Introduction to the Scatter Diagram

We live in a world of uncertainty. Easy access to technology does not guarantee survival. Individuals and businesses need to be creative just to survive the competition, let alone stand out. In this hyper competitive global race for innovation and value creation, creative thinking is a rare skill. Are all ingenious ideas the result of a sole eureka moment? How do we think divergently? Information is free but creates indecisiveness. So, the question is, what and how do we know? More importantly: Why do we need to know?

Every individual has a reasonable degree of understanding—practical, borrowed, or theoretical—of certain areas beyond their work. This understanding could be a result of their life experiences, education, hobbies, interests, accidents, etc.  The perspectives from those areas could be made relevant not only to problem-solving but also to a multitude of situations.

To expand the horizons of the thought process of my mentees, I have used the process mentioned above. The process aims to take a focused look at a situation from different perspectives, few of which might look completely random or unrelated at the first glance. The underlying idea is to think beyond the fixed boundaries enclosing the situation, and to be able to relate it to areas of one’s strength. If we were to visualize, we would find the view similar to a Scatter Diagram.

The Scatter Diagram, as I will call it henceforth, plugs in the expertise across these different domains to come up with a solution in an unrelated domain. For instance, a football enthusiast can use knowledge about the game to solve a problem of economics, an individual possessing knowledge of politics can utilize the same to solve a business problem, and so on.

Scatter Diagram Sample Points on the Scatter Diagram

How to Use It?

The Scatter Diagram visually correlates the strong points of an individual/business to the concerned situation/business problem. Generally, in our quest for solutions, we tend to look outward rather than inward. However, there are always certain domains in which we possess significant knowledge; if not, we can build our knowledge in a few areas that stimulate us. Therefore, the first step is to identify four to eight areas of strength. These fields/areas can be generic, such as technology or sports, or very specific, such as molecular nanotechnology or the English Football League. Each of these areas can be called a “point.” The Scatter Diagram is complete once all the points are plotted in the mind of the individual.

The next step is to use the Scatter Diagram in problem-solving. Let us assume that the problem is in a domain outside the premise of one’s Scatter Diagram; then, one needs to look for points that have a similar story. The chance of finding points that deal with similar problems is quite high. Finally, one has to evaluate the feasibility of application of the solutions used in these points to the actual problem.

The Scatter Diagram may also be used to understand a topic/problem from a multidisciplinary perspective—thus in greater depth—by analyzing the topic according to the points on one’s Scatter Diagram. For instance, if one wants to identify reasons for the high attrition rate in an organization, the first step is to identify the areas of strength. Let us assume the areas of strength to be “football” and “politics” in this case. Hence, the points on the Scatter Diagram will be “football” and “politics.”

The next step is to identify and analyze similar problems in both the points. Following are the possible reasons for high attrition rates in a football club:

  • Unsatisfactory wages
  • Not enough time to play
  • Strained relations with the manager or any influential player
  • Exposure to a bigger/dream/new club
  • Feeling unsettled because one is far from home
  • Desire to win more trophies
  • Looking for new challenges
  • Teaming up with national teammates.

Similarly, the following are the probable reasons for high attrition rates in politics:

  • Better chances of getting an election ticket
  • A major change in the ideology of the party
  • Low party funds
  • Decrease in popularity of the party
  • Disagreement with a senior leader
  • Acceptance of archenemy in the party
  • Increase in the popularity of other party
  • Confidence of winning elections as an independent candidate
  • Unhappy with the leadership
  • Ambition of starting a new party.

Reasons for attrition, as identified in both football and politics, can be helpful in creating a bigger list of reasons for high attrition rate in an organization. The list might not necessarily be exhaustive, but it would certainly help an individual to understand the situation better. Post that, a detailed analysis of each reason could solve the problem more effectively.

Thus, a Scatter Diagram gives way to new perspectives and ways to find better solutions to a problem.

Where to Use It?

The Scatter Diagram is applicable to various spheres of life. The approach, on the one hand, can solve business problems; on the other hand, it can help an individual find meaning in life. Let us see how.

