Why visual thinking matters

Our work, our projects, and our lives are all intertwined in complexity. Accessing our own understanding and the boundaries of our projects can be quite hard. Explaining them can be even harder!

A map can help us understand our world and make that understanding accessible to others. Similarly, visuals help us define the territory, and the terrain of our projects.

I’ve noticed a trend in how much visuals are being used more to explain and communicate projects and their outcomes.

Why are visuals so important to creating understanding and contribution in project work and what are some of the ways we can use visuals to make impact?

Background

Today many people I meet in workshops and throughout my work are not in the habit of using visuals. We jump quickly to our computers to take notes, maybe we’ll use hand gestures, but what if our instinct was to pick up a pen?

People appreciate visuals. Often the first thing people will gravitate to are the images, diagrams and photos shared in a report or document. The practice of using visuals is increasingly in demand, incorporating data and technology as well as the hand-crafted skills of a graphic recorder. We process images 60% faster than text, and images can break down assumptions, contextualizing our understanding. We learn quickly through visuals, in fact everyone is a visual learner!

We are now coming into a phase of technology where being able to draw digitally is almost as easy and reflective as the process of picking up a pen. VR is offering further ways of exploring how visuals can support our work.

Collective Understanding?

During our work at the European Commission we designed and built an online platform, (PICS) to support european countries and their administrations to share their resources with each other and work on collective projects . It was vital to the success of the project for users to have a good understanding of the system. We needed to have a simple way of expressing how it worked.

During PICS’ launch event, Project Leads from each administration and country came together for training and briefing. We wanted them to be comfortable with the system and feel confident in explaining it to others. At first, they walked through the application unguided, to gain a user’s perspective. Later, we asked them to visually map out their individual understanding of the system and share it with others. This exercise helped them not only get a better understanding of the project, but also helped create a global visual that everyone could use. The impact was clear: in the following sessions and activities during the event everyone had a sharper understanding of the system, and they were able to explain their comments or questions by referring to this visual model we had created collectively.

Sharing our mental models visually, further develops and deepens our understanding and accelerates project development

Mental Models

Interaction with our world depends upon our mental models. A simple example is how we approach and use a door. Without much thought we analyse the door mechanism and work out how the door opens based on visual clues and past experience. Does it open inwards, or outwards? Does it require a card or a key? Does it slide open or spin? Is there a handle, where are the hinges — on the left or right hand side? Do you need to pull or push?

The hinges offer a visual cue. The question of “am I allowed to open it?” feeds into the mental model I have about access via the door. All this information is rapidly and non-verbally processed by our brains, demonstrating how a well-designed door doesn’t make you think.

What if we were able to understand our projects in the same way? Having an understanding of our projects as clearly and as intuitively as a well-designed door?

We build mental models of our own understanding. Through outward clues and feedback from others, we develop that model. We can go quickly to misunderstanding each other when our mental models are not in sync. What if we were able to share our mental models through a simple visual? We can use simple lines and shapes to represent an understanding of our projects. Sharing our mental models visually, further develops and deepens our understanding and accelerates project development.

Knowing when to let go of a metaphor is a skill equal to finding one that matches your needs in the first place.

Visual Metaphors

Visual metaphors are great way to help structure our understanding of something less tangible. Using something we already have an understanding of, e.g. a tree, can help explain our project. The roots can represent the history of the project, the trunk its core elements, the branches its reach and the fruit the outputs and impacts.

One thing to note, though: each metaphor has its limits. You can find yourself struggling to find a suitable place to add important parts of your project on the tree. So use with caution! Knowing when to let go of a metaphor is a skill equal to finding one that matches your needs in the first place.

It starts with picking up that pen!

Developing your Practice

Whatever your project, pick up a pen and draw out your understanding.

Whether you use stick people, and simple shapes and lines, or are a seasoned visual practitioner, the importance is that you and others i.e. your team, clients, partners, stakeholders can achieve shared understanding.


