Design Strategy Technology

The Visual Thinking Revolution is Here!

We are in the midst of a “Visual Thinking Revolution” and leaders in all types of organizations are embracing visual thinking as a literacy of the future.

Source: MBA Career Service Professionals (click to enlarge)

This revolution’s “tipping point” came earlier this year at the International Forum for Visual Practitioners annual conference, which drew 100 visual practitioners from across the globe. The panel I moderated with Business Models Inc. CEO Patrick van der Pijl and Doodle Revolution’s Sunni Brown kicked off the conference with an expansive discussion on the future of visual thinking. Captured by three different graphic recorders in real time, we explored 10 significant external forces that are fueling the Visual Thinking Revolution:

  1. We live in an increasingly VUCA world. Vulnerable, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Each day we’re bombarded with too much noise and not enough signal. Visual thinking helps us break down complex problems into simple pictures (Thank you, Dan Roam for showing us the way to make ideas come alive on the back of a napkin!)
  2. Advances in neuroscience and fMRI technology demonstrate that our brains are more creative and imaginative when operating under reward vs. threat conditions. If you want to create reward conditions that encourage participation, use simple, welcoming, hand-drawn pictures that everyone can understand. Want to create threat conditions? Hefty text-driven, data-filled, bullet-pointed PowerPoint presentations should get you there in no time.
  3. Best selling authors are codifying their “magic”. Thanks to Nancy Duarte’s bestselling Slide:ology and Resonate, Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin books and Blah, Blah, Blah, and Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur’s Business Model Generation we’re creating a whole new leadership discipline around visual storytelling and visual modeling in service of business and innovation.
  4. Technology gives us exciting new tools. Wide adoption of touch screen tablets and accompanying apps enable easy, real-time, visual capture and sharing of ideas. Some app recommendations include: Adobe Ideas, Sketchbook Pro, Bamboo Paper, Penultimate, Art Set.
  5. Viral channels spread the word—and pictures. Millions of animated RSA videos were watched and shared in 2011, with the TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson and Dan Pink on creativity and innovation converting even the most left-brained thinkers to the power of visual communication.
  6. Mainstream media catches on. Beyond traditional supporters like Fast Company, 2011 saw coverage in mainstream journalism, with stories on visual thinking featured in Harvard Business Review, The Washington Post and CNN.
  7. New sources of talent and training proliferate. Sensing a growing demand for visual skills, new kinds of training are popping up, ranging from one-day workshops, such as “Introduction to Graphic Recording” to online seminars and virtual learning.
  8. “Design Mania” becomes a movement. With no end in site for the excitement surrounding design as a strategic competence, visual thinking is riding the coattails of IDEO and Stanford’s d. school, which have pimped the value of Sharpies and post-its.
  9. New investors and incubators emerge. Design-based angel funds and start-up incubators are catching the visual-thinking fever, realizing that superb customer experience may trump over-hyped technology. It’s no secret that a napkin sketch is the ultimate low-res prototype.
  10. New audiences arise. Perhaps most significant, is the demand and excitement expressed by new audiences. Visual thinking is NOT just for artists. It’s for business people, entrepreneurs, NGOs, government leaders, teachers, kids. Nor is it just a Western phenomena; visual thinking is going global, from Asia to Africa to South America. Wherever you find good ideas and stories to tell, you’ll find visual thinking.

If you’re still not convinced that the Visual Thinking Revolution has arrived, what could be better proof than the Saturday Night Live parody of the visual thinking-inspired UPS commercial.

Looking forward, we can expect that each of these emerging trends will only get stronger. The world will be more complex and overwhelming. Adaption of new technologies will accelerate. Companies will continue to chase growth in the midst of new competitors and customer demands. People will seek out communicative leaders who can help us feel safe, grounded, understood and inspired in the midst of all of this noise and uncertainty. The question is who among us will be the first to embrace the full potential of visual thinking as individual and organizational catalysts for leading innovation and change, helping make our work more meaningful and productive.

At this time of year when we when we have made promises to do things differently— eat healthier, hit the gym more— how about also resolving to wield a marker in service of communicating new ideas and possibilities? It doesn’t matter if you think you “can’t draw;” visual thinking isn’t about artistic ability, but about passion for innovation and change. The revolution is calling: pick up your pen and change the world!

Lisa Kay Solomon is a guest contributor to the Duarte Blog. Lisa is an adjunct professor for the California College of the Art’s new MBA in Design Strategy. She teaches visual thinking as a mandatory literacy for innovation leaders of the future as part of her Innovation Studio course.

 

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  • Wow…this is one of the most important and powerful blog posts I’ve read in a long time! Thanks for doing such an amazing job of capturing what the visual thinking movement is all about…

  • Wow…this is one of the most important and powerful blog posts I’ve read in a long time! Thanks for doing such an amazing job of capturing what the visual thinking movement is all about…

  • Great article Lisa, thanks.  Working in the area of B2B sales training, we’re always keen to incorporate in a range of approaches to increase the chances of sales success.  Question – how you ever come across research that links “quality of visual representation” of a solution to “increased chance of sales success”?  I suspect that increasing a prospect’s likelihood of understanding – and hence realising the benefits of – a solution must lead to a higher conversation rate(?)

    • Lsolomon

      Hi Bruce,
      Thanks for the comment. Glad you liked the post.

      I think you raise a really important question about how to measure the quality of the visual representation, since visuals can be inherently subjective.  I haven’t seen any formal research on the specific question of quality, but you’ve intrigued me to go and look. One of my favorite general “rules” on quality is from Dan Roam who says “the more human the picture, the more human the response.”   The question for you may be – what’s the response you’re trying to get?  Credibility in the market? Interest in your specific product/solution? Closing the deal? What’s going to move the needle for your conversation rate?

      My instincts tell me that the quality of a visual representation, particularly in a sales context, can be measured by how quickly your customers “get” the concept.  In other words, if you have a visual that allow your customers to quickly  understand the unique value that your your product/service provides and then expresses interesting in paying you money for it – well, then your visual is working for you.  I think that one of the dangers with fancy graphics is that we overwhelm the description with too much information and it ends up scaring customers rather than enticing them.  In my opinions, visuals in a business context should be a tool for deepening understanding and connection, not for showing off complexity or that you have a great graphic skills.  Perhaps you could create your own mini-research project (a mini “A/B” test, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A/B_testing) by having 2 separate decks – one with visuals and one without (or even 2 with different visuals) and then measure the results based on pre-established criteria (e.g. conversion rates). 

      Hope that helps. Please keep me posted on what you learn!  Lisa
       

  • Great article Lisa, thanks.  Working in the area of B2B sales training, we’re always keen to incorporate in a range of approaches to increase the chances of sales success.  Question – how you ever come across research that links “quality of visual representation” of a solution to “increased chance of sales success”?  I suspect that increasing a prospect’s likelihood of understanding – and hence realising the benefits of – a solution must lead to a higher conversation rate(?)

    • Lsolomon

      Hi Bruce,
      Thanks for the comment. Glad you liked the post.

      I think you raise a really important question about how to measure the quality of the visual representation, since visuals can be inherently subjective.  I haven’t seen any formal research on the specific question of quality, but you’ve intrigued me to go and look. One of my favorite general “rules” on quality is from Dan Roam who says “the more human the picture, the more human the response.”   The question for you may be – what’s the response you’re trying to get?  Credibility in the market? Interest in your specific product/solution? Closing the deal? What’s going to move the needle for your conversation rate?

      My instincts tell me that the quality of a visual representation, particularly in a sales context, can be measured by how quickly your customers “get” the concept.  In other words, if you have a visual that allow your customers to quickly  understand the unique value that your your product/service provides and then expresses interesting in paying you money for it – well, then your visual is working for you.  I think that one of the dangers with fancy graphics is that we overwhelm the description with too much information and it ends up scaring customers rather than enticing them.  In my opinions, visuals in a business context should be a tool for deepening understanding and connection, not for showing off complexity or that you have a great graphic skills.  Perhaps you could create your own mini-research project (a mini “A/B” test, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A/B_testing) by having 2 separate decks – one with visuals and one without (or even 2 with different visuals) and then measure the results based on pre-established criteria (e.g. conversion rates). 

