From Complex to Coherent: How I unified three ideas

From Complex to Coherent: How I unified three ideas

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Communicating effectively
Tips on effective communication, including visualising ideas, writing, speaking & storytelling.

From Complex to Coherent: How I unified three ideas under a single, clear and memorable visual metaphor

Jun Han Chin

Jun Han Chin

The Visual Storyteller | I explain complex ideas with simple pictures and stories.

In this case study, you’ll see how I helped Clarence Foo create a cohesive metaphor that threads through three interconnected scenarios. This unified approach makes his complex ideas more coherent and easier for his audience to understand and remember. You’ll also see my visual thinking process and some techniques you can use to enhance your communication.

Who is Clarence Foo?

Clarence Foois a realtor to corporate leaders, business owners and senior professionals. He is a Senior Associate Division Director at PropNex Realty. Clarence works with investors, property owners and families to help them make the right time & financial decisions.

Clarence’s goal

Clarence is invested in the success of his team. He leads a growing team in Propnex, with many of his associates having strong corporate experience. He runs a sales training programme that teaches a reliable and replicable system for success so that his experience can be a shortcut and a step up for junior realtors.

To make sure that his team gets the most out of his programme, Clarence always prefaces his training with his principles.

Clarence’s principle to successful sales

The basis of Clarence’s system comes in three parts. As I listened to him in the classy common room of The Great Room at Raffles Arcade, I realised that Clarence’s thinking is clear, coherent and simple – but not easy to digest.

Here’s what Clarence told me (edited for brevity and your reading pleasure):

Real success comes from the ability to replicate your results. You shouldn’t be relying on luck. Succeeding once doesn’t mean you’re good. If you’re unable to identify the steps to success and replicate that success, you’ll find yourself in a feast-and-famine cycle. You can’t rely on luck to have a successful career. You need a replicable and reliable system for success.

But having a system doesn’t mean you’ll get the same results. You can’t copy and paste and expect the same outcomes. It’s like the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system in Singapore. It works really well. But when Malaysia tried to copy the road tax system wholesale, it didn’t work. Just because something worked doesn’t mean it will work for you. You can’t plug-and-play a system and expect to get the same success every single time.

Having a system alone won’t guarantee success. You need to adapt the system to your needs and circumstances. You need to customise it to your preference. It’s like your phone’s operating system. Most people use the phone as it is, out of the box. Some people complain when things don’t work out. But actually, if you actually get into the system settings, you’re able to make the adjustments you need to get the results you want. So having a system is the first step. You need to be willing to put in the effort and adjust accordingly.

What’s the challenge?

The challenge with thinking with words, what I call “verbal thinking”, is that ideas flow from one to another.

Clarence’s single idea ‘systems are important for success’ encompasses three interlinked principles:

  1. You need a replicable and reliable system for success.
  2. You can’t plug-and-play a system and expect to get the same success every single time.
  3. You need to adapt the system to your needs and circumstances.

Clarence’s examples make sense individually. He talked about the feast-and-famine cycle, Singapore’s Electronic Road Pricing system, and mobile phone operating systems settings.

But what happens when you string them together? It starts to become cognitively heavy. There has to be a more efficient way to get the message across in a way that’s easy on the mind.

The visuals

I developed a set of three visuals that explained the three interlinked concepts through a simple and intuitive metaphor. Here are the visuals before I break it down.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Behind the scenes: Critical thinking and visual thinking

Identifying the key concepts

Our ideas flow and blend together when we think with words. That’s one reason why sometimes it can be difficult to identify key ideas. What started as a seemingly single idea was actually three ideas weaved together.

The first step to simplifying this big concept was to separate the ideas into three parts.

When you’re explaining an idea with a single static image, you’ll begin to find distinctions between related ideas. It’s almost as if you’re trying to pause a video at the right time and frame the sub-idea.

Picturing the ideas

In his explanation, Clarence provided three analogies: feast-and-famine sales cycles, implementing road tax systems for traffic management, and the settings in our smart phones.

Could I illustrate each of these analogies? Absolutely.

But that’s not good enough. I wanted to find one analogy that can explain each of these ideas.

