The term dashboard has irritated me for a long while. I’m of the school of thought that if you try to make complex things really simple, you’ve probably made them stupid too. Complexity and ambiguity is the way of the world in which we live, and boiling down multi-faceted management information into a couple of “traffic light” indicators and a smiley face is dereliction of duty, not a leap forward in real-time leadership.

This weekend, though, I also for the first time understood that it was a deeply mis-understood metaphor, but one that bizarrely might be actually quite good. Let me explain…

We think of a dashboard as that panel between knees and window in a car, where various instrumentation and controls are to be found. But the etymology goes back to the days of horses – one of the last vestiges of the horseless carriages in modern use, perhaps. According to the interwebs: a board of wood or leather in front of a carriage, to keep out mud.

In simple terms, if you were in the front seat without a dashboard, you’d get covered in mud and horse plop. Which as I mentioned, might be a better metaphor for a software dashboard than the “behind the controls of an A380” image that was probably first intended…

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