with not only those you employ, but also clients.

1. Learning styles are different – words and numbers alone do not reach everyone

Some people like reading dense pages of text. They like details and don’t mind thumbing through binders of notes and numbers. But most don’t have the time for concentrated study. An increasing majority prefer to scan infographics because they communicate an idea with speed.

Infographics help you communicate with a wide audience that doesn’t have the time to root through long texts. Better yet, infographics are an important tool for reaching out to visual learners.

2. You need to simplify your key points to engage

With social media, mobile devices, and online distractions it’s harder than ever to engage people with your ideas. Even your own people.

A good infographic captures attention because it’s easily digestible, arresting, and informative. Like a great road sign, a great infographic can instantly communicate a point. By grabbing your colleague’s attention it can buy you enough time to discuss your idea further.

3. Great infographics have a depth of information behind them…and force you to think deeply

Just because an infographic usually only contains a few words, inhabits a small space, and doesn’t illustrate a lot of data, it doesn’t mean that it is intellectually light. On the contrary, a good infographic often tells a rich, deep story that’s been painstakingly distilled into a compelling image, words, and numbers.

Infographics, though appearing simple, often require more thought and work to compose than a long memo, plan, or report. Condensing, isolating, and conveying key data points in an attractive, concise way is an intellectual and creative challenge.

But there’s a big payoff. You are forced to simplify your story and your peers will understand your idea with minimal effort. Sounds like a win-win, right?

4. The best info-graphics tell stories

Your initiative, indeed, any organizational effort, is a story. A story that needs to be told and retold. A great infographic tells a story with clarity and precision. It is not simply a smattering of images, words, and numbers that look good when you add some design elements. A great info-graphic is a highly integrated collection of content that tells an important narrative. Done well, it can be an effective storytelling tool highlighting progress, change, development, and thought.


As you plan your next initiative consider creating an infographic to build awareness and a wide degree of support. Infographics may take extra effort to create, but they will take little effort to be understood by many people. By creating infographics you are creating road signs for your team and organization that will drive people toward common goals and projects.

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Zuckerberg on Jobs (and a lot more!)

This past week Facebook’s creator Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg sat down with Charlie Rose for a wide-ranging interview about everything from their battles with Google, to the Arab Spring, to how Steve Jobs influenced Zuckerberg. The interview is a must see not just for those involved in the tech world, but also for everyone who is interested in the future of leadership.

Zuckerberg on Jobs and the entire Charlie Rose interview (video)

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Recycling Plant & Recycling a Plant (Part 2)

Part 2: Recycling a Plant

Ok here we go. A “Part 2”. This is a very adventurous and presumptuous endeavor on my part to attempt a Part 2 of anything. Part 2 suggests that I have some loyal audience that meticulously follows my work and was left trembling in anticipation at the end of my Part 1. I think George Lucas had it right in his Star Wars chronology. Next time I’ll start a blog post at Part 4 and leave readers scrambling to find the previous contributions. When they discover these do not exist, perhaps they will appreciate the creativity and eagerly await the missing posts. Ok, enough of this meta blog analysis. On to Part 2:

In Part 1 of this series, I praised the efforts of a for-profit recycling plant in Chicago, IL. Now with the insertion of “an” indefinite article, I have the opportunity to share a story of Chicago creativity and innovation that elevates modern recycling into the stratosphere (or onto the 5th floor of a Chinatown loft to be more precise). Consider this story of “Recycling a Plant”.

In an earlier post on this blog, I introduced the site, “a social networking site designed to connect travelers around the universe,” to generous hosts. The site also offers a local events page that sustains and enhances community involvement. On that page, I discovered this event for “Funky Chinatown – A Funk, Soul, and Disco Loft Party.” The page included this notice about the event:

For exact directions, please RSVP to CHINATOWNFUNK@GMAIL.COM
– include Name + # of Guests so I can get a good headcount.”

My mom once mentioned something in passing about avoiding secret, funky, CouchSurfing, Chinatown parties staged in abandoned lofts with “a ton of beer and cocktails for free.” On the other hand, my mom often offers advice so sometimes I have to pick and choose when to comply…

I’m glad I followed my gut (even if my liver is slightly peeved) because the evening illustrated how a group of creative individuals can convert an abandoned loft into a productive community music and art space. In between funky dancing that put my Bar Mitzvah to shame, I connected with travelers from around the world and exchanged gripping stories of Couch Surfing exploits. Instead of wasting my evening consuming money, time, and space at a neighborhood haunt, I recycled stories and a stunning loft space and converted them into an unforgettable evening.

I started this series with the question: what is the difference between a recycling plant and recycling a plant? The answer is that they offer distinct and innovative ways to enhance sustainability and create community. The recycling plant promoted environmentalism through pragmatic corporate action while the loft party enhanced community while using an abandoned industrial space.

I guess the essential difference is then that the recycling plant did not play funky tunes. Maybe that would increase efficiency?

To read (or re-read) Part 1: Recycling Plant, click here.

