I now want to fold the ingredient of Visual Intelligence into my continuing exploration of Organizational Life, its People and its Processes. For my purposes here, the terms Visual Intelligence and Visual Thinking are synonymous. Going forward, I’ll use the term Visual Thinking. The reason is that Visual Intelligence relates to how people apply Visual Thinking in the workplace. Visual Thinking, in and of itself, is a broader idea.
Visual Thinking is a guiding concept in my line of work as a Graphic Facilitator. I think it should be top of mind for everyone else as well.
My idea of Visual Thinking is that it is a way of seeing the world. It’s a discipline. It’s a way of paying attention. It’s consistently asking, “How can we bring X before us so we can see what we are talking about and do something about it. Visual Thinking consistently seeks to concretize ideas and issues, to bring them out of the abstract.
For a moment, I’d like to borrow a definition of Visual Thinking from Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures.
Dan calls this his elevator speech:
“Visual Thinking means taking advantage of our innate ability to see – both with our eyes and with our mind’s eye – in order to discover ideas that are otherwise invisible, develop those ideas quickly and intuitively, and then share those ideas with other people in a way that they simply ‘get’.”
I thought a lot about this definition and finally, I decided to expand it a bit for myself. Dan has named the basic nature of Visual Thinking in terms of seeing with our eyes and our mind’s eye and then sharing in ways that people get, and I thought that, in addition to ideas, there are many other invisible things affecting us in our lives, more than we even realize. Things that live just below the surface, out of sight. Things that greatly impact how we operate together in organizations, both positively and negatively.
Some of these forces live inside individuals, and some relate to the glue that holds us together, for example:
Some of the things under the surface are precious resources that are lying dormant and begging to be discovered and used for individual and enterprise-wide benefit, like great ideas or a person’s unique gifts and talents.
Some things we will never see because people don’t want us to see them, like what’s in a person’s heart or their emotions or challenges.
Some things are tripping us up or slowing us down, but we often don’t bring them to the surface because they seem overwhelming or too complex to deal with in any meaningful way, like our processes or our communications, especially if they are not going well.
Some things are assumptions that stay in the darkest part of the ocean floor, especially if they are painful or engrained as truth in someone’s mind.
It’s been my observation that if you can’t somehow SEE it or visualize it, you tend not to deal with it.
Out of sight, out of mind
If you can see it, it is less abstract and more concrete, and then you can make meaning of it.
When things are In Sight, you get Insight
And when you can see it as a group, all seeing the same thing
at the same time, you have a shared mental map from
which you can make collective meaning through conversation.
All on the “same page”
For me, there are two goals of Visual Thinking:
To SEE – literally with your eyes or with your mind’s eye — that’s the visual part, in order to. . .
COMPREHEND – to understand, to “get”, to see the meaning
of — that’s the thinking part.
This brings new meaning to what you see is what you get!
Visual Thinking is about intentionally applying tools and processes, on a regular basis, to help individuals and groups SEE and UNDERSTAND impactful things in our organizations and our lives that are generally invisible until we deliberately bring them to the surface.
Using pictures/visuals and a process, as Dan Roam describes in his book, is one way of surfacing things that are invisible, but what if we had a bigger toolbox? In addition to visuals, the best vehicles I know of are the arts and metaphor. I use the term "arts" broadly. (By the way, I think all arts have a science side, too.)
Here are some of the arts I am thinking about:
Facilitative Process Tools (Graphic Facilitation, where I am most fluent, is only one tool. There are many, many others.)
Music, Sound, Listening
Theatre, Role Play
Words, Poetry, Writing
Practically speaking, the arts and metaphor allow us to see, literally or with our mind’s eye, ideas and concepts that are normally invisible. Some forces we will never see literally, but we can “get” them or understand them when we can see their impact, much like “seeing” the wind by seeing the leaves on the tree move.
Here is a great example with a direct tie-in to business:
THE COCKTAIL PARTY
A group of leaders met to talk about developing a new infrastructure for the organization. This was a vital session because of the enormous impact it would have on every part of the company.
The meeting leader wanted to provide food for thought in a memorable way, as group members were getting ready to break into smaller teams to create the plan. He thought this shared experience, as a backdrop, would enrich the important conversations they were about to have.
He used Role play/Theatre to demonstrate the concept:
“Structure Determines Behavior."
Activity: 50 people are meeting in a large room, sitting around tables of 8 people each. The facilitator asks 20 volunteers to come up to the front of the room. The 30 people still seated are asked to serve as audience members/observers.
Instruction One: “Pretend you are at a cocktail party. You are holding a beverage. Act normally. Have conversation and mingle about.”
The Audience Perspective: Everything seemed normal enough. Actually, it was like watching a real cocktail party.
Instruction Two: After a time, the partiers were asked to pause to listen to the next instruction, which was: “Identify a person in the room that you can see, but don’t tell anyone who it is. Keep it to yourself. From now on, don’t let that person out of your sight. Now continue talking and mingling about as before.”
The Audience Perspective: After watching this for a few minutes, you could tell that people were not as relaxed as they had been at first. Their behavior and movements got a bit jerky or abrupt. Time seemed to speed up for them.
Instruction Three: After a while, the partiers were asked to pause for one final instruction: “Identify a second person (without telling anyone who it is) that is standing between your first person and you. From now on, always keep that second person between you and your first person. Now continue talking and mingling about.”