      Hope that helps. Please keep me posted on what you learn!  Lisa
       

  • YES YES YES YES YES…!!!  Great post…!  This is one of the most comprehensive yet succinct posts I’ve seen on the value of visual thinking.  Great references and links.  This should serve a fantastic declaration for self-proclaimed “visual thinkers” (and leaders of the revolution), and also a recruitment document for vizthinkers who have not yet found themselves.  Thank you for the insight and the ammo 🙂 !!!

    Steve

  • YES YES YES YES YES…!!!  Great post…!  This is one of the most comprehensive yet succinct posts I’ve seen on the value of visual thinking.  Great references and links.  This should serve a fantastic declaration for self-proclaimed “visual thinkers” (and leaders of the revolution), and also a recruitment document for vizthinkers who have not yet found themselves.  Thank you for the insight and the ammo 🙂 !!!

    Steve

  • Janet Bornemann

    Since technology gives us new tools, as you mentioned, more people have the capability to be visual thinkers. It doesn’t matter anymore if you can only draw stick figures. Today everyone has access to millions of images from the internet or from stock photo libraries.
    A non-visual thinker can see something, get an idea, and then easily share it with the creative folks that are helping them craft a communication.

    •  at https://www.cryptospora.net/posts/746  i was collecting some ideas how remixing plus transforming  both text and graphic original content directly at the spot ( creative sanboxes attachted to  articles/comments/adverts ) could eventually become a systemic research environment

  • Janet Bornemann

    Since technology gives us new tools, as you mentioned, more people have the capability to be visual thinkers. It doesn’t matter anymore if you can only draw stick figures. Today everyone has access to millions of images from the internet or from stock photo libraries.
    A non-visual thinker can see something, get an idea, and then easily share it with the creative folks that are helping them craft a communication.

    •  at https://www.cryptospora.net/posts/746  i was collecting some ideas how remixing plus transforming  both text and graphic original content directly at the spot ( creative sanboxes attachted to  articles/comments/adverts ) could eventually become a systemic research environment

  • Sunni

    Lisa, nice post. What happened to Gamestorming? Hello! That’s part of the visual thinking revolution, I say!

    Thank you again for such skilled moderation of our panel. Three thumbs up.

    Sunni

  • Sunni

    Lisa, nice post. What happened to Gamestorming? Hello! That’s part of the visual thinking revolution, I say!

    Thank you again for such skilled moderation of our panel. Three thumbs up.

    Sunni

  • Jeff Bennett

    I love the idea that the visual thinking revolution is here, but after thinking about this for over a week now, I keep coming back to the same thing — where is it that visual thinkers can go as a community of like-minded people? Or put another way, where do the revolutionaries congregate?

    Having attended VizThink 08 and 09, I was so excited to be part of a community of people who believed in visual thinking. But since VizThink and VizThink.com seem to have fallen into neglect or even become defunct, I haven’t found a community of visual thinkers to learn from. Best I can do is follow the #vizthink hashtag on Twitter. It looks like there may be active VizThink communities in NYC, Dallas and Austin but what about the rest of the world? Any info on active online visual thinking communties?

    • Anonymous

      Hey Jeff… I also attended VizThink in 2009 (amazing event!) and I miss it too.  There are some visual thinking discussion groups on LinkedIn (including VizThink, of course), but aside from that, I’m not sure where the revolutionaries are gathering together.

      That said, you can always create a local VizThink group in Hawaii…!  Our VizThink group in NYC has been great.  (On haitus for a bit, but returning this month.)  And there are several VizThink local groups around the globe (France seems to be active with three VizThink groups launched in the past year or so).

