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.

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