The Audience Perspective: Well, it was quite comical to see the partiers going in every direction at once and almost immediately, the whole group collapsed into the middle.
That sight is hard to forget, and, I definitely got the concept that Structure Determines Behavior!
Arts reflect real life. From this demonstration came an awareness and a keener understanding about the impact structures have on human behavior. For many, it was eye opening. It provided a realistic and more practical, concrete framework for thinking about how to design a new infrastructure for the future that was efficient and user friendly.
My providing this account is an example of using the art of Storytelling to impart what I had witnessed and learned. Hopefully, you were able to visualize the scene and get the message, too.
I’d like to plant a thought here; I don’t know who said it originally: When a society stops valuing and investing in the arts, it starts dying. It’s really something to think about.
Here are other examples of using the arts and metaphor to see and make meaning, all of which have distinctive and significant benefits:
We can explore and discover a person’s unique gifts and talents through conversation and dialogue or asking questions or appreciative inquiry, or
Capture ideas and information with illustration and words or video or photography, or
Demonstrate a concept or impart a message using dance or theatre or music, or
Liken or compare in order to find new meaning or common threads of meaning using metaphor or storytelling or poetry or
Build a team by playing music together
These examples may sound “fluffy” to some, but there is real grounding in the science behind the art.
In a minute, I provide a narrative about the top team of 5 individuals in a global company who came together to plan strategy for the near future. They employed Metaphor and used Graphic Facilitation.
Before I relate the experience, I want to say a few words about Metaphor.
Through both the arts and metaphor, we can access deeper thinking and insight, individually and collectively. Arts and metaphor open the door to our imagination and our intuition, to the realm of possibilities. We speak in metaphor every day and, most of the time, we aren’t even consciously aware of it.
Metaphor is helpful in our businesses. It can play a significant role in problem solving and decision making by serving as a focusing and organizing tool, providing a vantage point from which to view new ideas or, serving as a framework or container for our expressions.
Metaphor is the natural way we make meaning and find insight. Metaphor takes the conversation out of the personal because you are focusing on ideas, not personalities.
Metaphor, coupled with large scale visual support, enables us to think systemically by seeing the whole and its parts simultaneously, which, in turn, enables us to see patterns and relationships.
Indeed, the best use of metaphor is when it is linked with visual imagery. According to renown author, Meg Wheatley, “It’s hard to think of a system without some kind of visual tool.”
What exactly is metaphor?
The dictionary definition is: “To liken one concept or idea
to another by speaking of it as if it were that other.”
Another description is: “Metaphor is a cognitive process of
transferring information or meaning from a particular
subject to another particular subject.”
Aristotle defined metaphor as: “The act of giving
a thing a name that belongs to something else.”
A colleague of mine says that employing metaphor is:
“Using something familiar to reason about the strange.”
If metaphor is “using something familiar to reason about the strange”, then one part of the equation has to be familiar to most people. So, metaphors are universal. For example, we all know what a tree is, but maybe I see a palm tree and you see a fir tree, but we can agree on the common characteristics of a tree. Our individual interpretations come from our world view that shapes our understanding. Using a universal metaphor, we can find a collective interpretation, which is born through our conversations.
According to Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind:
Moving From the Information Age to the Conceptual Age,
“Metaphor is central to reason because human thought processes are largely metaphorical.”
Pink says that everything you create is enriched by metaphor and that the metaphor quotient is as valuable as the intellectual quotient.
Mr. Pink’s definition: “Metaphor is imaginative rationality.”
In using metaphor, not only can we understand our organizations better, but also, according to Pink, “Metaphor helps us understand others. . .Metaphorical imagination is essential in forging empathic connections and communicating experiences that others do not share. . .A large part of self understanding is the search for an appropriate personal metaphor that makes sense in our lives. The more we understand metaphor, the more we understand ourselves.”
STRATEGY SESSION USING METAPHOR AND GRAPHIC FACILITATION
I visually recorded for a group of 5 people who represented the top team in a global company. They came together to plan strategy for the future. They wanted to look at such things as current reality, potential obstacles to progress, resources needed and a vision for the future.
My job was to record the conversation as it evolved. The “display” I recorded on was a 4’ tall x 8’ wide piece of bond paper taped to the wall.
They chose to use the metaphor of a journey by sea - a ship sailing across the waters to get to the other side. I sketched some land on the bottom left side of the paper, and some land on the top right of the paper. The left side represented current reality and the land on the right symbolized their desired future destination. I drew some water waves and put a boat in the water. The boat and all hands on deck depicted the whole company and its employees.
I put a couple of big boulders on the bottom of the sea. These represented potential obstacles along the way. I drew a north star up above which represented their mission and direction and some other stars around to designate values. Identifying the organization’s mission and values had been done in prior meetings.
As they had a conversation among themselves, I captured their ideas on the mural, sometimes in the corresponding areas and sometimes, “connecting the dots” as they discovered insights and connections they hadn’t seen before.
They were sitting in comfortable chairs with tables on the side, available if they needed them, all facing the wall where I was capturing. As they were talking, and as time went on, they could literally see their ideas unfold before them and this enabled them to better build on each other’s views and wisdom.
