Notes from Duarte Design Visual Storytelling Workshop

•December 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

We expect facts to speak for themselves. They rarely do, and even when they do, they need to be storytold with emotion to be brought to life, so that they mean something. Otherwise, they are just facts. Accurate, but lifeless. Full of unrealized potential.

Like the frog at the bottom of a well. Set the frog free and watch it leap.

Duarte Design’s Visual Storytelling workshop helped me understand some of the basic principles behind doing exactly this.

Here are some notes that I took.

Never present anything that you wouldn’t sit through
Quantity/ not quality during ideation

The Audience is the hero. Not you.

Use their language. “We”. Emotion. Names. Call out.

Do not pontificate opinions. Attention span is 5 min
If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. Take a risk, lose the fear.

Peace, Love and Set the Data Free



  • MLK (“I have a dream”)
  • Nehru (“Tryst with destiny”)
  • Steve Jobs (iPhone)
  • Sir Ken Robinson
  • Hans Rosling
  • Richard Feynman


Companies that think about and prioritize design (IDEO, Apple, …) outperformed the others in the NASDAQ by 228% in the last 10 years.


PoV                 +              Stakes                     = The Big Idea

What’s our unique PoV       + What happens if we don’t do/adopt XYZ                      = If _________, then _______will happen

E.g. Our Software does…..+ ….,which gives you…..,…….                                     …..and ……will happen


Call them to adventure

Move them to Believing and Behaving in your message > Get them unstuck

For diverse audiences, think broadly. Prioritize -> understand culture -> write stories



Generating ideas

Past > Present > Future Need Vs. Fulfilment Your PoV Vs. Alternate PoV Resistance Vs. Acceptance Sacrifice Vs. Gain



The hero’s journey: the tension between the beginning, the middle and the end

Likeable hero

> Encounters roadblocks

> Emerges transformed

The structure of a great presentation:

Start with (executive presentations):

  • A New Bliss
  • The Call to Action to get to the new bliss
  • and then…..                                                                             
What is
(The world without your idea)
What could be

(The world with your idea)

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – What is What could be


  • Data, information, facts, your plan…are all the What is
  • The new world, the change you will bring…are the What will be
  • The Big Idea should be in the middle….around the 30% mark
  • With senior executives running short on time, The New Bliss needs to come first, followed by Call to Action…tell them what this about and they will get it


Slides are:

  • Documents (use SlideDocs format to communicate complex ideas- for send ahead purposes- visually effective as handouts)
  • Teleprompter material (bullet points….the worst kind…never present if possible)
  • Presentations…these get the big messages across.

    One Idea Per Slide.


Get the message across in 2 seconds.

Most people start by looking at your image before they read the text. People retain information best with Visual and Narration (UCSB study)



Turn words into images, but No Clip Art please!

Throw out your first thought. Likely a cliché’. (E.g. Security could be a lock, but that is very clichéd. How about a blanket or even a police shield (dynamism>superior)

Draw word trees to get there



People read in Z patterns

OK to not have titles. Titles as messages are better than titles as phrases

More slides is better. More slides with less content

One slide every 2 minutes is 1980 and for people who like to hear themselves too much

Look into push and build transitions in PowerPoint



Pick the right tools for the job (Tableau , Animations with Gap Minder,…)

When you put up data, always explain why (“Why did that blip happen on that chart?”)

Read Tufte and Stephen Few

Highlight what’s important and tell the truth- no 3D graphs please

Remove grids from charts. Use grids for images



Exercise and get 10000 steps while working from home. Presentations improve.

Consistency. Do not split up slides between people.

Get access to a creative designer.



A BCG Matrix Retake for Talent: Provide Your People With Opportunities!

•January 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment


We often ask ourselves whether we are providing our workforce with optimal opportunities so that they can bring out the best in themselves.

A recast of the Growth/Share matrix (popularized by Bruce Henderson of The Boston Consulting Group) might be one way of looking at it.

In a highly simplified view, every organization has its share of Stars (highly ambitious performers with a great track record), the Steady Janes (less ambitious but solid performers), the Dogs (the low performers with low ambition) and the Question Marks (those with high potential and ambition, but with an unproven or mixed track record). See it all coming together?

Clearly, you should nurture your Stars, keep your Steady Janes and minimize your Dogs. But what of the Question Marks? How do you develop them?