If you want to discover tools, techniques and practice with like minded others. Join Paul Messer, Mary-Alice Arthor and Amy Lenzo for 4 week Visual Thinking Lab


Visual Thinking Lab

Do you aspire to have clarity in how you explain things, leading to others saying yes to shared vision and action?
4 x 2h Online Sessions

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8 visual check-ins to invite creative presence

How do we create the conditions in our meetings so that we can be fully present together and tap into our creative capacities?

Check-ins are an important part of life within Percolab and working and being with others. They are collective moments to stop, reflect, share and become present. In my experience, they are also very helpful to move us away from analytical thinking when working in creativity and innovation. They are invitations for people to step into a creative mindset.

Over the past few years, as part of our check-in process with the team and within projects with clients and partners, we have developed and experimented with a number of different visual methods that can gently host us into a space of collective presence and creativity:

1. Quick blind draw

Materials

  • 4 index cards per person
  • Pens (enough for one each)

Method

  1. Each person takes between 4 index cards and a marker
  2. Ask the group to stand and mix up
  3. Ask them to find a partner
  4. Start a 30 second timer
  5. At the same time, each person looks at their partner in the eyes and draws their face on the index card. Without looking at the card!
  6. When the times up, each person gives the card upside down to their partner (the partner hides it at the bottom of their picture
  7. Repeat 3 times (so each person has 4 pictures of themselves)
  8. Everyone returns to their place and looks at their picture
  9. Ask each person to select a picture that resonates with how they see themselves
  10. Write their names on it
  11. Create a gallery

2. In One Line

Materials needed

  • Pens (enough for one each)
  • Paper (A4 or letter works well)

Method

  1. Make sure everyone has access to a piece of plain paper and a marker.
  2. Ask that everyone only draws one continuous line in a short time period (say 30 seconds)
  3. Ask that everyone shares at the same time (hold it in front of them and keep it there)
  4. Give a moment to look around the circle to see what has been drawn
  5. Ask for a quick explanation for why they drew what they drew.

Modifications

  • Ask everyone to select a color that resonates with them at that moment and then when sharing ask to talk about their drawing and why that color.

Example questions

  • How are you arriving today?
  • What energy are you bringing with you?
  • How do you feel about X project/topic?

3. Mark the paper

 

This process works well when dealing with creativity and innovation, with those who feel less comfortable drawing, as it pushes people to make a mark on a sheet. Also works well when working with large groups split up into smaller tables.

Materials needed

  • Large sheet of paper on the table(s)
  • Pens (enough for one each)

Method

  1. Ask everyone to write their name on the sheet
  2. Then to draw something that resonates with their name
  3. Ask the groups to share within their table
  4. For a larger group, you can invite one or two tables to share what they see emerge, or speaks to them

4. Squiggle Birds

Materials needed

  • Pens
  • Paper

Method

  1. Draw a squiggle on your paper
  2. Turn it into a bird by first adding feet like sticks
  3. Then look at it and decide where you want the head to be
  4. Draw some eyes and give it a very simple tail feather

Example questions

  • How is your squiggle bird arriving at this meeting?

5. Pick a Card

Materials

  • Set of cards
    Example: Percolab circle cards

Method

  1. Lay the cards out in the group.
  2. Ask people to choose one and turn it over.
  3. Ask some questions around the card choice, like “Why did you choose that colour or card?”

Example questions

  • What are you noticing when you look at the image (or see the picture)?
  • What does it say to you?”

6. Answer in image

Materials

  • Large paper (big enough for everyone)
  • Pens

Method

  1. Put a big piece of paper in the middle of the group.
  2. Make sure everyone has a marker
  3. Ask a question like “How are you arriving today?” or “What’s important for you today?”.  Everyone draws in response at the same time.
  4. Stand back and see what’s been drawn
  5. Go around and ask for people to share something about their image

7. Quick Find

Works well with distance teams i.e. via zoom or skype

Materials

  • Access to computer (ideally laptop) or smart phone

Method

  1. Use Google as your image bank.
  2. Think of an idea or your project and search for an image that represents something about it you’d like to share.
  3. Remember to give yourself a short time to search, otherwise you might fall into the internet and never come back! We suggest a one minute timer.
  4. Have each person share their image

8. Body talk

Materials

  • Paper and pens

Method

  1. Draw a body — it can be a stick or star person.
  2. What does the head, heart, arms and legs have to say?  Write this on your paper — either as a group exercise on a big sheet of paper or on individual sheets.
  3. Share around the group.