They could see their collective thinking. The large size of the mural contained a lot of data at once; they were able to scan it, “marinate” in it for a while and then make meaning. Toward the end of the conversation, it almost felt like we were inside the mural. The activity took a couple of hours to complete.
At the end of the session, they took time to talk about the process and the picture that had come from their collective ideas. One of the insights they had was that using a metaphor takes the conversation out of the personal because you are focusing on ideas, not personalities. In addition to being a repository for ideas, it also served as a “3rd place” or container for the conversation, which was very helpful to allowing flow
WHY USE VISUALS
Visuals, such as images, graphics, pictures, icons, illustrations, symbols, lines, arrows, shapes and words (especially if accompanied by color), can be strong supporters and catalysts for thinking and communicating. There are so many facets to this gem, and so many applications.
I want to offer some sage words from a long time visual thinker about the serious role visuals and visual thinking can and will play in our lives going forward.
Robert E. Horn, in his seminal book, Visual Language: Global
Communication for the 21st Century, talks about Visual Language (visuals plus words), a concept that has been emerging as a new communication tool, a kind of language of
its own. Mr. Horn says,
“For this new communication tool to flourish, I identified a need for the kind of deeper understanding that can come from an analysis based on the integration of linguistic and visual elements. . .I encourage people to begin using more visual language in their communications, to integrate text and graphics to communicate more effectively.”
In visual language, there are three basic elements: words, images and shapes. We have used all of these for centuries, but what is fresh here is the integration of these three things.
“The integration of words, images and shapes into a single communication unit.” Or, “The use of words and images or words and shapes to form a single communication unit.”
He goes on to say: “As the world increases in complexity, as the speed at which we need to solve business and social problems increases, [and] as it becomes increasingly critical to have the big picture, as well as multiple levels of detail immediately accessible, visual language will become more and more prevalent in our lives.”
Here’s a lot of what I have learned over the years about the benefits of using visuals:
A. Visuals bring ideas to life.
They stimulate and excite your brain.
They keep the energy high.
They spark your imagination.
B. Visuals ground ideas and information.
They represent/reflect real life and are concrete.
They are less abstract and more readily accessible then
C. Visuals are tools for making meaning.
They help us analyze and organize.
They help us see relationships and patterns.
They help link and connect ideas.
They show differentiation and direction.
They emphasize and show dimensionality.
They color code or code with icons.
They separate and combine.
(See above graphic.)
D. Visuals are generative.
According to Geoff Ball, visual facilitation pioneer,
“Graphics are generative. They stretch us.
They suggest and evoke. They link ideas, often in rich,
novel and holistic ways.”
He also says, “Graphics are sneaky.
Pictures sneak around internal psychological
defenses set up to block unwanted verbal input.”
E. Visuals are short-cuts (one picture = 1,000 words).
They help us find common “language” and
shared meaning for faster thinking later.
They help us communicate more effectively.
They help us see the essence.
F. Visuals are facilitative in two ways:
First, they have the ability to help us conceptualize in entirely different ways that we may not have, if all we had
I was in a meeting some time ago, recording a conversation on a large display in graphic form in front of a group of people who were having a conversation. They were talking about new ways of structuring their sales force to be more productive and customer friendly.
In the following picture, the graphics to the left of the dotted line represents the group leader's model of what he and his unit thought would be the best new model going forward from the current way they were doing business. They were trying to move from a supplier/customer interface that was transacted through the sales department only to a model where the two companies interfaced across all departments. The leaders presented this graphic, explained it, and asked other members what they thought about it.
As the full group dialogue ensued, one participant kept trying to talk about a different concept/model he had, but no one was listening to him. And, he was having trouble putting his thoughts into words. In frustration, he finally got up and said to me, “Can I use your pen for a minute?” He drew the second diagram next to the first (shown on the right side of the following picture) to reflect his idea.
After he explained it, people looked at it and said, “Yes. This is good. I can see where you’re going.” And the conversation went in an entirely different direction. It ended up producing breakthrough thinking and innovative approaches that continue to emerge to this day.
One stroke of the pen created an expanded systems view.
The visual did what words could not. Both visuals provide a framework for thinking in one snapshot. Anyone who was in that conversation (or was apprised of it) could look at that one symbol and immediately understand a whole, complex concept.
What acronyms are to language, images/visuals can be to concepts.
Second, visuals are facilitative when they help reinforce our goals and desires.
People have been talking about how things come to be for a
long time. Wallace D. Wattles in his book, The Science of Getting Rich says, “Simply believing in an object of your desire and focusing on it will lead to that object or goal being realized on the material plane.”
And, back in 1904, Thomas Troward wrote: “Thought precedes physical form and the action of Mind plants that nucleus which,
if allowed to grow undisturbed, will eventually attract to itself all the conditions necessary for its manifestation in outward
Visualizing is an important tool for organizations. As a collective, people need to have some sense of where the company is going. They need to know what they are contributing to, what it
Visions can and do change over time; they are not static fixtures like mission and values, but it’s a ‘gut check’ for employees; a vision they need to buy into, a picture of the world they can believe in. This is the common referent.
Here is a personal example of using visuals to set the law of attraction into motion by reinforcing our goal:
My sister and I lived together for a while some years ago. At that time, we shared a huge desire to go on a trip to Hawaii. Also, at the same time, we had very little money, so it seemed out of the question. But we were determined. We thought that if we could keep the thought alive, we might be able to find a way some day. So, from a magazine, we cut out a picture of Hawaii with its palm trees, flowers and beautiful blue water and put it on our refrigerator.
Every single time we went to the refrigerator, we saw that picture and it reinforced our desire because we could visualize what we wanted. It was specific. And let me tell you that it worked. We were in Hawaii within the year.
I believe that our being able to go to Hawaii was definitely aided by that visual. Of course, we had to do other things to make it happen, like earn more money, but it was the clarity of vision that kept the drive alive.
G. Visuals make things memorable.
One of the great things about Visual Thinking, in whatever form it takes, is that it makes things memorable. Think back to the Cocktail Party. It’s easy to talk about how people might be impacted, but it’s another thing to actually see it and experience it as a witness. This is about learning and internalizing.
Another aspect, in business especially, is the importance of being memorable, literally, in order to stand out from the competition and attract more buyers.
Sales forces and marketing and others deal with this all the time at point of sale. They ask themselves: How can we stand out? How can we cut through the clutter? How can we be memorable to the customer?
Here are examples of how memory is triggered:
Association and imagination.
The senses = Seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling
Exaggeration and humor.
Movement and rhythm.
Symbols as universal codes.
VISUAL THINKING IN ACTION
There are a lot of things that need to happen to move a lot of people forward, on the same path, at the same time. Foremost
of these is that collective action has to start with shared understanding. The best way to have shared understanding is to have a common referent, or focal point, whether it is a narrative or a metaphor or an image or a combination of these.
I offer several brief narratives that illustrate Visual Thinking in Action. They come from my personal experience when I was in the role of graphics/visual thinking partner and support person.
In all cases, I was creating Information Graphics for people
to use to tell their story and share information. Information Graphics are usually one pagers that consolidate and explain information in succinct, essential and visual ways in order
to make complex concepts more accessible and understandable. Most of the graphics in this book are Information Graphics in some form.
Here are five short stories where Information Graphics were used to support and help move an effort forward. The themes include:
Instilling company values while building camaraderie
Coming together as a community in crisis
Reflecting on personal journeys (and collective journeys)
Sharing our “brands” and alliances across fields to benefit all
Celebrating 20 years of impact
When creating Information Graphics, there is usually a process of sorts that is essential to learning into the final product. Therefore, the stories are organized by:
INSTILLING COMPANY VALUES
A colleague/friend of mine works at a budding, progressive grocery store chain that calls itself the “friendliest grocery store in town”, and it is just that. My colleague was new to the company when I worked with her. She brought her ideas for employee and organizational development when she signed on. One of the first things she did was to convene a large meeting (300 people) who represented managers and teams from all the stores. The topic was Values.
The group spent a whole day on a focused look at the company’s values and how those values could be grounded in, or applied to, everyday work life. My friend also wanted to provide tools and resources for the teams to take back to their individual stores so they could have similar meetings locally to continue the focus on values. That’s where I came in.
My participation was two fold: First, I graphically recorded the 300 people session in real time and created two murals over the course of the day which were reduced after the session and digitally distributed to everyone who attended. This was a visual synthesis of their time together which they could share with others, keeping messages alive.
Second, prior to the meeting, I had created a 4’ x 3’ template of their Values as titles with blank space to fill in asking people to give a “shout out” to fellow employees they saw living out the values. Copies of the template were made in the same big size and at the big meeting, each manager was given one to display back at their store.
This is a great example of how visuals can keep messages alive after a meeting. Every time the employees walk into the back room at the store, they see their values spelled out in simple pictures and words. This works consciously and unconsciously. Among other things, it connects the dots in your mind between
values and action.
And, it’s a living process, because everyday you look, and someone has written something new about a colleague. This keeps the interest alive and builds the team by having a means of recognizing and visibly appreciating each other for demonstrations of values in action. In essence, it collectively internalizes the values and keeps them alive while it builds community.
THE WEST COUNTY STORY
This is the story of homeowners who live around, and make their living from, a bay. The water in the bay was being contaminated, mostly by old water systems in the homes surrounding it. The quality board from the State came in and proclaimed the area unfit and gave a deadline for clean up. Many people were in jeopardy of losing their property and their livelihood. A group formed to address the problem in a unified way.
After two years of hard work from a dedicated few, it became evident that in order to achieve their goals, they had to have the whole community behind the effort of improving water quality. And the quality board was willing to help. The group wanted to create a visual of the history of the project to date so they could use it to tell their story to the people they were inviting in. This is where I came in.
The principals got together and we went to work on developing a picture that would simultaneously, not only tell the story/history leading up to this point as context, but also, show the need for continued participation and involvement from others.
I put up a big piece of paper on the wall, approximately 4’ x 8’. Half way down the page, I drew a horizontal line from left to right that represented a time line. I marked off areas and labeled them for the different months. Using post it notes, the participants wrote up pivotal points in their history of dealing with this problem, and then they went up to the paper and put their notes in the corresponding time slots.
Focusing on this information, a conversation ensued and eventually, several of the post it notes were moved to reflect what they all agreed was reality. And more conversation was had. I graphically recorded most of it. Eventually, everyone settled on “the story”.
I went back to the ‘drawing board’ and, using the post it notes and my notes, I created a one page visual to reflect their history.
I made it in large size: 4’ x 6’ and mounted it on foam core board. I cut it in a way that they could fold it up accordion style and carry it and then open it out again when they got to their next destination, as the core team made the rounds of the community to enlist the participation of those affected.
One member of the committee said that he safeguarded that picture because it was the only documentation of their collective story, and a powerful tool that allowed them to tell their shared experience in a way that was real for people. It was also an inspiration because people could literally see how things would impact them if they didn’t get involved.
THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY
This story is about one person’s achievement, but the same process and product can be applied to groups of people you may want to appreciate or recognize.
A colleague/friend of mine, many years ago now, earned her Ph.D. It was an arduous journey for her, full of angst and joy at the same time. It took her 7 years. She had a lot of support from family, friends and colleagues over the years and when she
had finally achieved her goal, she wanted to thank them by graphically documenting her adventure and their inclusion in it. This is where I came in.
My friend wrote down everything she could think of from her journey, including events, travels, studies, academic and personal supports, people encountered, challenges, learnings, joys and outcomes. She then handed this missive to me and said, “Can you please put this in graphic form all on one page?” That happens to be a specialty of mine but, believe me, it was a challenge. Parts were amended several times but, finally, she was satisfied that she told her story and included everyone, and then I was able to complete the picture.
This story is a perfect example of how information graphics can inform, enlighten, clarify and connect people and ideas.
A national organization, a while ago, held a conference attended by hundreds of people. One goal of the gathering was to help attendees get a better picture of the work that is currently going on in the field, and particularly, to see points of connection, overlap and possibilities for future collaboration across organizations.
I produced a graphic, on one page, that we had photographed and had prints made (no digital in those days). The matte prints were in ledger size (11” x 17”). She made enough copies for everyone who was included in her story to get one. It was an acknowledgement and appreciation for her and her supporters.
She was absolutely delighted to have her story all on one page. I can see easily how this could be done for people in organizations or units of an organization who want to appreciate people and their achievements. It can be done in depth, or a lot more simply than my experience, but the outcome is worth the effort.
This can be very inspirational.
The process started months before the conference where visual practitioners and featured organizations paired up to develop one-page visuals to depict the ecosystem of each organization. There were 10 different pairings, which resulted in 10 different visuals.
All ten of the one-page visuals (60” x 40” each), that reflected the organizations’ “ecosystems”, were mounted on boards and propped up on easels and placed around the room so people could peruse them over the course of a few days.
Attendees at the conference were able to have an awareness of the field and make connections that they could build on after the meeting to continue to thrive as a community.
The World Cafe is three things: a facilitative process for having good conversation and cross pollinating ideas; a metaphor for
a relaxed, informal hosted environment which produces its own benefits of camaraderie and connections; and an underpinning theory that has its deep roots in the principles that govern system and scale.
The World Café was “born” in 1995 and continues to be used widely in all corners of the globe. In 2015, the World Café Foundation hosted a year-long celebration of the 20 years of impact the Café has had all over the world.
There was an invitation for stories that demonstrated the Café’s effect; these were collected throughout the year. There were discreet events. There were on line cafes. There was a document being produced. There was a video being created. The woman behind the scenes that was leading the effort was juggling all of these balls at once and the minutiae that went with them and, at the same time, going crazy trying to dig out of the details to find an essential way of announcing all of this in one succinct communication.
This is where I came in. I got the call to come help simplify. We put up a big piece of paper on the wall. I used markers and post it notes. I asked question after question to get all the data out of her brain and onto the paper. (This is a great example of Visual Thinking, by the way.) Once we had all the data, we could start to group or regroup things. This opened up another series of questions about intentions for the program and later on, about specifics.
The vision in her mind was already there. I just helped bring it out. In other words, I helped her lift the context and big picture out of the weeds. The weeds are important because “success is in the details”, but the weeds were in the way when we needed to find the essence.
When we got the picture that fit the need, I went back to the drawing board’ and rendered the illustration below.
This picture was used on all communications about the Jamboree. It served the purpose of (a) being all on one page; (b) representing complex information in a simple way; (c) bringing the Jamboree to life through its visual nature.
VISUAL THINKING IN PRACTICE
Mind Mapping is a tool that is worth exploring further. It is much more than a technique. This is truly Visual Thinking in Practice. It is a very powerful way to see the big picture, to plan, to visualize, to organize, to analyze, to get clarity, to find essence, and to branch out and explore our imaginations. We can do it individually or collectively.
Tony Buzan, recognized authority on Mind Mapping, says:
“Mind Mapping is a powerful graphic technique which provides
a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of cortical skills in a single, uniquely powerful manner. Mind Mapping can be applied to every aspect of life where improved learning and clearer thinking will enhance human performance.”
It’s great for seeing the whole picture and its parts at the same time on one page. In essence, you are creating your own Information Graphic. You can see associations and connections, which automatically brings up other connections and associations, so there is an expansion of thinking.
It’s almost like an outline or table of contents where you have heads and subs and sub, subs if you are thinking in terms of hierarchy or priority of information.
The following image is an example of a Mind Map, using the elements of Memory as the topic of my map. This comes from
an open source. Your mind map may be more complicated with more branches, but this is just a simple sample I picked out
If you’re interested in doing a Mind Map, Tony Buzan offers 7 steps:
Sit with an 8” x 11” piece of paper and a pen or pencil or other, and follow this:
1. Start in the center. This gives your brain the freedom to spread out in all directions and to express itself more freely and naturally.