The inspiration

I was having lunch at a restaurant when the idea struck me.

At the bottom of the menu, there was a disclaimer: “The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product.”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? It’d be a miracle if the chef can bake a cupcake and have an exact replica of the shape and size.

That’s the second idea: “You can’t plug-and-play a system and expect to get the same success every single time.”

Does food have the potential to explain the first and third idea? Yes.

Imagine if you had to recreate the same cupcake without a standardised recipe and instructions. Imagine doing it by guesswork every time you want to bake a cupcake. You’re not going to have the same outcome.

To bake your cupcake successfully, you need a recipe book with the list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions. That explains the first idea: “You need a replicable and reliable system for success.”

And the third idea? “You need to adapt the system to your needs and circumstances.”

Suppose you have the recipe to bake vanilla cupcakes. It doesn’t take much to tweak the recipe to bake chocolate chip cupcakes, does it?

So there we have it – three distinct but related concepts united with an overarching analogy that most people can relate to, making it easy to explain and be understood.

Comments from Clarence

I asked Clarence for his thoughts, and here’s what he said.

How do you feel about this visual?

Junhan nailed it with this illustration! Most of us are familiar with recipes. Experimental baking for a family birthday is different from having to do it in scale & for different types of crowd. A recipe gives predictability. It increases the chances of success. Junhan has encapsulated the essence of a system by using the recipe idea.

What kind of reactions or responses have people given you for this visual or the set of visuals in general?

It makes ideas easier to understand. It’s like the old adage, a picture tells a thousand words.

Would you encourage people to consider using visuals?

Certainly! It not only helps the audience, many times I think it helps the communicator to clarify their thoughts further. It’s a reiterative process.

Would you encourage people to consider working with Junhan?

Junhan has the unique ability to transcribe ideas, which is harder than transcribing words. What he does can greatly elevate key concepts you want to bring across in a shorter amount of time.

Techniques you can use

Technique 1: What does this remind you of?

This is a simple question but perhaps the most used one in my entire time as a speaker, writer and illustrator.

There are so many abstract concepts. Take Clarence’s ideas for instance:

  • You need a replicable and reliable system for success.
  • You can’t plug-and-play a system and expect to get the same success every single time.
  • You need to adapt the system to your needs and circumstances.

As a leader and trainer, Clarence knows to use analogies that his team is familiar with.

To take it even further and elevate the impact of your message, you can look for tangible objectsto explain your ideas.

You don’t even need to draw them. If you can paint a picture in people’s minds, you’re going to be much more persuasive and memorable.

Technique 2: What’s a simpler substitute?

Earlier, I mentioned that I found the idea while looking at the lunch menu in a restaurant.

In reality, I wasn’t looking at cupcakes. I was looking at pasta.

Just about any food item was going to explain the ideas. But I chose cupcakes for several subtle reasons.

Cupcakes are easier to illustrate and easier to imagine. They are solid forms with less details than a plate of pasta.

When explaining ideas, one of my main goals is to make sure it’s as simple as possible.

Technique 3: Consider the feelings

For most people across the world, cupcakes are loosely associated with treats and happiness. There’s a positive emotional association to cupcakes that I want to carry over into the idea of attending a serious training. Outside of Clarence’s team, imagine an employee being sent unwillingly to attend a training programme. Any little effort to lift the mood would help.

Is there any basis to this?Yes.

  • Emotion researchsuggests that positive emotion may have a distinct effect on memory, and may lead to enhanced association-memory.
  • According to this article by ad agency UnrulyEQ, happiness is the most evoked emotion used in ads by brands and advertisers.

These points to the value of considering  emotions, be it in marketing, sales education or internal communications.

What’s next for you?

You’ve just seen how complex ideas can be simplified and made easier to understand and accept.

You’ve also seen that explaining ideas visually is more about thinking than drawing. It’s a key communication skill.

If you’re interested in how you can enhance the way you communicate ideas, here are two options to consider:

  1. Learn to illustrate impactful ideas in my 3-hour online course. You can easily go through all the content on any device, including your phone. It’s intentionally short so that you can get started ASAP.
  2. Work with medirectly to enhance your communications with visuals and stories.