Visual check-ins help to bring people into innovation and creativity in a light way. Feel free to play around with these suggestions. Try them out with your team. Each of these are easily adaptable to the situation and context, as well as the needs and purpose of the meeting or the event. You have some other similar practices you would like to share? we would love to hear from you.

If you want to discover how Visual Thinking can relate to your business, project or ideas, join online in the VISUAL THINKING LAB, starting June 28, 2017.

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À quoi sert une formation percolab?

Je suis consciente que notre approche de formation est non-conventionnelle, voir déstabilisante pour les participants.  

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Formation auprès des élus et agents de développement économique du Québec.

Il y a trois motivations derrière notre modèle  :

  1. Connecter ses façons de travailler avec des cadres conceptuels pour créer du sens.
  2. Vivre des expériences qui permettent d’entrer dans des subtilités pour amplifier sa manière de travailler.
  3. Construire sur ce que l’on fait déjà si bien avec plus de conscience.
insertion sociale

Atelier offert au secteur des entreprises d’insertion sociale du Québec.

Pas évident d’avoir des indicateurs sur de telles intentions.

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Des participants en plein travail lors d’un atelier sur les Méthodes d’intelligence collective.

Quand Philippe Garon, un participant d’une formation en région (Gaspésie, Québec), m’a fait un retour sur son expérience, ça m’a fait chaud au coeur. J’entends l’impact à travers son récit.

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Philippe Garon en action professionnelle.

“Bonjour !

Je suis un artiste multidisciplinaire qui vit en Gaspésie. J’offre aussi mes services en rédaction, correction et animation. Grâce à la direction régionale du ministère de la Culture et des Communications, j’ai eu la chance de suivre une formation de Percolab avec Samantha Slade ici à Bonaventure en juillet 2015. En compagnie de 15 autres intervenant(e)s culturels de toute la région, j’ai pu me familiariser avec de nouvelles techniques de mobilisation créative. Quelle belle bouffée d’oxygène ! Nous avons pu nous familiariser avec plusieurs méthodes originales pour dynamiser les rencontres des multiples organisations qui œuvrent dans nos milieux. Samantha a réussi à adapter le contenu et son approche en fonction de nos réalités.

Personnellement, depuis cette formation, j’applique le plus possible dans mon travail mes apprentissages et je sens réellement une différence. Mes clients aiment expérimenter des activités qui sortent de l’ordinaire dans le cadre de leurs réunions. Leur efficacité et le plaisir qu’ils éprouvent à travailler ensemble s’en trouvent décuplés. Mais au-delà des méthodes que nous pouvons maintenant leur proposer, il y a l’importance de l’ambiance, de l’atmosphère que nous installons au sein des équipes que nous aidons. Mettre l’accent sur l’énergie positive, sur l’intelligence collective. Offrir aux gens un maximum d’espace pour leur permettre de s’exprimer et prendre le temps de vraiment les écouter. Encourager le questionnement, le rire, l’accueil des émotions, la réflexion, la créativité et la recherche d’idées audacieuses. Voilà un programme ambitieux, mais tellement motivant ! Percolab m’a donné le goût de pousser plus loin la maîtrise de l’art d’animer pour aider les gens de chez nous.”

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Philippe Garon en plein travail lors de la formation percolab dans sa région.

Merci Philippe pour un retour si ouvert. Si vous avez un retour apprenant suite à un atelier ou expérience percolab, svp partagez!!

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Mobilisation créative et collaborative des milieux culturels

Nous vivons dans une société qui prône le travail individuel : on nous demande trop souvent de faire en solo plutôt que de faire avec les autres. Cette vision axée sur l’individu est un puissant frein lorsque nous souhaitons nous engager dans des projets majeurs qui sont en réponse à des besoins réels et pressants. Seul dans son coin, il est difficile d’imaginer les solutions neuves et adéquates qui méritent d’être mises de l’avant!

laurentides2

Pourtant, dans le secteur culturel, les acteurs manifestent l’intérêt de collaborer et de cocréer afin de renforcer les capacités de leurs organismes et des personnes. Même si cela peut sembler anodin, le fait de réussir à travailler en partenariat avec d’autres s’avère une expérience puissante et fructueuse.