2. Use an image or picture for the central idea. An image is worth 1,000 words. A central image is more interesting; it gives your brain a buzz. It keeps you focused and helps you concentrate.
3. Use colors throughout. Color is as exciting to your brain as are images. Color adds extra vibrancy and life, and tremendous energy to your creative thinking.
4. Connect the branches. The brain works by association. It likes to link two (or 3 or 4) things together. If you connect the branches, you will understand and remember a lot more easily.
5. Make branches curved. Having nothing but straight lines is boring to your brain.
6. Use one key word per line. This gives you more power and flexibility.
7. Use images throughout. Each image, like the central image, is also worth a 1,000 words. So if you have only 10 images, it equals 10,000 words of notes!
PERSON TO PERSON
This is a way to strengthen the relational field. When people know each other better, they not only enjoy working together more, but also, they produce better results together.
When you understand another person better, you don’t make so many assumptions about them and can interact with more ease. Just knowing about a person’s interests or life experiences helps you see their unique perspectives and diversity of thinking and, it helps create bonds and builds trust.
This is a tool using a large scale display to help group members get to know about each other in a light hearted, but informative, way.
I have done this several times in all day meetings or you can do it in the work area over time, and it’s very powerful.
It requires a large piece of paper that is taped to the wall. The paper can be cut from a roll of bond paper. Depending on how many people are going to participate and how many questions you are going to ask, the best is 4’ x 8’-10’, if you can. Otherwise improvise for your situation. As a last resort, you can tape together flip chart sheets.
The next thing to do is to draw a grid on the paper, as shown below.
The left column is for people’s names. The questions they are being asked are across the top. Each person fills out their own horizontal line. The point is to get to know each other in ways you normally wouldn’t in the every day work world (without being too personal).
An added feature is that you don’t fill it out ahead or you don’t fill it out all together, but each person fills it out when the mood strikes; so at breaks and meals people are going up to the wall to see who else has filled theirs in and what the answers are. People share only what they are willing to share. They may leave some cells blank.
There are usually a lot of surprises and great conversation starters. They find commonalities they never knew existed.
Once, as a result of this activity, four guys who played musical instruments ended up putting together an after hours band. Up until that point, they had no idea there were fellow musicians in the company.
An example of questions:
What’s your favorite music?
What book are you currently reading?
What country did you/would you enjoy visiting?
Do you play a musical instrument?
What’s one thing hardly anyone knows about you?
What’s your favorite color?
Do you have animals?
What do you do for fun?
What’s your favorite vacation spot?
What’s you favorite movie?
This activity may sound trivial or too cute for some, but once you put your toe outside your comfort zone, you will find that it can be a safe and powerful connector, which contributes to relationship building, while it simultaneously enhances the organization as a whole.
In the process of getting to know others better, you discover hidden resources and valuable assets in the form of talents, special gifts, passions, skills, and aspirations, that, often, no one knew were there. If desired, these can be brought forward and appreciated for the joy of the person and the benefit of the company. I mean “appreciate” in two ways: first, to acknowledge and possibly incorporate into practice, and second, as an investment of time and money that bears fruit for the company overall in terms of returns.
GRAPHIC FACILITATION/GRAPHIC RECORDING –
A DEEPER DIVE
Here, for all those interested, is a deeper dive into the attributes and benefits of using graphic tools to support group process and/or bring ideas to life through visual representation.
The main focus of this deep dive is on Graphic Facilitation, using large scale, visual displays where meeting participants are willing to let the graphics be a supporting partner in a process, interactively engaging with the material that is emerging.
(Although there is a lot of activity going on in the Internet world using graphic tools, the focus here is on using tools in real life/real time situations where people physically come together to collaborate in various ways.)
When you open up the world of big picture/large scale graphics in support of collective interaction, a special magic begins to happen. For example:
The quality of thinking and development of the group deepens and improves.
There is an increased flow of creativity and insight.
Individuals in the group usually have a more satisfying experience of collaboration in terms of interaction, as well
The large format allows the group to build a shared base of information quickly, a feat that often takes people many meetings to achieve without large scale graphic support.
When ideas are captured and held as the Group Memory*, participants are set up to move the conversation forward in terms of making meaning/analyzing, making decisions or creating something new. (*This term was coined by Geoff Ball, Visual Thinking pioneer.)
Hopefully you read about Visual Thinking earlier in this section (not a requirement to read on). Graphic Facilitation is a “killer app” for thinking visually and in just a moment, I’ll get into the specifics of why that is. But first, briefly, I want to mention of a couple of other ways Visual Practitioners (VP’s) can facilitate Visual Thinking.
CREATING INFORMATION GRAPHICS
Most of the graphics throughout this book are Information Graphics. Information Graphics are usually rendered on one page, whatever the size of the page, in order to illustrate a concept; or convey a message; or simplify complexity/find the essence; or get clarity/make information more accessible; or show relationships or movement or sequencing; or depict a whole system and its parts simultaneously.
CREATING MEETING CHARTS OR SIGNAGE OR DEVELOPING VISUALS FOR PRESENTATIONS
A whole book could be written about this, but here are a few examples:
Visual Practitioners are good at lettering, often cartooning or quick illustration, coloring, organizing and page layout, to mention a few skills. The hand drawn charts also add a human touch and contribute to a friendly dimension or tone.
