This week we’re speaking with Gillian Christie, Senior Investment Writer at Baillie Gifford, who has attended Visual Thinking for Business.

What motivated you to attend the training in the first place? What problems were you experiencing that you hoped the training would address?
From a purely personal perspective, I was inspired by my autistic son. (Look our for a further piece from Gillian in 2019 on the topic of how she uses visual thinking with her son)

So, on the one hand, I hoped I would I would pick up something that would be useful for my personal life, but on the other, I was keen to see how visual thinking could be applied in a work context. Though to be honest, I was a little sceptical that it could, unless you were an artist! I am happy to have been proved wrong.

How are you using what you’ve learned? 
I am a writer, so my natural inclination is to think and communicate in words. Prior to taking this course, with little in the way of artistic ability, there was no way I would have even considered sharing anything I had drawn with anyone in a professional context.

That has changed! Not my artistic ability, per se, but my confidence in sharing hand-drawn graphics with my colleagues has. Within work, I have used visual thinking to brighten up agendas, to create visuals for meetings, for my own personal note taking in lectures and to create an outline of an article I was ghost writing.

One of the highlights so far was a follow up exercise for the course which challenged us to use visual thinking to problem solve. Each month, I compile a monthly summary, which I distribute widely by email. I knew I wasn’t happy with it, but I couldn’t articulate what the problem was and therefore I was struggling to see how I could make it better. The process of drawing it out really clarified what the issues were – too much information and no visual hierarchy to guide the reader – and so helped me come up with a solution as to how I could make the summary better.

What kind of results are you getting? What kind of feedback are you getting?
The feedback has been amazing. When I sent out my first agenda with visuals on it, I got an email back from one of the recipients which simply said “Gillian, you are awesome!” It also seemed to up the number of people who subsequently attended the meeting.

One of the first things I shared was a plan for an article I was ghostwriting. I was nervous as to how people would react, particularly given they were all senior people. I needn’t have worried. Someone emailed me back to say they loved my notes and another shared that she too used visual thinking and found it very helpful.

What would you say has been the overall impact of using visual thinking in your work?
First, it has helped me get back in touch with my creativity. Even the most mundane tasks seem a little less mundane when you add a picture. I’ve found it a great way to take notes and formulate my thinking. You can’t draw a picture for every word or sentence, so you are trying to pick out the important points as you go along, which helps keep things concise and more memorable. It feels like there is a little bit more of me and my personality in my work.

As a result, it has raised my confidence levels enormously. It can feel quite vulnerable to share your drawings in a professional context. It’s a big unknown. Will they be appalled at my drawing skills? Will they think I have been wasting my time? Thankfully, everyone has been very positive. In a way, my lack of drawing skills has been a big plus, because it has pushed me out of my comfort zone and it makes you feel that if you can do this, you can do anything.

What would you say to someone who is considering going on the training?
The most important thing I would say to anyone like me who felt that they couldn’t draw is that you can. If you can write, then you are able to make marks and shapes on a piece of paper. That’s all you need. There are loads of resources freely available on the internet that show you how or what to draw and there are plenty of symbols that you can simply copy until you feel confident about coming up with your own.  

Gillian is a Senior Investment Writer at Baillie Gifford. She writes and sub-edits intellectual capital on a wide range of investment matters. All artwork in this article has been created by Gillian.