We use examples on a daily basis. This publication provides a motivation to giving examples, especially in a visual form with a purpose to clarify certain issue. Explaining through examples bases on comparisons. The visual approach is strongly preferred because of the visual nature. The nature creates an opportunity to instant consumption of the content. Simple picture can provide more information than tons of words. Some visuals require comments, though. We consider here both the positive and the negative power that pictures can bring.
One purpose of examples is to create a case which is easier to understand than an initial issue. The case can be more generic or specific but cannot be incompatible with current issue. Example creates a new, very often smaller and simpler story. Examples can be expressed in pictures. Pictures are usually short, colorful, they’re funny, perhaps. They may be ambiguous as well. Openness to interpretation can be intentional or not. Let’s assume here that it’s not intentional. Examples very often show facts in the edge cases while the main issue is somewhere between these or another edges. We tend to provide simple examples presenting edge cases which may have no connection to current issue. Things may get then even more blurred and complicated. Bad exemplary picture creates an image which isn’t a real analogy to the discussed topic. Very often picture without any description is mysterious. People tend to interpret it on their own way. It’s hazardous. On the other side, there is the bright power of pictures. If we think about our issues in terms of their visualization we can explore much more. Visualization stimulates creativity. Comparing the issue to visualized form may help to discover much more than a regular analysis. Thanks to good pictures we transfer information in a concise and direct way. However, there’s a caveat to good pictures. The “good” is a relative term. Good will be fulfilled when the picture will be intelligible for both – a producer and a consumer.
Explaining through examples
In the past, I had a discussion with my manager where examples came into action.
Piece of the discussion:
He: I’ll show it basing on the example. And the example is…
Me: But your example shows quite different story.
He: Right, but it’s easier to explain through examples.
Me: Yes, but this example has little common with current issue. Let’s talk about what’s going on.
This is an example how not to use examples. Starting with inappropriate example is just a failure. Don’t continue with creating picture.
Things are getting better…
Please have a look on the picture on top of this post. There is my colleague with a picture holding in his hands. He created the “inner picture” on a sprint retrospective session. The goal for every participant was to create an image with the best comparison to current sprint. The recommended thing for sprint comparison was a vehicle.
Let’s dive into the image. In the foreground it’s tractor with a trailer. On the trailer there’s a pile of something. There’re also two guys on the trailer dealing with shovels. This picture requires only little comment. For people being in the context of that sprint it was easy to get into the meaning after quick comment:
The sprint was mainly about pulling the pile of technical debt. And only these two guys were involved in this dirty job.
This is the example how good example works. This image is simple and brings fun. Every one of us from my team remembers this picture till today. That’s the power!
Why and how creating pictures?
- Straightforward way to express and process information
- Visual form of information which is strongly preferred in technical world
- Easier to remember information and facts
- Stimulates creativity
- Can be fun for producers and consumers
- Appropriate for providing skeletons, mockups
- May be interpreted in a way other than it was intended
- Usually understandable for people which are in a context expressed in a picture
- May be harder to create appropriate picture for people from different areas/industries
- Provide a visual reflecting current issue, don’t generalize
- Mark that this is only a picture, not necessarily mapped in 100% to the issue
- If a picture is not self-descriptive, provide a short description
- Keep it simple
Albert Einstein quotes about simplicity:
- If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough
- Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler
- The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple