It was 1995, and I was fresh out of high school. I had been a busboy, a bag boy, worked construction on and off as a mason’s assistant and labored in a fire sprinkler shop. It was time for me to buckle down and get a real job. I applied anywhere and everywhere. I wanted to be a graphic designer, and that's what I was studying in college, but I didn't have the experience.
Eventually, I was hired at the Florida Spine Institute as a medical transcriptionist. A family member must have pulled some strings as a favor. My words per minute wasn't the most impressive, but I managed to land the gig. My interviews went well, I had filled out my W-2 forms, I was placed in the system and told to report to work on Monday. I was all set to go.
It was my first day on the job when I sat in front of a computer screen, received a pair of headphones and began to drown in a stream of surgical dictation.
It wasn't long before my eyes began to sting and my brain began to slow down. I choked on the flood of foreign, multisyllabic words coming through the headset. So, I paused the recording and took a break.
Next to the computer sat a blank yellow legal pad and a blue ballpoint pen. I had been doodling on that yellow legal pad for no more than 5 minutes (probably a skull, unicorn, dragon or something) when the supervisor walked up behind me. She came to a full stop, cleared her throat, and asked to see me in her office.
Being caught doodling was a horrible feeling. The shame and remorse ran through my body.
I was sure that I was to be reprimanded for the doodling. I was convinced that I would be scolded and asked to focus and promise not to do it again and put back out on the floor.
But that's not what happened.
The venetian blinds in the supervisor’s office were drawn, giving her a slight silhouette. She sat in an overstuffed leather chair at a huge wooden desk. On the desk was one of those green banker’s lamps. It was the first time I’d seen one of those in real life.
She said, “We don't pay you to draw.”
Then she took a deep breath and said that it wasn't “going to work out.”
I was fired on the spot. And, it was baffling to me at the time. Part of me was shocked that there would be no second chance. Another part of me started to think that this was the way “grown-ups” in the “real world” operated. I feared this was the way adults did things – and that I wasn't ready for a real job.
I began to think that there would never be a place for me in the workforce unless I stifled my creative side; that my creativity might be my handicap.
Some people don’t recover from a soul-crushing brush with white collar corporate America. Some people allow the criticism of others to extinguish their spark. But, I knew that if I was to be successful and remain in integrity, I would need to either find a box to fit in that looked more like me or find a way to create my own. I vowed to find my tribe among creatives.
I worked in music and PR and spent over a decade in media as a Marketing Director at a scrappy alternative news-weekly. Eventually, I landed a gig working for a consultant as a Graphic Recorder. I was paid to actually doodle in business meetings.
At the consultancy, I was surrounded by people who harnessed creativity and play to drive business outcomes. We made a living by thinking outside the box. We sketched, doodled, mind mapped, and built analog prototypes using scissors and glue. We filled every bit of blank space on the walls with Post-its.
Today, I own my own consultancy and have trained many facilitators to do what I do. At Illustrious, we enable the art of visual thinking and innovation. And no one gets fired for doodling.
by Rachel Blasco
From updating your strategy to scaling your team, growth is change and change is hard.
Visual Consultants are hired to “facilitate the organization to perceive, understand, and develop the organization’s business and human processes, in order for the client to improve the situation themselves, as they define it.”
Visual Consultants work with clients to (quite literally) paint the picture their teams are trying to describe in vivid details that is clear and easy to understand. In other words, visual consultants are the map makers and cartographers for our ideas in order to define and put plans into actionable stories.
Visual consulting is at its essence, storytelling. The practice developed out of the constant need for innovation in businesses that want to remain not only at the top of their game, but to continue to move the ball forward in their field.
Visual consultants are at the intersection of three fields that have given rise to a new way of working: Visualization, dialogic practice, and change consulting. The outcome is both rewarding and inspiring to executives and teams alike. Visual storytellers and consultants both design and lead change in organizations and communities that may otherwise feel unmotivated or simply unclear on what the objectives and expected outcomes of the group may be.
Ultimately, this is an orientation in process thinking and process leadership. So, clients seeking alignment on new visions, process transformation, innovation, culture change, and sustainable results get the results they are looking for in hiring a visual consultant to bring order to the chaos.
Why Seeing is Believing
In both high profile corporate coaching and small personal development circles, creating a clear picture around your goals and steps to get there is a central topic. Look at the vocal facilitators and consultants as pros at this. Navigating both verbal story and visual landscape, these experts bring design thinking and creativity to the gray landscapes of corporate agendas and enhance team enthusiasm and commitment.
An article in Forbes, Neuroscience Explains Why You Need To Write Down Your Goals If You Actually Want To Achieve Them, discusses the research behind describing or picturing goals and the strong association with goal success; and, people who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish what they set out to do. Think about visual facilitation and storytelling as the map to your destination. It’s much easier to get to where you are going if you have a better picture of what to expect or look for. It helps our monkey brains process more efficiently, and focus on what matters.
If you are experiencing the following, you may need someone to consult with on your vision, culture, story or strategy. Some of the main complaints among brands and businesses that would benefit greatly from visual consultants are:
With all of this in mind, and especially if you are experiencing any of these issues, it makes sense to hire visual consultants to facilitate innovation workshops and improve overall team output and performance while defining what the next chapter of your business will look like.
