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6 ways to include visual thinking in your day to day job

By Lita Currie

Humans are visual thinkers.  It’s a survival skill – we needed to recognise the tiger crouching in the tall grass in order to run away before we got eaten!  Most of the information we take in from the world is visual.  Research shows that almost 50% of our brains is involved in visual processing.  Why not tap into this from a business sense?

If you’re a leader or a manager, visual thinking is a valuable way to work because it is engaging, it aids problem solving and increases retention.  But what if you’re not an artist?  Well, the good news is that you don’t have to be.  Here are a couple of ways that you can start including visual thinking in your job right now.

  1. Keep it simple.  You can draw a stickman, right?  Start with simple icons like stickmen and arrows to show roles, interactions and impacts.  Search online for simple business icons to use and practice these – you will be amazed at how quickly you master them.  Humans make meaning automatically.  That means that with very simple icons you can create a variety of meanings.  A globe could mean global, or international, or collaboration.  Just add the word next to the picture and you can change the meaning easily.
  2. Work big. Using big pieces of paper allows for limitless thinking.  A flipchart is a good place to start, but it’s sometimes too small to capture all the views or make the links clear.  Invest in a roll of paper at least 1,2 meters wide (it’s inexpensive), stick it up on a big wall and watch how quickly it fills up with ideas, connections and insights.
  3. Get your team involved. You don’t have to be the expert.  Give the markers over to your team and challenge them to draw their ideas.  Ask questions like “What would that look like?”  to get people started.  And don’t allow anyone to judge anyone else’s drawings!  Rather focus on the shared understanding than the quality of the drawing.
  4. Use templates. There are many templates available online to use in specific situations e.g. a SWOT analysis, a project review meeting or a creative thinking session.  The template provides the structure for visual thinking which your team can use to guide their inputs.
  5. Make it a part of daily work. Look for opportunities to include visual thinking in team meetings, training sessions and note-taking at conferences.  Capture the agenda for meetings in a visual format, or challenge your team to create visuals for the action items as a take-out from a session.
  6. Invest in training. Sign up for a graphic facilitation or visual thinking course to give you the skills and confidence you need to start drawing.

Lita Currie is owner and director of 3 Stickmen, and specialises in graphic facilitation and coaching.

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Lita Currie has over 20 years’ experience in learning and development, with expertise in management and leadership.  She has trained and consulted in Africa, the UK and north America and has been instrumental in designing and implementing global development programmes across a variety of disciplines, in particular Human Resources, Finance and Corporate Affairs.  She is an expert in visual learning and performance management, using graphic facilitation to ensure that the learning is effective.


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