Friday, July 29, 2011

i-TFTD #329: Visual Thinking and Innovation

On Friday, July 22, 2011 I attended a one-day training workshop on the use of visual thinking to make meetings effective. It was conducted by Arun Wakhlu of Pragati Leadership Institute and Nitya Wakhlu, whose professional role gets her invited to meetings of clients like Nike, Citigroup and Nokia India to be a "graphic recorder" of the proceedings. Cool job, huh?

I decided to attend this programme on a topic of deep interest for me but, inevitably, questions popped up in my mind. One was, "I have always been a visual thinker, all my meeting notes usually contain text in different styles, mixed liberally with icons, diagrams and cartoons. Will I get to learn anything new at all?" Then I remembered:

Learning is less about building new branches, than about creating new buds on existing branches.
-Joseph LeDoux,  professor of neuroscience and psychology a! t New York University (1949-)

We can rarely learn something that does not connect with something we already know. The best teachers use analogies and other techniques to help make such connections. So I was sure I will pick up a few tips and possibly some new concepts from the professionals.

Then I had a vague misgiving: what if the audience consists of young folk from creative fields and I happen to be the odd man out? Would I feel out of place? Not that it is unfamiliar territory or too much of a concern. On more rational reflection, I realized that the title of the sessions was "Miracle Meetings - Using Visual Thinking and Creative Tools". The stereotypical creative types abhor meetings and would certainly not attend training on meetings. The harsh truth was there was no reason for fear of any kind.

As soon as you say, "failure is not an option," you've just said, "innovation is not an option."
-Seth Godin, American marketing guru (1960-)

If you want to be creative and innovate, you have to be willing to experiment and "fail" in the initial attempts.

The actual experience was wonderful. There was a diverse audience covering all age groups with representation from chemical industry, automobiles, IT, government banks and independent trainers. True to spirit, the workshop itself had a lot of participative activities and exercises in group as well as individual creativity. Looking at the ebullient and energetic learners make interesting and effective visuals I revised my own assessment of my drawing abilities. But th! e trick in visual representation is to flow without inhibitions and to try to not be perfect.

Ah, good taste, what a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.
-Pablo Picasso, painter and sculptor (1881-1973)

Tastes change. Society revises its norms reluctantly and always after a maverick violates the existing standard. As is my habit, once I happily returned from what was perhaps India's first workshop on visual thinking, I told about it to anyone who asked - and some who didn't! Most people were intrigued by the concept. Very few seem to have heard of such a thing.

Henry Ford said it best, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they wo! uld've said 'A faster horse.'" Nobody in 2004 would've said, "Yes, I want Twitter" (or the idea of it). There is no one to follow, there is nothing to copy.

-Sir Richard Branson, British business magnate, Chairman of Virgin Group (1950)

The power of visual thinking in translating between mental models and visual models is increasingly finding its application in a range of fields that are simply exploding: g! raphic facilitation, infographics, data visualization and so on. Google any of these phrases and you can immerse yourself in the 30 million plus links offered. Just looking at the titles of some of the books in this area (and some of these are bestsellers though I have read none of them yet) indicates the development in this area. This is in addition to the dozens of books on mind mapping.


§  The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam

§  Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity by David Sibbet

§  Beyond Words: A Guide to Drawing Out Ideas by Milly Sonneman

§  Visual Tools for Transforming Information Into Knowledge! by David N. Hyerle

§  Visual Thinking: Tools for Mapping Your Ideas by Nancy Margulies; Christine Valenza

Finally one more quote related to creativity and innovation:

Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ! ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.
-Howard Aiken, computing pioneer, primary engineer of the IBM Mark I computer (1900-1973)

This is an amazingly contrarian view in today's patent-obsessed environment but more in touch with real-life experience. Nobody believes or accepts really new ideas. The few who dare to try out things help create safe paths for others to explore new arenas.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

i-TFTD #328: Building Strong Skills

#328-1. If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful after all.
-Michelangelo Buonarroti, sculptor, painter, architect, and poet (1475-1564)

#328-2. I never trust anyone who's more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at. cartoon site (contents come with warning of strong language, unusual humor and advanced mathematics)

#328-3. Give your heart to the trade you have learnt, and draw refreshment from it.
-Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Roman Emperor and Stoic (121-180 CE)

Excellence in anything is attained with a combination of knowledge, skills and talents (or traits). We generally underestim! ate the time and effort investment necessary for building superior skill in any activity.

While the desire for tangible rewards and recognition can be an initial motivating factor, high levels of competence requires us to enjoy the long process of deliberate practice, honing the application of techniques, ironing out the little mistakes and rough edges, and converting many of the conscious actions to auto-pilot capability.

The required level of dedication comes not just from willpower but a deep sense of satisfaction in the learning process. Have you noticed how the master presenter is more eager to pick up a new trick, how someone with an extensive vocabulary consults the dictionary more often than a beginner who presumably has more need to do so? That’s the passion of a lifelong learner and that is the path of the excellent.

Monday, July 18, 2011

i-TFTD #327: Walking Away

This poem first appeared in the collection The Gate and Other Poems, published in 1962. It is dedicated to Day-Lewis's first son, Sean, and recalls a day when he was watching Sean go in to school. It has become one of his most enduring works and in 2001 was chosen by readers of the Radio Times as one of their top ten poems of childhood.

Walking Away
by Cecil Day-Lewis, Irish poet (1904-1972)

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can seeYou walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature's give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one's irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Simple words that profoundly touch
Without aiming to extract any obvious emotion
Some readers may get nostalgic and wistful
Some may feel moved by the pangs of parenthood
Some may recall their childhood and
Get insights ! on their parents...
This is what a great poem is like
Not using complicated words but
Expresses many complex feelings
Different from beautiful prose
In an undefinable way--for a lay reader
Applies to many other situations.

If you noticed the irony that this i-TFTD, coming after a long gap of 5 weeks, was preceded by one titled, "How to Get Unstuck", score +1 for yourself! Those kind readers who politely enquired (some telepathically I would like to believe) were a big motivation to get unstuck. My humble gratitude.