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Bidding Alone

In Bowling Alone, Sociologist Robert Putnam investigates a trend of declining civic and social engagement in the United States and blames, in part, “the effect of electronic entertainment…in privatizing our leisure time” (Putnam, 2001, 283). While Putnam identifies television as the primary mechanism of electronic isolation, the internet is certainly a potently secluding drug. In fact, right now I sit at my desk and hungrily knock back shots of .coms and .govs (with a rare .net on special occasions) as a substitute for social participation. If my office had a TV, I might even extricate myself from this web sarcophagus and join my coworkers in an animated Judge Judy viewing. With no TV, though, I happily seclude myself behind URLs like

Last week as I tried to spelunk down into the nether regions of my internet cave, I regrettably encountered a pocket of rampant social activity. Now, despite what my internet usage may indicate, I am not a habitual hermit. Unfortunately, though, on this particular spelunk I craved social isolation like I crave an episode of Judge Joe Brown. On the prowl for North Coast Music Festival tickets on eBay, I had somehow stumbled on a submerged auction offering 3-day passes for $20, over $100 below face value. It was like discovering a diamond in a rough store selling celebrities’ tweezers and Jesus-embedded mango peels. With only 20 minutes remaining on the auction, I cancelled my lunch appointment with George Foreman(‘s Grill) and set up camp next to this isolated treasure.

As minutes melted off the eBay timer, I celebrated my fortune and Putnam’s thesis on civic disengagement.  Previous generations would have to assemble as competitors outside a box office window. Sure, they could discuss their shared interest in the music festival and their favorite acts. They might exchange stories of raucous Rusko dance parties or smooth evenings spent with Thievery Corporation. Some might even make plans to meet-up at the festival.

Not me, though. I had the fortune of internet anonymity and a clock ticking toward payday. As 15 minutes became 10 and then 5, I ignored the sizzling grilled cheese rumbling in the jungle of my George Foreman. With 60 seconds remaining, I proudly entered my bid of $21. At 50 seconds I was outbid at $30. Ok, so there was someone else in this cave. Not surprising but no match for my online dexterity.

I fired back successive bids of $40 and then $50 as the cave walls began cracking. With 33 seconds remaining more online pests left their shadowy alcoves with bids of $56 and $64. Clambering up the walls, I tossed down $68 and $73 at these masked rivals. At 8 seconds (and approximately 8 minutes after my bid for a delicious sandwich expired), my fingers frantically tumbled onto the keyboard. The cave was compromised, though, and my digits could not compete with the faceless masses. With a whimper the auction expired with 35 eleventh hour bids inflating the sale price to $121.01. While I later scalped a ticket outside the festival, I spent that afternoon alone munching on burnt gluten free bread and watching Judge Joe Brown.

So Putnam was correct; an electronic forum foiled social engagement. I lost my ticket to more adept, online recluses and evaded social attachment in the process. Even as I struggled against potential friends, I preserved complete social isolation. Of course, anonymity is the foundation of these online recesses and is especially important in online markets. Yet, I wonder if there is a way to illuminate some of these shadowy internet caves and turn competitors into concert mates. And who knows, maybe I would like watching the People’s Court with other people.

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Sofa Snorkeling

Picture Credit: wnstn

Two weeks ago I met a stranger on the internet and last weekend I slept over at his place. My parents are aware of the situation and seem comfortable. I’ve done it several times before in countries ranging from Canada to Andorra and it’s always been a rewarding experience.

Ok before sullying the good names of Sam Bacharach and Cornell University let me explain how this was in fact a benign and platonic experience that informs leadership theory. Of course, if I do get in trouble I’ll just blame it on my ghostwriter. is a social networking site designed to connect travelers around the universe (although surfers in outer space are encouraged to pack Velcro in order to stay fixed to their futons). The site is funded through karma and donations and fueled by the surprising willingness of people to host and introduce nomads to their cities. The self-policing service maintains safety and integrity through a rigorous system of user-provided references. If someone even suggests your couch was uncomfortable or your personality was unappealing, you’ll likely receive few requests. If someone calls you a smelly mooch, you’ll have a difficult task securing a host. It’s an impressively successful network.

While I’m still waiting for my first hosting attempt, my CouchSurfing hosts have included a Brazilian IT professional, a Disney Channel actor, and an NPR producer. Each has introduced me to a new city and a network of their friends. Even with limited time to form a couch groove in these host’s living rooms, I now find myself in coalition with diverse and talented partners around the globe. We’re each independently engaged in mobilizing a collective agenda, albeit a slightly romantic one.

Just like any organization, we actively support and host each other when necessary and passively support with positive references when that suffices. We expand our networks by identifying engaging and enthusiastic coalition partners. We sustain momentum by organizing community CouchSurfing meet-ups that preserve community and participation. We shove our egos into the dark crevices of our couches and reject hubris and narcissism. It’s an organization that embraces uncertainty and functions with perpetual fluidity.

I’m not suggesting that you infuse a little pragmatic fun into your organization and start surfing on your colleagues’ couches. That probably crosses the line. Just remember, if a generation of couch potatoes can mobilize a proactive global coalition, imagine what you can do in your organization.