You can reach me at junhan@tellvisualstories.com

Want to see more visuals and stories from me?

Connect with me on Instagram and LinkedIn!

History Majors as Digital Innovators in Data Science

History Majors as Digital Innovators in Data Science

You might not immediately connect studying history with data science, but a background in history can be a surprisingly strong foundation for a career in this field. History majors as digital innovators bring unique perspectives and skills that translate into various roles in data science. Here’s how the skills you develop as a history major can prepare you for various data science careers:.

Mastering Data Analysis and Interpretation:

As a history major, you’re used to sifting through vast amounts of information to identify significant trends and patterns. This skill is directly applicable to data analysis. As digital innovators, history majors can critically evaluate sources and draw insights from historical data, making them valuable assets as data analysts. You’ll find that the same meticulous attention to detail helps spot trends and make data-driven decisions.

Data Visualization Expertise:

Historians often present complex information in a clear and engaging way, whether through essays, presentations, or visual aids. This ability is crucial for data visualization specialists, who must create compelling visual representations of data. History majors, as digital innovators, can turn raw numbers into stories that are easy to understand and act upon.

Digital Humanities and Big Data:

The digital humanities field bridges the gap between history and technology, preparing you for roles that require managing and interpreting large datasets. As a Digital Archivist or a Digital Humanities Specialist, you’ll leverage your skills to manage digital archives and use technology to analyze historical data. This experience is invaluable inthe field of data science, where big data and digital databases are the norm.

User Experience (UX) Research:

Your deep understanding of human behavior and historical contexts gives you an edge in User Experience (UX) research. In this role, you’ll conduct research to understand user behaviors and improve digital product designs. History majors as digital innovators excel in this area because they can contextualize user feedback within broader historical and cultural trends, enhancing the overall user experience.

Technical Writing and Communication:

Clear communication is essential in data science, where you’ll need to explain complex concepts to non-specialists. As a history major, you’ve honed your writing skills through essays and reports. This makes you well-suited for roles like Technical Writer or Content Developer, where you’ll create clear and comprehensive documentation, guides, and educational materials.

Project Management:

Your ability to manage extensive research projects as a history student translates well into project management roles in data science. As a Project Manager, your organizational skills, attention to detail, and ability to synthesize large amounts of information will help you oversee data science projects from inception to completion.

Ethical Considerations in AI:

History majors are particularly well-equipped to tackle the ethical implications of AI and machine learning. Your understanding of historical contexts and ethical considerations can guide the development and implementation of AI technologies. Roles like AI Ethics Consultant are perfect for those who can apply historical perspectives to modern technological challenges.

Content Creation and Storytelling:

Data scientists often need to communicate their findings effectively, and your background in history gives you a unique edge in content creation. Whether you’re writing blog posts, creating podcasts, or producing educational videos, your ability to weave historical narratives into your content makes data more engaging and relatable.

Cybersecurity and Policy Analysis:

Understanding the historical context of cyber threats can provide valuable insights into predicting and mitigating future incidents. History majors can work as Cybersecurity Analysts or Policy Advisors, using their skills to inform decisions and strategies related to technology policies and cybersecurity measures.


A history degree equips you with a versatile set of skills that are highly transferable to the field of data science. History majors as digital innovators bring strong research, critical thinking, and communication skills to the table, making them highly valuable in tech fields. By creatively applying these skills, they can carve out diverse and fulfilling careers well beyond the traditional scope of their degree. The adaptability of a history major’s skill set makes them invaluable in the ever-evolving tech landscape.

Renaissance Social Divide: Bridging Worker Bees and Honeybees

Renaissance Social Divide: Bridging Worker Bees and Honeybees

In the previous articles in this series, we’ve explored the dynamics of remote work versus returning to the office, among other topics. Now, let’s delve into the historical context to examine the longstanding dichotomy between honeybees and worker bees. By deconstructing history, we can uncover the true human condition and recognize how education is the linchpin for a better existence.

