Visual Thinking

Last May I posted a long discussion about the importance of 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.”

Today I was back at it, drawing more pictures in an attempt to bring two sides of an issue closer together.  We attempted to draw a picture that both sides could see themselves in.  We’ll know next Friday if our picture worked.  I can’t say if it will for sure, but I can say for sure that if either side had stuck to only talking the two sides would never agree.  The pictures in their heads are just too different.

That picture drawing exercise got me thinking again about the impact Dan Roam’s book Back of the Napkin has had on my life.  Before I read his book I rarely drew pictures to get my point across. Now, that seems to be almost all I do.  Why? Because pictures are powerful tools, especially when you are trying to communicate brand new concepts, which is much of what you do when you are driving change.

Here’s a video where Roam discusses part of his premise:

And here’s a video (handheld camera so beware the picture bouncing) of the last five minutes of a recent speech.  Both videos are worth a quick look.

SXSW 2010: Dan Roam on Visual Thinking from Teehan+Lax on Vimeo.

I’ll probably be buying his two new books soon, Unfolding the Napkin and Blah Blah Blah. Why not continue to support an author that taught me so much in one quick book? If you haven’t checked out Dan Roam’s work, you really should. It will help you drive change. I can promise you it will.

4 thoughts on “Visual Thinking”

  1. How do you “draw” different futures especially since we are dealing with abstract concepts? Do you have any examples you can point to?

    (btw, I have both of Dan Roam’s books and have followed Tufte since the 1980’s.)

    Thanks much,
    Laurie Webster

  2. Laurie – Thanks for the question. The example that I drew the other day that led me to the post was one where a group of people want to start an organizational wiki. They are very familiar with what a wiki is and how it fits into the hierarchy of sources available. They are trying to pitch their suggestion to another group that is unfamiliar with wikis and accustomed to formal control of information.

    We drew a picture of the “informational world” of the organization with the different types of information laid out relative to each other in a way where it showed how the wiki adds to the other sources, rather than taking away their authority. It’s just one way to present the concept of what a wiki could do, but knowing our two sides, I think it will be more effective than just talking back and forth at each other.

    The picture may change during the conversation, but if it does the two sides will be closer to seeing each others perspective than they have been the past several weeks.

    I wish I actually had the rough picture to show you, but I’ve left it at work.

    Does this long, wordy description answer your question? I realize the hilarity of answering with a pile of words a question in favor of visualization over words.

    If you want a great example of how in the past I’ve worked out a picture to resolve a problem that was previously only handled with words, look at the Motivation Mapping tab and check out the provisional patent application I filed in 2009. I’d love to know what you think of the mapping method.

    All my best – April

  3. April (and Laurie)
    Lets say you want to have an organizational capability to work on complex problems. That is probably a good goal for most organizations today. ONce you come to that conclusion, there are lots of questions to ask, like “what does that mean?”. So, a map is a handy way to describe what it means, what elements are required (necessary elements is good to start with, sufficient after the frist or second pass), which elements does the organization already have, which do you have but don’t work well, which do work well, and so on. I have send April a mind map that asks/describes 7 elements to help discuss the answers to the question “what does that mean?”. Under each block is an extended discussion of what the bloack means.

  4. Thanks to both April & Joe for their comments. Since I do mind maps all the time I can immediately understand Joe’s comments.

    I took a quick look at your motivation mapping. I would have to study it more to give you constructive thoughts.


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