The new year is in full swing and most Seattle businesses and nonprofits have done their initial goal setting – identifying strategy, measuring against last year’s success or challenges and dreaming that vision of success. Some companies are taking to heart the new neuroscience discoveries, which indicate when you marry ideas, strategies and vision with a visual picture; you have a better chance of that strategy being remembered by your team. That’s not new news. In 1970 Scientific American magazine published Ralph Haber's research showing that individuals have the ability to remember previously seen images at a rate between 85 and 95 percent. During our slow economic recovery, that’s the kind of ratio businesses need to have, to help employees stay focused and aligned on what’s most important.
What do we mean by visual picture and how can you create one? We’re talking about a literal illustration of what your team is discussing. A simple way to create one is to ask one of your employees, who have either good handwriting or panache for art, to go up to that underused white board and literally draw out your meeting notes. Visuals have long been a facilitator’s secret weapon – they activate both sides of your brain, which drives up the group’s thinking. Those pictures don’t even have to be pretty; a picture instantaneously helps your team visually process discussions and increases their recall later.
At Microsoft, I was asked by an HR manager to help her Emerging Leaders Program participants learn the value of using a visual to set their goals. I set up an interactive experience using Daniel Pink’s book “Whole New Mind” as a framework for learning, and in one of the interactive breakout sessions, I introduced my “Snapshot of the Big Picture™” process. This simple, visual gap analysis tool has been a favorite amongst blue chip Seattle clients as well as individuals who have drawn their own picture of the future and set goals and action plans to realize it.
Here’s how it works: you gather your team around the white board and ask them to describe what the current state of the business, or this particular business process, is right now. Have your “illustrator” capture on the left side of the whiteboard where you are right now, scattering the words and adding images to that area. Then (leaving a blank space in between) you go to the right side of the whiteboard and ask them to “imagine” the best case scenario, one year from today – what are the customers saying, what are sales like, what is the work environment and any other aspects you want them to discuss.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s the tool I’m talking about:
Then you ask everyone to look at the gap and come up with the 3 bold steps they believe the team needs to take to get from here to there. To help them, ask them to look at both sides – where you are and where you want to be one year from today and close their eyes for a second. This allows the brain to restructure what it sees and mash up what you see with what you know or have read about or even dreamed. Then ask them to brainstorm all the boldest things they can do to get there. Choose the top 3 and write them on 3 arrows in the center of the picture.
Now you have your roadmap for change.
You’ll find, like the emerging leaders at Microsoft did, that no matter what your native language is, this picture, when it includes both words and images, will help everyone get on the same page, ready to build out their action plan to support those 3 bold steps.
If you don’t have an artist in your midst, you can also hire a graphic facilitator or strategic illustrator skilled at drawing using both words and images. When someone illustrates your discussions, participants stay alert and engaged. Even when they seem to be “drifting away” watching the illustrator color in a section of the “map,” this “active resting” is allowing their brain to restructure what it is seeing, mix it up with what they already know and come up with new ideas. An illustrator literally helps to evolve your group’s thinking.
The image sends a not so subtle message to the brain – and our brain, which as you know is being bombarded with billion of bits of data in every moment, needs that picture to help it stay focused. And focus equals results.
Patti Dobrowolski is a business consultant, keynote speaker and author of DRAWING SOLUTIONS: How Visual Goal Setting Will Change Your Life. Founder of Up your Creative Genius, she uses her visual processes with Fortune 100, non-profit and small businesses around the world.