The Renaissance: A Playground for the Elite

The Renaissance was a tremendous intellectual, artistic, scientific, and philosophical advancement. This era breathed life into classical learning and humanistic ideals, crafting a golden age for the “honeybees”—the intellectuals, artists, and scientists supported by wealthy patrons. Figures like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo epitomize this blend of art, science, and philosophy, thriving under the generous patronage of families like the Medicis. However, this social divide during the Renaissance is evident as the elite thrived while others struggled.

The Honeybees: Champions of the Renaissance

During the Renaissance, honeybees flourished, thanks to affluent patrons who funded their creative and intellectual pursuits. This golden age was marked by revived classical knowledge and humanist principles. Leonardo da Vinci, the ultimate Renaissance man, excelled in art, science, and engineering. Michelangelo’s sculptures and paintings set the standard for artistic brilliance. Their secret? Support from patrons like the Medici family, who nurtured their talents.

The Worker Bees: Overlooked Contributors

Conversely, the worker bees—peasants, artisans, and tradespeople—were largely excluded from this intellectual celebration. Their lives revolved around agriculture and craftsmanship, far removed from the educational and cultural breakthroughs of the Renaissance. Education was controlled by the Church and State, making it a luxury only the elite could afford. For most worker bees, education was a distant dream, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and limited social mobility. They remained in their traditional roles, untouched by the era’s transformative ideas. This Renaissance social divide left a lasting impact on their lives.

The Social Chasm

The resulting chasm was too vast to bridge. Social cohesion began to crack as the achievements of the time were enjoyed only by the elite. These exclusive benefits even extended into religion, a sacred realm for the people. While the honeybees basked in vibrant culture, the worker bees were rooted in their conventional lives, unable to tap into new opportunities for upward mobility. This stifled the basic human instinct to grow and learn, perpetuating a cycle of social inequity.

Legacy of Inequality

So, while the Renaissance marks significant progress for some, it also highlights deep educational and social inequalities. The era’s breakthroughs in thought, art, and science were monumental, yet they underscored the persistent divide between those with access to cultural enrichment and those without. This intellectual and social divide is a stark reminder of the need for inclusive progress, where innovation and learning benefit all. The Renaissance social divide is a lesson for today, urging us to bridge these gaps.

By shining a light on these divides, we can better appreciate the importance of creating opportunities for everyone, ensuring a future where every bee in the hive thrives.

Digital Education Divide: Bridging Pandemic Gaps

Digital Education Divide: Bridging Pandemic Gaps

The COVID-19 pandemic swept us into a whirlwind of change, thrusting us into a digital-first world where remote work became the norm. This shift spotlighted the glaring digital education divide, carving out a significant gap between our “thinker bees” and “worker bees.”

Thinker Bees: Digital Pioneers and Swift Adapters

Honeybees with advanced degrees, technical prowess, or managerial acumen navigated the pandemic’s upheaval more easily than most. Their educational background provided a robust foundation, equipping them for tech roles, management, and creative fields that thrived online. These bees managed their teams from the comfort of their homes, buzzing efficiently through the digital landscape.

Higher education played a significant role in this smooth transition. Advanced degrees and technical skills enabled honeybees to master new digital tools and remote work environments quickly. Additionally, their training in leadership and management facilitated smooth virtual collaboration and effective team management.

Worker Bees: Frontline Heroes Facing the Storm

Worker bees, particularly those in frontline roles like healthcare and essential services, faced significant challenges during the pandemic. Their jobs demanded physical presence, making remote work an elusive dream. These bees buzzed in their fields, confronting the pandemic’s challenges head-on, often without the protective armor of technological advancement.

One major obstacle for worker bees was educational disadvantages. Many lacked the formal education and digital skills needed to navigate the swiftly changing work environment. Their roles couldn’t easily transition to digital formats, restricting their ability to adapt to remote work. This lack of flexibility further compounded the difficulties they faced during the pandemic.

Adapting to a Digital World

The pandemic drastically altered our perspective on employment, highlighting the crucial need for digital adaptability and equitable access to education and technology. Ensuring everyone can obtain the necessary digital tools and learning opportunities is vital for widespread success. Thinker bees, adept in technology and creative roles, transitioned smoothly to remote work environments. Their skills in these areas made the adjustment relatively easy. In contrast, worker bees, whose roles require physical presence and hands-on expertise, remained indispensable in critical sectors like healthcare, manufacturing, and services. Despite the digital shift, these workers are essential for maintaining the core functions of society.

