September 30, 2011

Think Visual

Sep. 30, 2011 at 03:08 PM | By Todd Gibby | Comment Count

It’s rare that I am able to make it through a meeting without having to pick up a marker and draw on the white-board to adequately communicate an idea.  I suppose this is to be expected, since my father could hardly sit through a family dinner without busting out his handy note-pad or a paper napkin to explain some concept.  My siblings and I still tease him about it.  Similarly, I’ve always been slightly embarrassed by my own communications crutch, frequently accompanying any drawing with an excuse such as, “Sorry, I’m a visual learner.”

Well, according to “Think Visual,” an article by Clive Thompson in the October 2010 WIRED Magazine, I can stop apologizing.  In this article, Thomson offers a number of insights and argues convincingly (if briefly) that “the best way to solve complicated problems might be to draw them. “

In describing how drawing benefited one of his recent purchasing decisions, Thompson explains that he was motivated by Dan Roam, a visual thinking guru and author of “The Back of the Napkin.”  After doing a bit of research on Mr. Roam, I am not quite sure how I’ve made it this long without having heard of him previously.

Roam has built an impressive career and loyal fans on the simple premise that “dynamic, complex problems can’t be boiled down to simple narratives.”  A couple cool examples of how pictures can help (both from the article and from related searching of the google-machine) include:

American Health Care 1-2-3-4: Dan Roam explains the health care / insurance debate with 51 simple line drawings – makes it more holistically understandable to me than everything I’ve read and heard to date combined.

The Brevity of History: Dan’s Roam’s March 2010 SXSW presentation drives home just how few generations we go back to people like Christopher Columbus (only 20!), the Greeks, and others. 

Visual Meetings: This is the title of a book by David Sibbet, who often serves as a “Keynote Listener” – sitting in on meetings and drawing infographics to depict the issues raised.  (Awesome concept…I intend to use this).

VizThink: A whole site and community dedicated to visual thinking and communication (I particularly like David McCandless’ TED speech“The Beauty of Data Visualization” for driving home just how much more impactful pictures are than words). 

But, this is a blog about recruitment marketing and CRM for higher education – what does drawing have to do with that?  Arguably, nothing.   Except, that these same types of drawings and visual models can help convey concepts in a similarly complex environment.   A few random examples from the past or present white-boards of the Intelliworks offices:

Process Mapping:

It would probably take me a solid 1,000 words to scratch the surface of explaining this simple process flow around event-related work-flow and communications.

Higher ED Marketing Automation and Dynamic Content: 

We used to have a confusing slide in 8-point font to convey this important concept.

Pain Chain:

There is a whole chapter of Keith Eades’ “The New Solution Selling” dedicated to describing how to make one of these.  Drawing one forces anyone to better understand their students / prospects / customers.

It seems obvious that Visual Thinking is actually something that we all do already to one degree or another.  We certainly like it at Intelliworks.  And, after this brief exposure to these sites and gurus, it’s clear to me that I need to spend more time investigating and really understanding how better to harness this powerful discipline.

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