      If you decide to launch a group in Hawaii, please let me know if I can help out in any way.  You can reach me through twitter (@stevecherches:twitter ), LinkedIn, or BigBlueGumball (www.BigBlueGumball.com).

      Best… Steve

      • I *loved* the viz think conference. I wish there was another one. Duarte’s planning to hold a visual story conference in 2013 which should draw a nice mix of storytellers and visualizers we hope. It’s in the dreaming phase right now.

        • Anonymous

          Nancy, very happy to hear about Duarte’s visual story conference in the works for 2013…!  I’m sure you’re dreaming up some amazing ideas.

          And, of course, if you’re ever in NYC, we’d be beyond thrilled to host a VizThink NYC event with you…!!!  I know tons of NYC visual thinkers would flock to see you!

  • Jeff Bennett

    I love the idea that the visual thinking revolution is here, but after thinking about this for over a week now, I keep coming back to the same thing — where is it that visual thinkers can go as a community of like-minded people? Or put another way, where do the revolutionaries congregate?

    Having attended VizThink 08 and 09, I was so excited to be part of a community of people who believed in visual thinking. But since VizThink and VizThink.com seem to have fallen into neglect or even become defunct, I haven’t found a community of visual thinkers to learn from. Best I can do is follow the #vizthink hashtag on Twitter. It looks like there may be active VizThink communities in NYC, Dallas and Austin but what about the rest of the world? Any info on active online visual thinking communties?

    • Anonymous

      Hey Jeff… I also attended VizThink in 2009 (amazing event!) and I miss it too.  There are some visual thinking discussion groups on LinkedIn (including VizThink, of course), but aside from that, I’m not sure where the revolutionaries are gathering together.

      That said, you can always create a local VizThink group in Hawaii…!  Our VizThink group in NYC has been great.  (On haitus for a bit, but returning this month.)  And there are several VizThink local groups around the globe (France seems to be active with three VizThink groups launched in the past year or so).

      If you decide to launch a group in Hawaii, please let me know if I can help out in any way.  You can reach me through twitter (@stevecherches:twitter ), LinkedIn, or BigBlueGumball (www.BigBlueGumball.com).

      Best… Steve

      • I *loved* the viz think conference. I wish there was another one. Duarte’s planning to hold a visual story conference in 2013 which should draw a nice mix of storytellers and visualizers we hope. It’s in the dreaming phase right now.

        • Anonymous

          Nancy, very happy to hear about Duarte’s visual story conference in the works for 2013…!  I’m sure you’re dreaming up some amazing ideas.

          And, of course, if you’re ever in NYC, we’d be beyond thrilled to host a VizThink NYC event with you…!!!  I know tons of NYC visual thinkers would flock to see you!

  • Lonni Gill, Ph.D.

    Thank you so much, Lisa, I was unable to attend the IFVP Conference this year. Having this content means a lot to me!

  • Lonni Gill, Ph.D.

    Thank you so much, Lisa, I was unable to attend the IFVP Conference this year. Having this content means a lot to me!

  • Jeff Bennett

    Thanks Steve, Nancy. I’ve have toyed with the idea of starting a VizThink Maui or VizThink Hawaii group. Would love to get some thoughts on how to do that. Steve, will contact you through Twitter about that. 

    The Duarte Visual Story conference sounds intriguing Nancy. Looking forward to learning more about that as it takes shapes.

    • Anonymous

      Cool… look forward to connecting….

  • Jeff Bennett

    Thanks Steve, Nancy. I’ve have toyed with the idea of starting a VizThink Maui or VizThink Hawaii group. Would love to get some thoughts on how to do that. Steve, will contact you through Twitter about that. 

    The Duarte Visual Story conference sounds intriguing Nancy. Looking forward to learning more about that as it takes shapes.

    • Anonymous

      Cool… look forward to connecting….

  • Bernard

    Another reading suggestion about what could be another type of visual thinking:
    Yannick Rumpala,
    “Knowledge and praxis of networks as a political project”, Twenty-First Century Society, Volume 4, Issue 3, November 2009.

