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The business case for thinking in pictures

We have all been there.  The strategy session where the CEO presents 147 PowerPoint slides.  The goal setting session where the boss drones on for hours.  The training workshop where, at the end of the afternoon you cannot remember what happened during the morning session.  “Death by PowerPoint” is a well-known joke in business circles.  So, how about changing it?

Graphic facilitation is an approach that uses pictures as a method for people to “see” their thoughts.  In this way, they can communicate better and make improved decisions.  It consists of putting a big sheet of white paper on the wall, grabbing some coloured markers and rustling up a little courage to start drawing.  This article deals with why it makes good business sense to use graphic facilitation in your business.

For training sessions, strategic planning workshops or problem solving meetings graphic facilitation is an excellent tool.  It increases engagement – because it is fun!  Think about the difference between listening to a show on the radio and watching an action movie in full colour!  Not the same thing, right?  People love to see the pictures take shape when they get involved in creating the graphic.  And we know that when people are engaged, they are committed to the outcome.

Pictures improve communication.  When we use language, it is easy to misunderstand one another.  If I had to describe a painting to you, chances are that your mental image of the painting will be completely different from mine.  Yours will have different elements in different places and in different colours.  And if we do this exercise in a bigger group, every person’s visual image will be different.  But by drawing a picture on paper, we all have the same visual image and can therefore communicate our message clearer.

In this way, we can get to a mutual understanding of the message.  Imagine having your strategy in picture format on one page.  In a glance your employees can see exactly what it is that the business is trying to achieve and how to get there.  They don’t have to read through dry and boring strategy documents, the image is in their minds and the picture makes sense.

Having information represented graphically helps people to make better sense of it all, and to create connections that they might not previously have seen. Elements can be linked and aligned on the picture; we can easily see where we are duplicating effort, or where something is missing.  About 70% of the information we take in from the world is through our eyes.  When we confront problems visually people are better able to come up with creative solutions – and that has an impact on the bottom line.

We are continuously struggling with an overload of information.  How many emails did you receive last week?  How many reports and articles did you have to read?  My guess is – a lot!  Most people are visual thinkers.  Pictures can communicate lots of information very quickly.  Imagine how quickly your brain can make sense of a road sign warning of falling rocks when you’re driving down a mountain pass.  Do you find it hard to figure out what the sign means?  No!  Your brain is already wired to do this easily.  Imagine a picture in your business context that can be as powerful as a road sign.

Visual thinking gets everyone on the same page and avoid misunderstandings.  Let me illustrate.  Quick!  Think of an apple.  Do you have the picture in your mind?  Was it a red apple?  Was it a green apple, perhaps?  Did it have a worm in it?  Has someone taken a bite from it?  But it could have been an Apple iPod.  See how quickly misunderstandings creep in?  Using visuals ensures that everyone understands the same thing in the same way.

With visuals, recall is improved massively.  How much of last month’s financial report can you remember?  Maybe only a highlight or two, right?  If you run into a friend that you haven’t seen in years, you can easily remember their face even though you might forget their name…  My experience with graphic facilitation has shown me that even months later, when looking at the graphic they created, teams can still recall the detail of what was discussed and decided.  Wouldn’t it be great if your team retained your visual strategy in the same way?

So, what is the next step?  Buy a roll of paper, some coloured markers and challenge yourself and your team to run your next meeting visually.  Use a combination of pictures and words and see a completely new idea take shape on the page.

Lita Currie is the founder and director of 3 Stickmen (

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