Friday, November 13, 2009

Why Flow?

Today I was looking into flowcharts. They are singularly tedious things designed, I think, to appeal to the more autistic of human characteristics. I can just imagine earnest assistant managers poring over their newly downloaded flowchart software gazing lovingly at the boxes, diamonds and oval shapes, and trying to fix a round word into a square hole in the pursuit of Order.

It's not that I've got anything against Order (or method or discipline), but flowcharts have an unfortunate tendency to conjure up images of managerial mumbo jumbo, smartarses like David Miliband (bet he loves them) and an ambient temperature of irritation.

Luckily there are quite a few people out there with a sense of humour, and if you Google 'flowcharts' you come up with some examples created by those who have obviously sat through more than their fair share of flowchart presentations. Probably on Powerpoint with over 50 tightly-packed slides giving TMI (too much information) through 101 'fun' multi-coloured visual effects. My favourite, however, was the musical angle. You have to be pretty nerdy to create a flowchart of a song, but the world is full of strange and wonderful people and the internet enables us to connect with them...

You have to admit, that's pretty cool. Nice one, Love all this.

Why was I looking at flowcharts when I obviously have an irrational objection to them? Well, it was all in a good cause, in the pursuit of writing an educational resource. I believe that when I'm writing extra material for something it should be mind-broadening, preferably elitist and definitely with a total disregard for pc fads, drawing on culture and general knowledge.

I know that general knowledge is only considered admissable in the context of a television competition, and culture is a dirty word, but I'm unapologetic cos... I drink Carling Black Label...

(Actually I don't, you can't get it in France so maybe I should have written 'cos Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach' but it's not quite so snappy, is it?)

Have you ever thought what a flowchart depicting 'love' might give? I have a feeling that even the most hardened flowcharter would be ultimately stumped. Still, if you're tempted by medecine instead, give this a go:

Maybe I'm coming round to flowcharts afterall...


  1. Technically I'm not sure that either of your examples are really flow charts. Not that it really matters. The second I would call a decision tree.

    Now I know that some management types like these kind of things, just like they like PowerPoint. Did you know that the Columbia Shuttle disaster can be partially blamed on the culture at NASA of using PowerPoint presentations: PowerPoint: Killer App? or here for a more detailed account:
    PowerPoint Does Rocket Science--and Better Techniques for Technical Reports

    In a decision making process, unless the choices are trivial, you need a wall to represent the complexity.

    I strongly suspect that many of the stupidities of legeslation in the UK are because they are framed in words and not as decision trees where at a glance one could see the missed and edge cases.

    Anyway that's enough huffing and puffing for one night.


  2. Nick, you're absolutely right about the fundamental use of flow charts.

    And thank you for pointing out the difference between flowcharts and decision trees which are a variety but not the same. You can see how much I have to do with them on a regular basis...

    Actually, I was just having a bit of fun re nerdy assistant managers, because I have an over-active imagination and a deep suspicion of management fads.

    I didn't know about the shuttle disaster - amazing!

    Thanks for commenting!


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