Drawing Pictures

If you want to succeed a driving change, practice drawing pictures.  Specifically, practice drawing pictures of either what the future looks like or what the journey to the future looks like.


Because people think in pictures.  If you can draw a picture in their minds that they can put themselves in, look around and feel at home, then you gotten them to a place where they can comfortably take action to join you in that vision.

Without the picture they are like a person in a dark, unfamiliar room, tripping over everything as they fumble for the lights.  Give them the light; give them the pictures.  Whether in words or drawings, they must have the picture.

Today I spent the day trying to figure out how to show the strategic vision of complex system in easy to understand words and drawings (notice I didn’t say simple–simple often has a bad connotation).  By the end of the day I got to a picture that while imperfect will stand in for a blank piece of paper and will get others talking about how the picture doesn’t match what they see in their heads.  That’s the conversation I want to happen.  Their comments will change the picture from mine to ours and in the end it must be our picture for the change to succeed.

Over the years, three things have helped me draw better and better pictures quicker and quicker, allowing me to drive change faster and faster.  These three things may not work perfectly for you, but they won’t hurt you either:

1. Start with the ultimate one-day experience: Edward Tufte’s one-day Presenting Data and Information course.

Tufte will teach you the essentials.   You won’t be the same when you leave at the end of the day, because you’ll have rules to measure what excellent visual displays of information look like and you’ll have a challenge–in the form of Tufte’s motivation and the books he sends home with you–to seek excellence because you can, not because you must.  [Key: Tufte is driving change in his students and I love him for that.]  If you can’t get to his one day course, check out his site, edwardtufte.com, or his books at your local library.

2.  Read Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin, a challenge to and method for drawing pictures to gain understanding quickly.

The pixel count of your drawing doesn’t matter if you don’t get your thought across.   But how do you guarantee you can regularly, quickly get your thoughts across?  Well, wherever you are, you’ll rarely be at a loss for the back of a napkin to store your thoughts on.  So, by Roam keeping your tools simple–yet powerful–he gives you needed agility.  Agility is key when you must win someone to your change far away from your computer and polished publicity materials.

3.  Practice.  Practice. Practice.  The more you draw pictures–in meetings, in conversations, with words, with actual drawings–the better you’ll get.  When someone says, “I think I understand what you’re showing me,” and can take action based on your picture–and it’s action toward the outcomes you want–then you’ll know you’re succeeding.

Drive change, in vivid pictures.  All it takes is practice.  Why not try?

2 thoughts on “Drawing Pictures”

  1. Thanks for the link to Dan Roam’s “Back of the Napkin” …lots of thoughts. I’ve been practicing my writing to draw clearer pictures with words. My actions are another tool I have to use as I think of Mom always telling us actions speak louder than words. But, drawing pictures, hmmm I do better with cutting pictures out of magazines. Thanks again for the visual on the back of the napkin.

  2. Pingback: Visual Thinking « Engine For Change

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