Charts specifically prepared for a particular meeting might include: the agenda; the schedule; goals or objectives; ground rules; mission; chart titles or templates done ahead of time (to be filled in), and many others.
Signage is more or less self-explanatory. This could include directions or welcome signs, as examples.
Visuals for presentations could take many forms and sizes. This could be from hand drawn to digital applications.
Visuals to showcase something: A history map over a long period of time is a great example, or showing the life of a process or a schematic, are two more.
USING LARGE FORMAT, HIGH IMPACT GRAPHICS
Now, back to the large scale, visual displays. Graphic Facilitation and Graphic Recording (almost the same thing) are all about Making the Invisible Visible and Making the Visible Visual. The Visible part of this particular tool has to do with its large scale display. The Visual part is about how data and ideas are captured and organized in words and images on the display.
Here are examples of two primary ways that Visual Practitioners use large formats and images:
GRAPHIC RECORDING, which is real time capture of content and ambience, not necessarily related to a process or agenda. Examples could include capturing the essence of a speaker’s remarks at a retreat or workshop or seminar or other event.
Another is capturing the output from small groups where the graphics professional is creating a synthesis of diverse ideas. (This is sometimes called Harvesting.)
Depending on the size of the group, some people may not be able to see the visual capture as it is happening. The charts that are generated might serve as backdrops during a seminar or workshop, available to be viewed (and photographed) at breaks. Meeting hosts often send out digital images of the charts after a meeting that can be shared with others who were not in attendance.
GRAPHIC FACILITATION, which, in essence, is Graphic Recording but with an added dimension: it’s real time capture with groups using an agenda or desired outcomes as the driver(s) or focus of conversation, in which the group is facilitated through a process and supported by the graphics.
The activities might include such things as strategic planning, analysis, systems viewing, mapping, idea generation, finding common ground, visioning, cross-pollenating ideas, and others.
Often a Graphic Facilitator may work with a Process Facilitator.
I had a co-consultant that I worked with for years. We used to say that I was the “video” and she was the “audio”. We both see ourselves as facilitators in our own right. I’ve worked without a process facilitator where I am recorder and facilitator, but I find that I can’t give 100% to both roles at once and prefer to work in tandem with someone who does the job of moving the group along.
Now, let's take the dive, starting with a quick basic summary of what a graphics person does in meetings;
During portions of a meeting, a Graphic Facilitator captures the essence of ideas and information as they are being expressed on large pieces of wall-hung paper (usually 4’ x 6’-8’ or more), and sometimes flip charts, using markers and other media.
The graphics person listens for and captures the essence of ideas and information in organized ways that support the desired outcomes of an agenda and the conversation. This initial summary also helps people see patterns and relationships among parts, a vital element in making collective sense of a diversity of thoughts, ideas and information.
Often what is originally captured serves as a building block to help move the group to collectively creating something new. The VP can move charts around, introduce process “props” (post-it notes, templates, and others) and otherwise support the group to achieve their desired outcome(s).
The recorder uses a variety of “visuals” to create charts. The terms “visuals” is used here as a broad catchall word for: images, graphics, pictures, icons, illustrations, symbols, lines, arrows, shapes, words and color.
The following picture is titled A Visual Intelligence Neighborhood. It reflects the two primary components of Graphic Facilitation -- Large Scale Display and Graphics/Visuals -- as the ‘main streets’ of the neighborhood. The ‘side streets’ are the natures of the tool and approach. Attributes and benefits further define the ‘side streets’. I’ll spell this all out in a moment.
Whatever the purpose of convening, together, the display
size, the graphic images and the process tools combine to accelerate, enhance or facilitate:
Accessibility to data/ideas
Productivity, efficiency and satisfaction
As depicted above in the Visual Intelligence Neighborhood
graphic, there are certain “natures” that are inherent in this tool. Understanding a bit more about what’s under the surface will help you understand the tool’s ability to handle complexity and its potential for delivering results. The natures are:
Holding Nature/Reflecting Nature
Public Nature (2 parts)
I talk about this earlier in this section (Part C) called Why Use Visuals. Without repeating all the specifics, here is a brief summary of the power of visuals/image.
Visuals bring ideas to life.
Images ground and concretize ideas and information.
Visuals help us make meaning of our information and ideas by organizing and reflecting patterns and affinities, and much more.
Visuals are more generative and evocative than text alone.
Visuals are short cuts for faster thinking later (1 pix = 1,000 words).
Images are facilitative; they help us conceptualize ideas and provide power for realizing our desired goals. Images make things memorable.
____________________________________________________HOLDING NATURE/REFLECTING NATURE
The size of the page can hold many more images than your brain can at any one time. This allows you to SCAN a great deal of information, especially as more and more unfold. This essentially assists brain function in finding patterns and relationships among parts much more quickly than would otherwise be possible.
Another way to look at it is: finding patterns is exactly what the brain does best; however, the brain can only hold 5-7 bits of information at any one time before bits drop away to make room for new ones. The chart takes care of that by holding all the bits. Think of the efficiency!
The large size handles complexity. The large size of the mural enables a natural weaving together of diverse inputs into a composite picture that reflects the essence of collective intelligence and expression. It holds and juxtaposes many ideas for ongoing consideration. In our field, we call this the Group Memory.