Part of the answer lies in providing the right opportunities. Perhaps the reason why your Question Marks haven’t fully developed is that they have not been provided with the optimal set of opportunities that fully utilize their skills and drive. If they continue to be opportunity-starved for long periods, they will leave!

So then, how do you optimize your ‘opportunity portfolio’ to help develop these question marks? Use your Steady Janes!

Look at current and upcoming projects and initiatives that your Steady Janes (and Dogs to a certain extent) have taken up and find out if any of these would be opportunities that would excite your Question Marks. If yes, transfer those over and redistribute your projects. Don’t worry about the Steady Janes- if they truly live up to their track record, they will continue to do fine.

Setup a monitoring plan to observe if your Question Marks will take these, and develop into Stars (who you should nurture). In some cases they will prove to be Dogs (in which case you should eventually get rid of them or move them into more suitable roles).

There is a saying that good people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers. It is probably also equally true that good people quit jobs that aren’t great fits for their background, skills and career goals. By providing your people with the right opportunities, you are doing your job well and letting your people shine.

Is this a good framework to optimally redistribute your projects? I would love to hear what you guys have to say.

Wishing you all a happy new year filled with joy and prosperity!

Also published on LinkedIn here:

What makes Elon Musk? DBT!

•August 12, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Some of you might have heard him on his TED talk (

The interviewer has a theory for what makes Elon Musk tick (watch the very end of the video). Elon goes about solving grand problems in style- through systems thinking.

Elon happens when you synthesize Design Thinking, Technology and  savvy Business principles into one “DBT” package and feel so damn confident in yourself that you take crazy risks- that’s his only way to succeed again and again. How about that for a good secret sauce to success in life?

Well, Elon also points about that there is this another oft neglected angle to life. Science. Physics in particular for him. To disrupt status quo, he wants you to start with fundamental physical truths and work your way up from there. As business schools will not tell you, reasoning from analogy will only take you so far in life (and with time, regurgitating boilerplate management stuff will probably make you sound stale). When you want to do something new and win, do DBT.

Also pay extra attention to negative feedback, particularly from friends and those who care.

An introduction to Engineering Systems

•November 30, 2011 • 1 Comment

(Adapted from
It’s always cool to know how to do the math or physics, but how about learning to pull it all together in real world situations? Engineering Systems is an interdisciplinary approach to problems in large, complex systems such as energy, environment, health care, manufacturing, transportation and communications.

Critical contemporary issues within these systems involve not only technology, but also people and their needs and behaviors. As a result, successful design, operation and problem-solving require participation of multiple disciplines: engineering, management and social science.

ESD.00 at MIT gives students the opportunity to tackle some of these big problems. ESD.00 students learn in class about methodologies used to understand and analyze complex systems — system dynamics, uncertainty and causal networks, as well as practice in applying the concepts to real-world situations. These provide tools for studying feedback, non-linearity and other system characteristics. Students also work in small, faculty-led groups to complete projects based on real-world problems.

Check out this really cool video introduction to the class…

Intrigued? But don’t want to take a class, read “Engineering Systems: Meeting Human Needs in a Complex Technological World by Olivier L. de de Weck, Daniel Roos, Christopher L. Magee, Charles M. Vest. This book is really one of a kind since it brings out the essence of the challenges we find in today’s interwoven society, the excitement of engineering the solutions that address those challenges, the problems caused by increasing complexity caused by all that engineering as well as the techno-social frameworks needed to manage these systems.

I have had so many ‘aha!’ moments in reading this book that I recommend it as essential reading for anyone who is deeply interested in the intersection of business 2.0+ and technology 2.0+.

The 11 laws of the Fifth Discipline

•November 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

1) Today’s problems come from yesterday’s “solutions.”
2) The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.
3) Behavior grows better before it grows worse.
4) The easy way out usually leads back in.
5) The cure can be worse than the disease.
6) Faster is slower.
7) Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space.
8) Small changes can produce big results…but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.
9) You can have your cake and eat it too —but not all at once.
10) Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants.
11) There is no blame.


Structuring your time at SDM

•September 27, 2011 • 4 Comments

This quick post is written for prospective full-time candidates of the system design and management program at MIT. The SDM program is extremely flexible and gives you a whole bunch of options for getting through it, but it’s easy to trip over those options and lose sleep worrying about the future if you don’t know what you are getting into.

