I can almost imagine the conversation going a little something like this. Two likely BFF’s of graphic facilitation and strategy meet up for the first time.
Strategy (ST): Hi Pen looking person. My name is Strategy.
Graphic Facilitation (GF): Hi Strategy, I’m Graphic Facilitation. What do you do?
ST: I help companies to work out a way to achieve their desired objectives. I am a really important thing to have. And what was your name again?
(GF) Graphic Facilitation. I am also known by my other names visual communication and design centred thinking. How are you created ST?
ST: I am often created when a group of people sit around in a room and talk alot and write things down. Sometimes there is a PowerPoint presentation. And what do you do again GF?
GF: I help people to gain clarity and innovate by giving them information in a way that their brain loves. That way they can see things really clearly, make new connections easily and get where they want to at speed. I put visuals at the heart of that process.
ST: That sounds a little out there GF! Let me have a good look at you. Where do you say you just came from? Glastonbury Festival? Burning Man? I hear what goes on there.
GF: I wish I did ST. What a life that would be. I actually come from the crossroads of Neuroscience, Communication, Design, Innovation and Education research about how people best learn and take in information. But tell me a little more about yourself ST. Where do you live?
ST: Good question GF. I often live in a PowerPoint Presentation that may not be viewed that often or that no one remembers that well and actually get lonely a lot of the time. I know I am important but often it feels like no one comes to see me as much as they should.
GF: And how long does it take to create you ST?
ST: Well that depends. Sometimes it feels like we are in the strategy room for a long time. People look really tired. As it can be quite dark in some of those rooms, I lose track of time. I once saw a man nod off. Sometimes we leave the room but then come back in a few days time and hand out notes on what we did last time. People sometimes start to sigh again.
GF: Well ST, next time you go into one of those dark rooms to be invented, can I come with you?
ST: That would be awesome GF. I so need a friend.
Sounds like a mix of facetiousness and corny-ness all in one but I believe that strategy and graphic facilitation are destined to be BFF’s (or Best Friends Forever for those who maybe don't have contact with any type of communication with 6 - 16 year olds).
The reason I believe this is that I see such great results when I work with clients to explore and map out their strategy using visuals as part of the process. The science has been in that our brain loves visuals for a long time.
So why does this process of strategy and graphic facilitation work so well?
Our brain loves interesting things. I was listening to a podcast where World Champion memory gladiator Ed Cooke was speaking about mastering memory and comprehension. A short statement he said has stuck with me since. He said that our brain loves interesting things. Interesting things are easy to remember. His example was that imagine you are walking down the street and you pass 100 telegraph poles. Chances are that you won’t remember them as they are all the same. Grey, dull and relatively boring. Imagine that you go around the next street corner and you see an elephant and a giraffe doing the tango. You will always remember that. That is an interesting thing! Strategy put into a visual format with colours and variety is a very interesting thing when compared to words alone.
Another reason why strategy and graphic facilitation are BFF’s is that our brain processes pictures at a much speedier rate as compared to text alone. It only takes around 1/10th of a second for your brain to comprehend a visual. That’s seriously fast when compared to the time that it takes for your mind to read a description of the same visual.
Here are some other facts to support why our brain loves pictures
- 70% of our sensory receptors are in our eyes
- 50% of our brain is involved in visual processing
- If pictures are added to instructions, those instructions are 326% easier to comprehend
- We are getting bombarded with more information than ever before. A 2011 study shows that it’s about the equivalent of 174 Newspapers in a day. Imagine what it is like now! As such our brain has to sift this information. It does so by latching onto interesting things, usually in the form of visuals.
Internet marketers have been well aware of this trend for a long time as they clearly see what keeps people engaged and clicking through on websites. Visual Information has increased by around 10,000% since 2007. The feedback with visuals is instantaneous. When you ask a room ‘does this match your thinking?” the feedback is immediate.
Graphic Facilitation lets you see the gaps in your strategy
In a recent strategy session where I was using visual communication, there were some huge white gaps on the paper I was drawing the strategy on. It was really obvious for the room to see where they weren’t putting in enough of their time and energy. What came out of that session was that the white space on the paper represented what wasn’t strategically important as they thought pre meeting.
Visual communication lets you make connections and see where things overlap
On the same recent session, there was a huge amount of words, arrows, pictures and information on a certain section of their strategy. It was really obvious that there was a load of ‘activity’ in this area. When we started to unpick this frenzy, it was clear that much of the information was doubled up and there was a huge amount of overlap between different strategic goals. Also, much of the information was seen as activity rather than strategic direction. As such, the client was able to sift through and re-classify what was strategic, cut out double ups and ensure that their strategy was focused on the important things (and not just activity) moving forward.
The use of pictures allows teams to see where a strategy may be overly complex
A few years ago, I was working with a company that was looking to design the perfect end to end customer experience from phone call to delivery. They were importing all of their various parts from overseas, going through two distribution centres to various sub centres across Oceania. As we connected this process visually via arrows, planes, boats, phone calls and various customers the picture took on a life of its own. Upon review, the audience feedback was pretty universal and rapid. ‘Shit, we are pretty complex…..’ Using this map of complexity, the team was able to design a system that was much more simple, streamlined and that made the customer experience a fantastic one.
Graphic Facilitation lets teams get to where they want to get a lot more quickly
Every time I use this process, teams get to where they need to get at pace. There isn't a universal timeline that works for each team but it happens quickly.
The use of Visual Communication ensures that a strategy can be easily communicated
Post event, this is the real clincher. How many times have you heard ‘we have a strategy but no one is really that connected with it’ or ‘no one understands it’. When that strategy is put into a visual format, it is suddenly an easily shared piece of information. People can comprehend it quickly, remember it and as such, can get on board quickly. The strategy isn't trapped in a document or a PowerPoint Presentation with multiple slides of text, text, text and a few bullet points thrown in.
Is the use of Graphic Facilitation or Visual Communication the only way to be successful in a strategy workshop? Absolutely not. Could it be a valuable tool as part of your next strategy session? Absolutely yes. Even science thinks so.
If you would like to develop your visual communication skills, we run regular Become a Whiteboard Ninja workshops throughout the year - both online and offline. When you would like to go on our waiting list and receive early bird discounts, you can leave your details here
If there are any great ideas, tools or approaches that you think are an essential part of a strategy session, I would love to hear about them. Get in contact at email@example.com
About Author: Simon Banks is an author and International Keynote Speaker and recovering artist. He’s delivered over 1300 events across the globe and is known for running high energy Innovation workshops and Design Sprints and design sprints to brew fresh thinking and develop market leading ideas. His first book, 1000 Little Lightbulbs: How to kick start a culture of innovation in your organisation is out now. Download your two free chapters here