The span provides a whole system view. The large display enables you to see the whole and its parts simultaneously, which is extremely valuable to understanding the big picture or the whole system at a glance. This provides a huge boost to strategic thinking, planning and development.
The chart keeps ideas up and in front without overwhelming people and is often used as a referent during discourse.
Being able to see and scan the whole of what you and others are saying automatically changes the nature and quality of a meeting; the person, and the group as a unit, work smarter because of the broader, visual perspective.
Having a wide array of ideas and information displayed for all to see helps people build on each other’s ideas. This, in turn, creates an atmosphere (or energy field) where the group functions more efficiently and effectively.
As mentioned, a Graphic Facilitator is capturing, in words and visuals, in real time, essential content and, as a natural by-product, revealing the dynamics and flow of a conversation. If you are paying attention to the mural as it is being created, you are seeing the conversation unfold as it is happening and progressing.
When people can see their individual and collective ideas slowly develop and progress, there is almost always a sense of increased ownership of the content.
The more the material unfolds, the more your brain does its thing too, again, by sensing patterns and relationships. A picture of ideas and information cohering before your eyes helps your brain gain insight and understanding. It helps you build on ideas.
Seeing information and ideas unfold before you allows you to track the progress you and others are going through at the moment. It is an immediate reflection of the behaviors and emotions of the group. There is a wealth of wisdom here if you are willing to pay attention to it.
There are two perspectives here: one is the Individual perspective and the second is the Group perspective.
First, the Individual view.
Attributes and Benefits:
Because the record is large and, therefore, public, a person’s need to be heard and validated is accommodated, as their expressions are captured on the chart. Because their expressions stay visible for all to view, people literally can see their contribution to the whole, which tends to increase their participation, as it builds involvement and cooperation throughout a meeting.
The public record is impersonal, allowing people to talk more freely about their ideas. Notes are the product of the group and, therefore, more trusted. This naturally helps everyone move from “my way” to “our way”. Because of this, listening is greatly enhanced.
This can be especially relevant if people are trying to find consensus or common ground or agreement.
Second, the Group perspective.
Attributes and Benefits:
The large format allows a group to build a shared base of information quickly, a feat that often takes people many meetings to achieve without large scale visual support. It is a common referent co-created by the group and represents shared ‘language’, data and meaning. As a group, people are able to work well together because of this common base.
Ideas are captured in real time so they are not lost. The product is a record of decisions, agreements, plans and conversations that have been created by a group.
Documenting keeps the Group Memory alive, both during a meeting and after a meeting. The record, either in the original large form, digitized or redrawn, serves as a communication bridge or link to related conversations or efforts. It often serves as an integral part of organizational change and development initiatives to keep messages alive.
Because it reflects the thinking of the group, it has a lasting affect when shared with those who were not present but who need to know, or are interested in knowing, the outcomes of a given meeting. It may be as a hand off to others for next steps or, as a basis for learning or action planning or systems mapping or other efforts.
THE HUMAN CONNECTION
Attributes and Benefits:
As I mentioned earlier, my focus here is on face to face meetings in real time in a room of people using large displays, rather than online meetings.
In the physical world, displays are human size and people seem to like this. It’s like connecting with your ideas. Many times in meetings during breaks people come up and cluster around the charts that have been created and have conversation, sometimes using the mural as a referent or just as a backdrop. People are very attracted to their own ideas.
The other aspect of the human connection that is worth mentioning is that through our visuals, we often reflect the humor in the room. Humor and play are important elements of our world, as I talked about in an earlier chapter, and graphics people are the best at hearing and seeing it and capturing it in the moment. Just go to one of our annual conferences!
GRAPHIC FACILITATION FROM A PROCESS FACILITATOR’S PERSPECTIVE
It minimizes monologues and discourages extended dialogues. People can literally see that they are holding up the group, because the recorder is reflecting what is going on at the moment, in terms of both content and process.
It maintains clarity about what has been talked about, what is being worked on, and what has been worked on already, because it’s all in front for all to see. This helps keep the group on topic and task.
It reduces interpersonal confrontation tension. Errors in meaning or intent are quickly corrected toward a common understanding because the record is available to be amended, if the group so wishes.
It allows the group to approach problems both systematically and “free form” because the graphics are flexible and so are the recorders. There are many ways to lay out information on a page and recorders listen to and accommodate what is happening in the moment.
We listen and record and we facilitate by reflecting people’s expressions through words and visuals and color and organization. We create memorable images and metaphors.
We create safe containers to deal with issues, not personalities. We help people bring ideas to life, find shared mental maps and meaning, see the whole and its parts simultaneously, see connections and relationships, think strategically, and, in general, work together in more productive and satisfying ways.
I wrap up this deeper dive with a wonderful quote from long time Visual Practitioner, friend and colleague, Leslie Salmon-Zhu:
“Graphic Recorders are modern day cave artists, visionaries, scribes, teachers, learners, illuminators and historians. . .all keepers of the precious written word and the imaginings of voices and hearts. Our practice has roots in ancient traditions of paying attention, reflecting, recording and ‘remembering for the future’. We help bring ideas forward, help collaboration, help direct the ‘light’ to the individual and to collective wisdom in this world.”