I am going to focus almost entirely on on-campus students who have made a conscious decision to attend MIT full-time and then go on to do things they always wanted to do (including a career change). Some of this information is discussed by during IAP, but from a staff member’s point of view. This blog post, on the other hand, is the straight dope from someone who’s been through the program, from the trenches!

Your ‘common’ options are:
1) 13 month (IAP + Spring  + Summer + Fall + IAP)
2) 16 month (IAP + Spring  + Summer + Fall + IAP + Spring)
3) 24 month (2-3 IAP’s + 2 Springs + 2 Summers + 2 Falls)

I say ‘common’ since it is possible to request for an ‘uncommon’ program plan (such as a 20 month plan or even a 28 month plan. But we’ll leave those off the table for now.

Consider the 13 month option if your employer is sponsoring you and you intend to go back. You will probably not have time to do an internship or get involved in a lot of good stuff happening on campus (talks, clubs, events,…) since you will have to complete the minimum coursework needed and do your thesis. Also, you’ll probably face challenges during Fall recruiting because of time constraints. I keep saying ‘probably’ since it is theoretically possible to do all this and finish the program in 13 months and land a great job (it’s been done before), but you’ll need to be ninja efficient and superb in all respects (untrue for ~>95% of the people who pass through the program every year). Or you’ll kill yourself with your schedule trying to do everything at once- something’s gotta give.

Consider the 16 month option if you’d like to get involved in a few things on/off campus (such as a consulting gig for a company) and would like a bit of a breather. Consider it if the economy is good, and you have a great network, understand the US job market (or are ready to go back to your country) and know for sure that you can land a job. This program option does not allow you to do an internship (unless you can find an off-cycle internship in the Spring of your second year). Not doing an internship will make it a bit harder for you to change your career after the program. Worst case, try to do a Winter ‘externship’ in an area that you want to move into.

Also note that tuition fees for the 16 month program go up by ~10-15%. The 16 month program costs about the same as a 24 month program (not counting living expenses, etc). You may also get lucky and land a TA/RA in the Spring of your second year and that will help with expenses. An RA/TA in the Fall of the first year is kind of doable, but it will compete for your time with recruiting events.

The 20 month option doesn’t make a lot of sense on paper since you will still be paying the same amount of tuition as the 24 month option. So why would you pay money and not take full advantage of it by taking more classes? It’s called opportunity cost. If you land a great job during Summer (or the Spring) of the second year and would like to rejoin the workforce quickly, you may want to consider this option. Importantly, this option lets you do a summer internship in your first/second year. Note that people on a student visa cannot intern in the first nine months of study because of immigration regulations. Look it up on the internet.

The 24 month option is my recommended choice (partly because I am personally going through it- ha!). It is priced reasonably (compared to other programs- nothing is cheap at MIT), gives you plenty of time to do internships, consulting projects, classes, events, etc. Having done all this and having gone through roughly twice the number of classes that a normal 13 month SDM graduate would go through without waiving a single program requirement, I daresay that I have really lived the MIT/SDM experience; but that doesn’t mean that 13 month graduates in my cohort did not learn enough or do well for themselves- they knew what they wanted, and got in and got out. To each, his own.

Importantly, the 24 month option lets you spend a lot more time in the job market and that is a blessing in a bad economy (such as what’s prevailing). It lets you fully understand your career options and allows you to spend time polishing yourself and your skills and building your network to help you achieve your career goals. Again, it’s not impossible to do all this, at varying degrees, with the other program options discussed above, but do consider the obstacles.

Secondly, the 24 month option allows you to spend good time on your thesis and come up with high quality work- something that I personally attach a high level of importance to. Finally, I know of many high tech employers who would recognize a 2 year business slightly more than a 1 year business degree, but that attitude’s changing somewhat.

As a closing comment, I will also say that less than a third of any given class (don’t quote me on this) graduates in 13 months. Many students who say upon matriculating that they want to finish in 13 months change their minds and extend their graduation, primarily because of one or more of the factors discussed above. The SDM program office has some very nice and cooperative folks who are willing to work with you if you change your mind in the middle of the program, but please don’t abuse the system! I know that it is impossible to predict the future (and the job market to an extent), but arm yourself with all the facts before you make a decision, and stick to your decision. It’s like the traveling salesman problem- plan your time ahead and save time later.

Decisions, decisions!

