Link to VizThink Conference

Link to a page about our upcoming session at the VisThink 2008 Conference in San Francisco

Link to our podcast about using large paper displays of information in the meeting room

Here’s a little movie that captures what we do — storytelling to raise the Collective IQ of a group.

Eileen Clegg & Christine Valenza:We like to say there are the 5Rs of why visuals work. Christine did this graphic about the 5Rs. Visuals help Relationships among people, they create a Resonance between thought and feeling, the enable a group to experience Reflection of their Collective IQ, they provide a Rest for our data-overloaded brain, and they show the Relevance of ideas that may seem unrelated until they are visually connected as part of an emerging story.

Relationships– Visuals separate ideas/issues from personalities. When ideas are explicit and on the page, in their own words, they become manageable. Eileen created this image (Relationships) for the Art Center College of Design’s IT Department, showing the different expectations of stakeholders.

Resonance–Visuals tap deeply into our consciousness providing us with an experience that is engaging at a level beyond logical thought. When they look together at a mural, people do more than think about the ideas they have generated together as a group–they feel the impact of those ideas. For example, this mural by Christine (Resonance) represents a discussion about one man’s experiences with the health care system. People at the meeting could see and follow his journey and by the end they were all exhausted. Even people who did not attend the meeting could look back at this image and experience the feelings.

Reflection-- There’s a limited amount people can remember…need it visible for them to make connections.Many of our organizational problems and issues are very complex. A visual is a snapshot of the Collective IQ, See clearly what’s happened, take it out for other people to look at later. Notice how this mural (Reflection) conveys a lot of information in a small space and the color/illustrations/shape carry meaning.

“Visual thinking can democratize cleverness by literally showing us what it looks like…it can externalize the internal and organize thinking, which is the basis for effective decisions and actions. Understanding can be both communicated and developed, translating rapid, private, ephemoral and abstract thinking into static, public, oncrete and accessible demonstrations reveals concepts to everyone.” Oliver Caviglioli “Thinking Visually.”

Rest–Time-out. Visuals People are suffering from information overload. They can more easily take in new information if it is in a shape that is a familiar structure, it’s easy on eye and easy on the brain. This is an example of an image with several familiar elements that we instinctively understany–the wave of change, sunny hope, clouds of doubt.

Relevance – Each idea is part of a pattern. As David Cooperider said “The use of Metaphor allows new knowledge to emerge and can unlock the complexities of organizational theory and behavior .”


Who are we and how did we get here?

Eileen Clegg:

Through my company Visual Insight, I create murals for organizations including top leadership of Fortune 100 companies. I call my practice “visual journalism” because my work is to uncover the deeper story, which I capture in words + images on 4 by 8 foot murals. This is the key thing: the combination of words and images. I then use the murals as a backdrop for telling the story to the group, reflecting back to them what they have said and done, to help their thinking process. People listening to this will have to use their imaginations. We’ll be using static images but when we’re working in a group these are being created live.

Explaining how I got here might shed some light on the nature of the work. Here’s a story that will take a few minutes but I think will help picture how and why this work gets down. I was a traditional print journalist for many years for newspapers before I wrote a book on creativity
and realized that I needed a better outlet for my own creativity. I went to work for Institute for the Future, a Palo Alto based think tank, where futures forecasters visually mapped ideas in order to spot trends. My area of research was learning, and I started creating murals as a thinking tool for the groups I was in. I did not consider myself an artist, but the visuals seemed to have a strong impact people in the room and I loved doing it, so of course I was thrilled when I started getting recruited by other think tanks and conferences, then by businesses and nonprofits — bringing me in to “write on the walls” at meetings–for strategic planning, innovation or transformation–meetings where leaders wanted to get the most out of face to face time together.

My images are very simple and primitive but I began to understand their power when a colleague “reverse engineered” my murals. Bonnie DeVarco who understands the anthropological roots said my intuitive use of archetypical symbols helped convey deep concepts that are beyond words. It turns out that, without formal art training, I had been relying on my natural kinesthetic sense. Sort of talking with my hands, and leaving a mark. And people share a sense of familiarity with certain simple forms–waves, mountains, human profiles, spirals, the sun.

Back to the image of “Visual Stories” — these two faces on the globe represent another part of my own career, working with Douglas Engelbart on a book about his vision. He is most famous as the inventor of the computer mouse but he also came up with the concept of Collective IQ and future-oriented concepts, back in the 1960′s. He realized that visualizing information was the key to raising collective IQ.

For me, the most dynamic part of visualizing is the part that’s spontaneous, live, in the room, as people are generating new ideas. This part is less obvious than the typical end result, the carefully drawn image that gets published or passed around. But for that final drawing to reflect the best thinking, it’s critical that someone has captured ideas visually from the beginning of the process.

Daniel Pink the author of “A Whole New Mind,” says that visualization of emergent ideas is a core competency today, as we’re leaving the “Information Age” for the “Conceptual Age” — sometimes there are concepts so new, we don’t have words for them yet. That’s when visuals are most critical.

Recently I got together with one of the most prominent members of our field, Christine Valenza, and we discovered ourselves on similar paths. We’ve both experienced a growing curiosity about visuals and a hunger for information about our methodology. Christine has been documenting the history of visual communication, is one of the founding members of International Forum for Visual practitioners, and has written and illustrated books on graphic facilitation, and I also have been writing about visual journalism as a tool for leadership and learning. Among the publications illustrated and helped write are Cambridge University Press’s “Creating a Learning Culture” and Pfeiffer’s “Corporate University Workbook: the 21st century learning organization.”