    Abstract:

    Modern-day society is increasingly
    described as an extensive web of networks, but as such, it is often
    perceived and experienced as elusive. In light of this paralysing
    description, this paper aims to highlight the potentially political
    dimension of network analysis, namely as defined in the social sciences,
    and of the notion of networks itself. It will be shown that a political
    project could, in this case, be built on the desire to know this
    reticular world better, but also to be able to act appropriately towards
    it. Three steps are proposed to specify how such a political project
    could be built. The first step aims at deploying knowledge of networks
    and emphasises the usefulness of a procedure to trace them. The second
    step shows the possibilities that this knowledge offers, particularly in
    allowing one to find one’s bearings in a world which is frequently
    described as veering towards an increasing complexity, and by helping to
    rebuild the selection criteria for connections in this world, thanks to
    an additional degree of reflexivity. The third step draws on these
    points to extend them and bring out potentialities with regards to the
    intervention capacities in network configurations.
    (Also available on the author’s blog: http://yannickrumpala.wordpress.com/2009/10/21/tracing-and-reconfiguring-networks-to-build-a-political-alternative/ )

  • Bernard

    Another reading suggestion about what could be another type of visual thinking:
    Yannick Rumpala,
    “Knowledge and praxis of networks as a political project”, Twenty-First Century Society, Volume 4, Issue 3, November 2009.

    Abstract:

    Modern-day society is increasingly
    described as an extensive web of networks, but as such, it is often
    perceived and experienced as elusive. In light of this paralysing
    description, this paper aims to highlight the potentially political
    dimension of network analysis, namely as defined in the social sciences,
    and of the notion of networks itself. It will be shown that a political
    project could, in this case, be built on the desire to know this
    reticular world better, but also to be able to act appropriately towards
    it. Three steps are proposed to specify how such a political project
    could be built. The first step aims at deploying knowledge of networks
    and emphasises the usefulness of a procedure to trace them. The second
    step shows the possibilities that this knowledge offers, particularly in
    allowing one to find one’s bearings in a world which is frequently
    described as veering towards an increasing complexity, and by helping to
    rebuild the selection criteria for connections in this world, thanks to
    an additional degree of reflexivity. The third step draws on these
    points to extend them and bring out potentialities with regards to the
    intervention capacities in network configurations.
    (Also available on the author’s blog: http://yannickrumpala.wordpress.com/2009/10/21/tracing-and-reconfiguring-networks-to-build-a-political-alternative/ )

  • Leonard

    They say the next big thing is here,
    that the revolution’s near,
    but to me it seems quite clear
    that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating

    • Leonard

      The newspapers shout a new style is growing,
      but it don’t know if it’s coming or going,
      there is fashion, there is fad
      some is good, some is bad
      and the joke is rather sad,
      that its all just a little bit of history repeating

      .. and I’ve seen it before
      .. and I’ll see it again
      .. yes I’ve seen it before
      .. just little bits of history repeating

      Some people don’t dance, if they don’t know who’s singing,
      why ask your head, it’s your hips that are swinging
      life’s for us to enjoy
      woman, man, girl and boy,
      feel the pain, feel the joy
      aside set the little bits of history repeating/

  • Leonard

    They say the next big thing is here,
    that the revolution’s near,
    but to me it seems quite clear
    that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating

    • Leonard

      The newspapers shout a new style is growing,
      but it don’t know if it’s coming or going,
      there is fashion, there is fad
      some is good, some is bad
      and the joke is rather sad,
      that its all just a little bit of history repeating

      .. and I’ve seen it before
      .. and I’ll see it again
      .. yes I’ve seen it before
      .. just little bits of history repeating

      Some people don’t dance, if they don’t know who’s singing,
      why ask your head, it’s your hips that are swinging
      life’s for us to enjoy
      woman, man, girl and boy,
      feel the pain, feel the joy
      aside set the little bits of history repeating/

  • William Sciara

    extremely well put!
    revolutionary deck service

  • William Sciara

    extremely well put!
    revolutionary deck service

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