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Visual Thinking: How Skeptical Leaders Can Embrace Visualization

In 2015, I found myself in new territory.

It was my first experience within an office of colleagues that made visuals out of—what seemed at the time—everything.

As a newcomer to visualization for ideation and problem solving, I respected the practice but was skeptical of its personal value to me as someone who had not “needed” those techniques in the past.

Fast forward one month: I was hooked.

I found myself taking my breaks to look at the vision board my team created. Reflecting on the visual of our ideas and plans was like an ironing board: it helped to level the wrinkles (ambiguity) out of my work.  Since then, I have incorporated visualization techniques into my day-to-day activities.

Visual thinking strategies can be used individually or in teams, in order to help to define, clarify, solve, engage others, and communicate.

So, fellow skeptics, here are two easy-to-implement and affordable ways to dabble in visualization techniques.

Encourage drawing and note taking in a journal.

This is a great way to test the waters of visualization techniques.  It takes some habit building, but it is low-commitment for those wanting to explore these techniques.

At the individual level, it is discrete and portable, giving you the ability to play on paper.

At an organizational level, it is a cost-effective and simple approach to let your staff experiment with new techniques to organize their work, problem-solve, and ideate.

Promote the use of boards and easel pads in meetings.

This helps to step into the collaborative benefits of visualization techniques.

Only the minute or note taker has the benefit of being able to look at what has been proposed during brainstorming sessions.

Because some of the best solutions come from building upon others’ ideas, we need to allow everyone to see the work generated in the meeting. (It’s also great to help catch up latecomers to the meeting).

The use of boards or easel pads also encourages employees to create schemata of operations or task division and responsibility. This gives everyone:

  • a common, clear picture of proposals or plans and
  • the ability to find gap areas in the moment.

At the end of meetings, take pictures of visuals: it is so much better and more immediate than waiting for someone to type it all out.

For the believers and reformed skeptics, take another step into visualization by transforming cubicle and office spaces into creative spaces. A commitment to visual thinking can be a great support of employee creativity and thought ownership.

Stephanie Raible

Stephanie Raible

Stephanie Raible is a Teaching Faculty Member of Ethical Leadership at Claremont Lincoln University. She has worked within academic and non-profit sectors in five countries, currently serving as an Instructor of Cultural Entrepreneurship at University of Minnesota Duluth. She has held fellowships with the Royal Society of the Arts, Robert Bosch Foundation, and Deusto International Tuning Academy. She is a doctoral candidate of Organizational Leadership at Northeastern University, with master's degrees from University of Pennsylvania, University College London, and University of Deusto.

Claremont Core

Claremont Lincoln University

2 comments

  • Thanks for the suggestion, Ms. Raible.
    At work as an engineer and manager I used my white board and easel paper pad regularly when thinking and planning, and for presentations as well as brainstorming sessions. It is a useful technique. Note taking with the visuals adds to the visual information.

  • Great article, Dr. Raible. I’ve recently started using the bullet journal method and found it to be a remarkable productivity tool – along the lines of what you describe here.

    Thanks for sharing these guidelines.

Stephanie Raible

Stephanie Raible

Stephanie Raible is a Teaching Faculty Member of Ethical Leadership at Claremont Lincoln University. She has worked within academic and non-profit sectors in five countries, currently serving as an Instructor of Cultural Entrepreneurship at University of Minnesota Duluth. She has held fellowships with the Royal Society of the Arts, Robert Bosch Foundation, and Deusto International Tuning Academy. She is a doctoral candidate of Organizational Leadership at Northeastern University, with master's degrees from University of Pennsylvania, University College London, and University of Deusto.

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