Christine and I share a calling to explore and bring more scholarship to the practice of creating live visuals. We’ve created an information hub called “Writing on the Walls” and are writing a workbook of the same title, based on our workshops that help people develop their unique capacity for creating live murals during meetings. Christine has a deep understanding of the process. Here is her story:

Christine Valenza

Here is a little graphic that shows what I do in the meeting environment

For the last 20 years I have been working as a graphic facilitator in meeting rooms all over the world. From the beginning, I could see that having the group’s ideas displayed in front of them was a catalyst for new thinking and for a more reflective conversation.

Currently I am working with an Action Learning Team at IMD University in Switzerland that works with many business clients to solve problems. The graphics are considered to be a critical productivity tool , and it is clear that the innovative ideas that the groups come up were a result of our use of visual metaphor and reflection. For example, we had a client group that came up with the metaphor of a camel with two heads facing opposite directions and feet bound. It showed that two divisions needed to move forward but were unable to move due to a shared system that was outdated. Developing this image with the group helped them see the problem and move beyond it.

I have found that the graphics facilitate understanding in inter-cultural groups, virtual groups, and intact teams. And I have recorded the thinking in small strategic groups as well as large conferences of up to 400 participants.

My experiences of graphic facilitation are rooted in facilitation and consulting models, so most of my work is with groups grappling with some sort of change, and I work mostly with a team of facilitators. This is most successful when the graphics are integrated and everyone in the room understands that the mural becomes a “participant” in its own right.

Historically, research on innovation and visual thinking was focused on the individual. In recent years there’s been shift to innovation and visual thinking in groups. This has been a lively time in our field and I have been working to inspire and inform others. I got to work with Nancy Margulies on the award winning book; Visual Thinking: Tools for Mapping Your Ideas. Also I contributed illustrations and a chapter to The Change Handbook ;The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems.

Some assume the basic competency in this work is to be an artist but it’s really about listening and facilitating understanding. That’s why we’re working on this new book, The Writing on the Walls workbook, that explains some basic principles and approaches that can be customized for each individual or group.

Visuals have been the step-child of communication. But now we’re returning to our visual roots, and realizing images are integral. I’ve been reading this book “Thinking like Einstein” by Thomas West. He thinks we’re moving from an old world based on words and numbers to a new world where high level work in all fields will eventually come from insights based on the display of images.”

What is it used for? What is it best at?

Eileen:

We like to say there are the 5Rs of why visuals work. Christine did this graphic about the 5Rs. Visuals help Relationships among people, they create a Resonance between thought and feeling, the enable a group to experience Reflection of their Collective IQ, they provide a Rest for our data-overloaded brain, and they show the Relevance of ideas that may seem unrelated until they are visually connected as part of an emerging story.

Relationships– Visuals separate ideas/issues from personalities. When ideas are explicit and on the page, in their own words, they become manageable. This image was for the Art Center College of Design’s IT Department, showing the different expectations of stakeholders. Another example is from a different group, where they were stuck because people nhad issues with

Resonance–Visuals tap deeply into our consciousness providing us with an experience that is engaging at a level beyond logical thought. When they look together at a mural, people do more than think about the ideas they have generated together as a group–they feel the impact of those ideas. For example, this mural represents a discussion about one man’s experiences with the health care system. People at the meeting could see and follow his journey and by the end they were all exhausted. Even people who did not attend the meeting could look back at this image and

Reflection-- There’s a limited amount people can remember…need it visible for them to make connections.Many of our organizational problems and issues are very complex. A visual is a snapshot of the Collective IQ, See clearly what’s happened, take it out for other people to look at later.

“Visual thinking can democratize cleverness by literally showing us what it looks like…it can externalize the internal and organize thinking, which is the basis for effective decisions and actions. Understanding can be both communicated and developed, translating rapid, private, ephemoral and abstract thinking into static, public, oncrete and accessible demonstrations reveals concepts to everyone.” Oliver Caviglioli “Thinking Visually.”

Rest–Time-out. Visuals People are suffering from information overload. They can more easily take in new information if it is in a shape that is a familiar structure, it’s easy on eye and easy on the brain. This is an example of an image

Relevance – Each idea is part of a pattern. As David Cooperider said “The use of Metaphor allows new knowledge to emerge and can unlock the complexities of organizational theory and behavior .”



Of times when it didn’t work, what were some of the causes? How do you avoid them?

–We’ve learned to work closely with facilitators and leaders

Reasons that it may not work:

–when the group doesn’t use it.

–when there is no story

What is your session about at VizThink?

People will learn about graphic facilitation and experience doing it themselves. We’ll show murals, give examples of how they work, and encourage people to get over the idea that they have to be “an artist” to be a visual communicator. We’ll demonstate and help people experiment with the basic skillsets, and equip them with an understanding of how and when to bring “writing on the walls” into a room.

What excites you most about being at VizThink (other than your own session)? Viz Think brings together the spectrum of people in information visualization, and everyone there will get a picture of the end-to-end process. Writing on the walls is the beginning of the process, when ideas first start bubbling up and forming patterns. Viz Think is a forum for getting together with people from the whole process of visual thinking, from the initial capture we do –to organizing the information and creating polished graphics.

END QUOTES

Visuals are going to help us solve problems — “If you can visualize the shape, you can understand the system.” Quote from James Gleik in his book Chaos;Making A New Science.
The combination of words and images are critical: “Words capture ideas. Images free them.”





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