Mais ce n’est pas simple, l’expérience le démontre. Nous avons tous déjà vécu des projets qui ont été ralentis, voire même annulés suite de difficultés de tous ordres entre les différentes instances impliquées. Comment se crée cet écart entre le potentiel transformateur d’un projet et la réalité parfois autre de sa mise en œuvre? La réponse se trouve en grande partie dans les méthodes et les cadres conceptuels qui nous guident dans le travail.

Si l’on souhaite développer sa capacité à réaliser et à réussir les projets partenariaux ou multi-acteurs, il importe de recourir à des méthodes qui ajoutent à la fois de la rigueur et de la légèreté à la collaboration, qui nous aident à voir les différences entre les parties prenantes comme des forces et non des embûches, et qui font la part entre ce qui est essentiel à chacun et ce qui est accessoire. Bien que ces approches soient différentes des manières de faire auxquelles nous sommes habitués, elles nous sont familières puisqu’elles font appel à notre sensibilité, à notre intuition et au gros bon sens.

Ces méthodologies nous aident aussi à déceler les patterns récurrents propres aux processus collaboratifs pour pouvoir agir ensuite. À titre d’exemple, personne ne veut être contrôlé, mais on aime tous dicter ce que les autres devraient faire : comment dénouer cette situation qui montre que le pouvoir est un enjeu de premier plan dans les relations entre les personnes?

La mobilisation créative consiste avant toute chose à suspendre les suppositions avec lesquelles on travaille, à prendre du recul et à s’ouvrir à de nouvelles façons de faire. Les processus de cocréation sont au cœur de l’interdépendance et l’évolution constante de la vie.

IMG_4348

Trois astuces pratiques pour mieux collaborer et pour créer des partenariats durables

  1. Faire preuve d’ouverture à l’égard des autres, en invitant des personnes nouvelles aux conversations, afin d’ouvrir le partage de l’information et aller plus loin vers des territoires inexplorés.

  2. Pratiquer le lâcher-prise, en acceptant la vulnérabilité que le processus nécessite et en acceptant de travailler en mode brouillon avec d’autres.

  3. Renforcer le passage de « mon projet » à « notre projet ».

Percolab a collaboré avec le  Conseil de culture de la  Laurentide en offrant une formation sur la Mobilisation créative et collaborative des milieux culturels. Cet article a été publié dans le journal local en lien avec cette formation et les photos proviennent de la formation (prises par percolab). 

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Coplanning and codesign Champ-de-Mars

A neighbourhood in the heart of Montreal, ravaged by a highway construction in the 1970’s, is undergoing a profound transformation. The project, known as Project Champ-de-Mars Sector, includes the creation of a new public space over the highway, the redesign of existing public spaces, a rehaul of the transportation plan and a rethink of the neighbourhood’s life and identity, including cohabitation with the local homeless populations. The percolab team has been accompanying the city of Montreal in a ground-breaking co-design process for this initiative.

The collaborative approach extends both internally and externally: there are co-planning workshops with the multiple divisions of the city and the borough as well as events in public spaces, an online platform and targeted workshops with citizens. Actively engaging with the pertinent stakeholders throughout the project is a significant shift in practice and in possibilities. The project is weaving its way forward as the participatory process advances.

Percolab approaches each participatory activity from a pedagogical perspective – the aim is to ensure that individuals feel

  • welcomed into the process
  • informed and aware of the complexity
  • connected to the possibilities
  • supported in expressing their ideas
  • reassured as to an ongoing feedback loop

Percolab’s focus is to encourage and facilitate the expression of informed and constructive individual voices and the emergence of a collective voice via fine-tuned, creative and strategic processes and tools. Co-planning and co-design requires a delicate building of trust between diverse actors and fostering a culture of agility and openness, all the while working within a wide range of constraints (engineering, architectural, technical, legal, organizational).

The public page on the process is here:  http://realisonsmtl.ca/secteurchampdemars

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