Business courses for the aspiring high tech manager

•September 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment

While it is true that a lot of management could be learned on the job, it would a shame if you went to a quality business school and did not capitalize on the opportunity to learn what constitutes the fundamentals of running a business.

It does not matter whether you aspire to become a top product marketing manager or a CTO. The truth is that any aspiring high tech manager must understand how a business works and be able to generalize that knowledge to any situation by drawing appropriate analogies. This is even more true of engineers who seek to transition into management positions since there is a lot of ‘soft stuff’ beyond engineering that goes into being an effective leader.

An engineer with well rounded management skills is DYNAMITE and most firms recognize that. From a business school student’s standpoint, getting to that state of well-roundedness is not that simple since a conscious effort needs to be made to explore the ‘other side’ and learn (either experientially or through coursework) things that you might otherwise have thought to be not that important.

Part of that effort includes taking the ‘right’ courses in school. There are certain ‘core’ courses that I think one absolutely needs in order to prepare for an effective technology management career.  My belief is that any program that seeks to bring out top technology management talent must include these courses as part of the core curriculum. But alas, that isn’t the reality in most ‘high tech management’ programs and the reasons for excluding some or many of these core business courses are usually political or have to do with complacency, institutional memory, or a disconnect from the needs of the ‘customer’.

First, a caveat: Recognize that ultimately, it’s you, and not the courses that you will take in school that will determine the amount of success you enjoy in industry. However, recognizing that there is a good reason that you are in school, this blog will help structure your program in a manner that I think is optimal to a senior engineer who wants, after finishing his program, to transition to a leadership career in high tech management.

Read on.

This is my basic list of courses that you *must* consider taking as part of your transition to management: if your program doesn’t automatically include these courses as part of your curriculum, look into ‘back-door’ ways of getting this education (such as substitutions with other courses, listening in), or in the worst case, read good books on these topics.

1. Marketing and Sales (by Marketing, I specifically do not mean a course on Open Innovation or Crowdsourcing!)

2. Managerial economics (mostly microeconomics. Read The Economist for the macro stuff) and Competitive Strategy (make sure you learn the frameworks. Did your Technology Strategy class teach you what an Ansoff Matrix is or did it mostly focus on the evolution of ice machines and tungsten light bulbs?? Also learn some game theory- it is fascinating and super useful).

3. Corporate Finance and Managerial Accounting basics (Financial/Cost Accounting isn’t useful for high tech mgmt)

4. Operations Management, Supply Chain & Lean/ Six Sigma (That waiting line will never look the same after this! Very necessary for manufacturing driven companies- having this knowledge also makes you somewhat more employable in larger companies)

5. Organizational change, HR (needs to be experiential) and Global Strategy (very important since engineering managers REALLY need to know how to work with global teams) or International Management.

6. Teamwork, leadership, power, negotiation (more of the soft stuff! Don’t ignore!) and Managerial communication (learning to write and speak effectively)

7. Risk/Decision/Uncertainty Analysis, Statistics and Data Models (the Excel and the underlying math are really important- but you already knew that!)

<UPDATE: Since my original post, I have consolidated items in my original list of 11 courses, to the following seven. My only removal was a course on Logistics, since I realized that you learn a lot of that in a full semester course on #4 above: Operations and Supply Chain Management. I am also considering adding a course on Entrepreneurship to this list>

That makes seven full semester core business courses.

Now tack on your 4-5 core systems courses (such as System Dynamics, System Architecture, System Project Management, Product Design & Development and Enterprise Architecture) on top of the above list and you have a world class Technology Management program that is doable within a reasonable time frame.

More importantly, you, the end result, will be so much more meaningful to the high tech organization that you join than your everyday MBA. With this kind of education, you will bring real meaning to your workplace and be able to cut through all the fluff that you will confront on a daily basis. No amount of hand waving or business jargon will ever daunt you since you will have walked the walk and talked the talk. You will have become the chameleon that you always aspired to become.

It’s important to recognize that good Technology Management programs have most of this content built in already. Definitely take whatever courses you would like to take (or whatever courses your program shoves down your throat) but make sure that you also cover the listed basics. These courses might not be readily ‘available’ for you to take at any given point of time. But look around and you’ll find them. The joy of life is in figuring out these things!

Spend an extra semester if necessary to get this education since you really don’t want to leave school with incomplete training. Take the time out to learn now and hit the ground running on your next job! You’ll thank me ten years later.

Good luck!