Problem Solving: One of the important applications of the Scatter Diagram is that it aids in analyzing and solving business problems. As mentioned earlier, the Scatter Diagram technique helps an individual to look at a problem from multiple perspectives by considering the strong areas of that person as points on the Scatter Diagram and then to draw a correlation between the points and the problem. This technique helps the individual get over the omitted variable bias and confirmation bias while analyzing and solving the problem. It helps one to look beyond the visible, surface layers and get to the core of a problem.

Designing Lives: Another important application of the Scatter Diagram technique is that it helps in understanding people/businesses and recognizing factors that influence decisions and shape their lives/growth curve. Let us consider a situation where an individual or a business must make a decision with respect to growth. The points on the Scatter Diagram of A-type individuals/businesses (value-oriented) will be aligned more toward, among other things, ethics, rules, and principles, whereas for B-type individuals/businesses (goal-oriented), the points will be aligned more toward profitability, rate of growth, revenue, etc.

Leadership: One of the crucial responsibilities of a leader is decision-making. The Scatter Diagram, through its principle of considering the most important factors and relating points across fields/domains, helps in making informed decisions, resulting in solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable. Inspiring and empowering people are possible only if different types of individuals are understood clearly. The Scatter Diagram, in a way, enables the leader to understand the different behaviors, patterns, driving factors, etc., of different types of individuals.

Regret Minimization: The Scatter Diagram also helps in minimizing regrets for both individuals and businesses alike. As Jeff Bezos, the Founder and CEO of Amazon, puts it, “When I look back on my life, I want to have minimized the regrets I have.” How can the Scatter Diagram technique help in minimizing regrets? Well, as stated already, it works on the principle where the basis of any discussion/decision are points that matter to individuals/businesses the most. Therefore, whenever a decision is taken factoring in these important points, the probability of regret will naturally go down.

Happiness Management: The definition and premise of happiness vary from person to person. It is highly unlikely that the factors contributing to the happiness of one person will be the same for another. It is, therefore, important to understand the contributing factors. These factors act as the points on a Scatter Diagram. For every individual, these points would drive decisions, discussions, and perspectives, among others.

Group Discussions: A Scatter Diagram can be used to come up with a wide range of ideas in a group discussion. For example, if we have to discuss on an abstract topic like “haste makes waste,” rather than discussing it in isolation, we may relate it to our points of the Scatter Diagram. To understand this, let us consider “technology,”“art and architecture,” and “cinema.” As far as “technology” is concerned, we may discuss how research & development yields better results without time crunch, and how tech giants ensure quality work with flexible timings. Similarly, for “art and architecture,” we may highlight how it took twenty-two years to build the Taj Mahal, and how any piece of creative art needs time and cannot be perfected with haste. In the case of “cinema,” we may ponder on slightly debatable thoughts—how actors who start as theater performers and reach Bollywood are better than those who directly start with Bollywood, and how Meryl Streep takes time to ensure the quality of a movie and how that delay is not a waste.

In this way, we can widen the scope of discussion with relevant points from different domains and make meaningful contributions.

New Product Development: A Scatter Diagram can be used in conceptualizing a new product as well. We can take inspiration from products/services in the points of the Scatter Diagram and combine or modify them to create fresh products/services in our domain. For example, an executive in an e-commerce firm in the apparel industry may take football as a point on their Scatter Diagram and then use the concept of Fantasy League for the products to increase consumer engagement. This way, one can achieve wide spectrum of ideas across the Scatter Diagram.

Creative Writing and Speaking: A Scatter Diagram can be used to improve the quality of the content we write and speak as it helps to add multiple dimensions to the content. Also, it helps us to increase the credibility of our content by relating it to multiple fields. For example, if we have to talk about the education system in India, we can use a Scatter Diagram to cover this topic from various perspectives, such as mythology, politics, economics, society, etc. Apart from improving the quality of the content, this process helps in delivering rich and highly useful content through the inclusion of multiple perspectives and by providing an insightful connection. In speech, the process also helps in pausing judiciously, thereby improving the overall delivery.

A Scatter Diagram certainly provides us with a plethora of new ideas but the essential requirement of this technique is to have a good number of points on the Scatter Diagram (preferably as diverse as possible) and to have an in-depth understanding of each point. Also, this technique can be mastered only by rigorous practice.

In the series of articles to follow, we will delve deeper into various applications of the Scatter Diagram across domains.

I would like to thank my colleague Mr. Shahrukh Moin Khan for his inputs. 

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