If you still don’t know where to start or what this might look like for your organization, we’d be happy to schedule a quick 30-minute call.
According to Turi McKinley, Executive Director at frog design, “Design thinking is just a fancy name for the creative process.”
The ability to think like a designer, through multiple iterations, and learning from the worst failures is the most important skill a leader can have. Design thinking is rooted in empathy and the ability to put the customer or client at the center of the journey.
Design thinkers use physical and virtual space to expand and extend their intelligence and are unafraid to try new things. The best design thinkers use visual tools to explore new avenues of value for the business. The executive should be testing and building not just products, but entire worlds.
Here are the top four abilities of design thinkers. They can be used to directly address the four problems of business (listed below) and they are so simple you can start practicing them today.
1. Frame (and Re-Frame) the Problem
Take a step back, look at it from a different angle. Use multiple lenses and literacies interchangeably. What does it look like as a spreadsheet? A project plan? A to-do list? A GANTT chart? A drawing with Sharpies on butcher paper? Consider the human impact (subjective), the organizational or relational impact (intersubjective), the business or bottom line impact (objective). Ask yourself, “How else might I/we look at this?” Give yourself permission to play, be curious and creative.
2. Enable Experimentation
There is no such thing as failure. View everything as an experiment, and you will always get results. If you are always testing and learning, then you will have valuable data that can be reviewed and synthesized into your next launch. Additionally, it stands to reason that results from testing on any target group will carry over to similar users. Design thinking is less of a process and more of a sequence. Model a bias toward making in the business (always be prototyping) and schedule time for this to happen. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not real.
3. Communicate Your Ideas
As a leader, you must come back from (not overcome) the exhaustion, overwhelm, and fatigue. After regaining a sense of clarity and purpose, you must be able to open your mouth and broadcast those big, wild, visionary dreams to the team again and again -- “painting done” until it’s done. Smart leaders know they must do this visually. Think of the coach at the front of the room sketching out the play on the whiteboard. Think of the best PowerPoint presentation you’ve ever seen (OK, I lied, that one doesn’t exist). Think of the first time you were shown how to use a tool or paintbrush. Think of a political speech that moves the hearts and minds of the people. People don’t follow a business, they follow leaders. In most cases, it’s not the leader they’re drawn to, it’s the challenge that the leader is able to articulate. What challenge are you asking your team to help you overcome?
4. Direct the Team
The best CEOs lead from the bottom of the pyramid. They know that they will get the results and outcomes they need through other people. Not only are they focused on a succession plan, with at least two people lined up behind them -- mentoring and teaching others what they need to know in order to succeed -- they are encouraging and facilitating collaboration among team members. The team needs to be able to turn toward each other to create tools and solutions in the leader’s absence. They should be equipped with the best resources, given permission to make decisions, given access to “lab” space where they can experiment, and given permission to fail. Demonstrate the process, model the best behavior, show them what you want done, and your team will not let you down.
Four Big Problems
And, here are the top problems that business leaders find themselves in. These challenges to growth or innovation can be remedied by directly applying a little visual aptitude (and the abilities described above).
1. Big Picture Paralysis
One of our clients told us their strategy felt like “a tumbled bail of rope.” They needed the line to be clear and hanging at the ready. Our job was to lead them through the process of liberating each of their lines of business from snags and knots. Business is complex and messy. And the overload of information can make our brains slow down, or worse, come to a halt. If you’re experiencing this, you may be hearing or saying things like, “I can’t get my priorities in line” or “I don’t even know where to start.”
Solution: Reframe the Problem
2. Reliance on Process
Sometimes we’re lazy. Sometimes we want to read a book or watch a video and have someone else give us the answers. Sometimes we want to take the easy way out. Unfortunately, in business, there is no proven method or set of instructions to follow. You are not recreating a recipe to prepare that perfect dish you saw on YouTube. You are not creating a piece of clothing from a pattern. Following steps 1-4 will not get you a repeatable outcome. When you are stuck in “step reliance,” you are destined for disappointment and you may be saying things like, “I wish someone would just tell me what to do.”
Solution: Enable Experimentation
There are many reasons you feel tired. It can be from informational or emotional overwhelm. It could be the strain of mode-switching from the constant pivoting and responding that’s required in your business. It could be that you aren’t managing your time or work effort wisely. Sometimes leaders simply feel oppressed by the unknown -- a sense of uncertainty that is not the invigorating or adventurous kind. For whatever reason, if you are feeling exhausted, pushing through it will never solve the problem. Stop. Walk away. Take a breath. Take a nap or a vacation. Return with clarity and strength.
Holding on too tightly to the reins of your business will limit collaboration and severely hamper the open sharing of ideas. You might be creating the illusion of collaboration by having meetings where the team brainstorms possibilities only to end up returning to your original thought or argument, saying, “well, we really have to do this” or “I’ve made an executive decision that we will go this way.” If you are focused on control, you may also be too concerned with things like loyalty or team members being “all in” instead of measuring and getting actual results.
Solution: Direct the Team
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.