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  • Writer's pictureSven Marten

Design Thinking = Visual Thinking (don’t be afraid to draw!)

It’s the truth I learned: no visualisation skills — no successful workshop! Because of this and other reasons, I deeply believe, visualisation is THE key to success.

I learned my lesson the hard way: It was Workshop day, there were 15 participants, a room filled with expectations, participants from various disciplines committed to create an innovative new process — so, here we are standing around the whiteboard like around a campfire attempting to visualise the “is state” of their process. But actually — in the participants’ minds — we were talking about 15 different is-states, each slightly varying from the others. And whose truth reflects reality the best way — the participants with the loudest voice? How do you go about efficiently getting an idea out of someone’s head and onto paper as precious workshop time elapses? Needless to say — not an ideal Workshop experience… Puzzling truth: whenever you lose a participant’s attention during a workshop, you will have to use a lot of energy and fight very hard to get it back.

My learning: do it upfront!

Remember: bad preparation can kilI…wink… so, prior to an upcoming workshop, I conduct short 15-minute-interviews with the relevant stakeholders (never let them send you PPT presentations !!). Let them talk, ask questions and listen to what they have to tell you in their own words. After this, you sketch out the is-state, and sometimes the craziness of the status quo. Using this initial, large-scale visualization, we align all participants, simplify complex matters, and make the is-state of a process tangible to be shared and understood entirely. This adds speed and momentum to the whole alignment process because we capture the essence, the core, skip all the feature lists and wishes, and radically reduce complexity. Thats why we approach each workshop in a highly visual manner.

Even more important is the effect, that visualisation has on the workshop participants.

I believe, a big part of our role as facilitators is to ensure, that the Workshop scene is a “safe space”, where ideas (that are always very personal, and therefore associated with a degree of feeling vulnerable) are welcome and nobody is being criticised for their thoughts. We always try to nurture our participants’ creative confidence (one of our favourite books by David Kelley by the way) by forcing them to draw and in doing so, share their ideas in a way that sparks an image in the minds of the other team members. No one has to be afraid if his sketches look odd in the beginning — as always, don’t be too serious — a little humour is always helpful when it comes to solving business problems.

It’s magic. The simplest way.

I personally love the moment when the individuals become a group, forgetting about silos and individual goals. It’s a truly magical moment as participants grab pens and develop a picture of the future together. This shared picture is extremely powerful — much more so than words, and it produces a lasting memory within the group, which will later help the idea to spread throughout the organisation. To sum it up, the benefits of being visual are: it’s not only fast — it sparks, it inspires, engages, and sharpens the focus of workshop participants. And: it is very human! Humans are made to think and feel, to solve problems, and drawing is the most powerful means of communication for that. If you get the team to pick up a pen and draw, the solution space becomes much wider than expected — and this is the ground for real innovation.

So, my recommendation for your next workshop: get a superb sketcher to understand what it’s all about, who prepares, and guides the team through the whole workshop. This will make the process of idea generation so contagious. You will need fewer words to explain complex ideas and concepts. Instead, you will have visuals which concisely capture the solutions to the challenges you face.

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