Using Visual Analytics to Foster Lateral Thinking About Business Problems

Chandan Gokhale (Infosys)

Lateral thinking (also called divergent thinking) is a critical part of the sensemaking process. Moreover, researchers in the field of Visual Analytics have recognized that iterative and sequential rounds of ‘Convergent Thinking’ and ‘Lateral Thinking’ are necessary for arriving at the most insightful observations. The same pattern is at the heart of ‘Design Thinking’ practiced by creative professionals. The approach leads them to holistic problem solutions that exceed what could be achieved through pure a ‘Convergent Thinking’ approach. However, most of the BI and analytics systems used by business organizations include tools and interactive features (like filtering, sorting, selecting or ‘data brushing’) that are primarily ‘convergent’ in nature. There is little or no support for lateral ideation. Yet lateral thinking has a fairly well developed body of knowledge and includes easy to use techniques for developing out-of-the-box, creative design ideas. Business practitioners regularly use ideation techniques like ‘6 Hats’, ‘HIT Matrix’ and ‘BrainWriting’ to bring structure to brainstorming sessions that seek out-of-the-box business ideas. Most new design or business ideas start as a ‘sketch’ or early visualization of the idea. But there are no formal tools or techniques in commercial BI systems that allow business users to develop ‘sketches’ of alternative business scenarios though forced and controlled data experiments - just the way a ‘HIT matrix’ or ‘6 Hats’ technique does in Lateral Thinking workshops. This session will introduce a number of ideation techniques designed for lateral thinking and foster discussion around how these approaches can be leveraged in the visual analytics context. The session will bring together researchers and practitioners to think about ways this can be done, and discuss challenges and potential solutions.