Balancing Needs Post-Pandemic

Balancing the evolving needs of both thinker and worker bees is essential. This entails addressing the digital education divide and cost challenges while valuing digital adaptability and physical expertise.

Promoting Inclusivity

Inclusivity is key. Valuing both intellectual and manual contributions creates a thriving community. Recognizing diverse talents ensures a harmonious and flourishing society. Ultimately, education shapes our ability to adapt and succeed. By addressing these divides and promoting inclusivity for all, we can build a future where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.


Could AI be the key to unlocking every student’s potential in choosing a major?

Could AI be the key to unlocking every student’s potential in choosing a major?

This question has captured my interest, leading to a reflection on the often overlooked potential of AI in education: the power to choose freely, without barriers.

When discussing their choice of major, many students mention that they’ve selected fields that align with their strengths: engineering for those who excel at math, humanities for lovers of reading and writing, and biology for enthusiasts of the natural world.

This trend highlights a critical limitation in our education system—it tends to channel students into fields where they already succeed rather than encouraging exploration and support in areas of struggle.
Here lies the transformative potential of AI.

Think of how calculators assist those who struggle with mental math. Imagine an AI that supports comprehension for students who find reading challenging.

Such technology could serve as a universal “educational calculator,” enabling students to pursue any field of study, regardless of their initial proficiency.
AI can democratize learning, allowing passion, not just aptitude, to guide educational paths.

This shift could usher in a new era where barriers are dismantled and every student can achieve anything they set their mind to.

The impact? Read more here.

You can follow Zack on LinkedIn here.

Here is a link to Zack’s Company.


Strategic Volunteering: Your Path to Growth & Impact

Strategic Volunteering: Your Path to Growth & Impact

🌟 Strategic Volunteering: Your Path to Growth & Impact 🌟

Distinguishing oneself in a career while contributing significantly to the community may appear to be a distinct endeavor. Nevertheless, strategic volunteering offers a unique path combining professional enhancement with personal satisfaction. Aimed at job seekers, seasoned professionals, and the vibrant non-profit sector, this guide highlights how strategic volunteering can be a pivotal element of growth, serving as both a pathway to career advancement and a means to achieve personal fulfillment.

🔍 Filling Resume Gaps through Strategic Volunteering Firstly, discover how strategic volunteering serves as a means to give back and an intelligent strategy to position yourself for future career opportunities. It’s more than volunteering; it’s about strategically aligning your activities with your career objectives, filling in gaps in your resume, and acquiring in-demand skills that set you apart in the job market.

💡 Enhancing Professional Networks via Strategic Volunteering Moreover, learn about the dual benefits of strategic volunteering: It enhances your leadership, communication, and technical skills and connects you to a cause you care deeply about. Additionally, you can expand your professional network in meaningful ways and uncover new avenues for personal development while contributing to your community.

🌱 Creating Impact in Non-Profit Organizations with Skilled Volunteers Subsequently, uncover the untapped potential of strategic volunteering for non-profit organizations and communities. This section provides insight into fostering beneficial partnerships that advance your mission and empower volunteers with valuable experiences.

🏫 For Educational Institutions: Shaping Socially Responsible StudentsFurthermore, recognize the role of strategic volunteering in crafting well-rounded, academically proficient, and socially responsible students. Also, it promotes a culture of giving that complements academic goals and prepares students for impactful lives.

🏢 For Employers & Businesses: Cultivating a Culture of Social Responsibility Finally, acknowledge the importance of strategic volunteering in promoting a culture of social responsibility and continuous employee learning. This effort not only aids in personal development but also enhances your brand’s reputation and strengthens community relations.

To conclude, I’d like you to begin this journey to discover how strategic volunteering can unlock new opportunities, forge meaningful connections, and generate lasting impacts. Whether you’re looking to advance your career, enrich your personal life, or contribute significantly to your community, this guide is your first step toward making a difference.

Let’s embrace the path of difference together. 💼🌍

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