When I talk about my journey to visual thinking I speak about when I moved to Edinburgh in 2002 and started working for a disability organisation.
It was whilst working at this organisation that I received training in Person Centred Planning – a facilitation methodology that has hand drawn graphics at its heart. I still use many of the principles of Person Centred Planning in my training today.
What I don’t often speak about is the reason I started working for disability organisations in the first place.
Having completed a Masters Degree in Ethics I felt uncomfortable living in an academic bubble where I could muse at length about the practical applications of concepts such as paternalism, autonomy, and consent.
My thesis – The Dignity of the Undignified – was inspired by my disabled sister Fiona.
I was (and still am) fascinated by groups of people who are deemed to be on the fringes of capacity (and in turn, society) for one reason or another. Having spent 4 years studying philosophy it was time to step away from the books and get some practical experience actually working with disabled people. (The plan was then to go on to do a PhD – a story for another day..)
The trajectory goes a little like this:
Here’s to my sister Fiona and to all inspiring sisters!
Did you like this? Sign up to our newsletter for regular visual thinking tips plus exclusive events and offers.
2021 dates for Secrets of Simple Graphics online and the new programme Draw Out Your Future have now been confirmed. Take a look >>
As you may be aware I’m not only a huge advocate of drawing, I’m a huge advocate of drawing BIG.
When I say drawing big I mean drawing on the wall (tip: put paper on it first) or at the flipchart.
Here in my office/studio I have a large 8ft graphic wall and a large 5ft whiteboard. When I need to think I stand up and I draw big.
Drawing big opens up the heart and opens up the mind. Anytime you need to think something through, draw big.
Here’s a template I use when planning a training session. I like to sketch this out big on a large piece of paper.
This is the order in which to fill it out.
How many delegates?
What do we know about them?
What do they know about the topic?
What needs do they have?
What are the key outcomes for the session?
What is the transformation we want to have happen as a result of the training?
If we had to narrow these down to three key points, what would these be?
3. Ideas for Exercises
At this point you move naturally into brainstorming ideas for exercises. You may need to grab a flipchart and really go to town with your ideas.
Stick your pieces of flipchart paper all over the wall and start selecting the best ideas.
Put the best ideas into a natural sequence.
Jot down your agenda items and timings based down on the above.
5. Get clear on the purpose of each exercise and note these down. Make sure they tie in with the outcomes to your right.
6. Include any materials you need to prepare for the day.
7. Have a lie down.
This kind of big scale drawing and thinking is SO worth the effort. You will find yourself coming up with ideas and insights far quicker and with greater insight than if you sat in front of a laptop and started with a blank Word document in front of you.
Top tip: wear comfortable shoes 🙂
I’m a great believer in the power of pen and paper. Give me a slightly wonky hand drawn picture over clip art any day of the week.
As Dan Roam says in The Back of The Napkin, ‘The hand is mightier than the mouse’.
But just what is it about hand drawn images that make them so great?
Firstly, the more human our communication is the more effective it is. Hand drawn images are an outward sign of that humanity.
What an insight we receive when we see how someone draws.
How refreshing, how disarming almost, to see something that like us, is not perfect.
Secondly, when we create images on a computer we often find ourselves wrestling with a piece of software* whose functionality never quite matches up to the power of our imagination.
And it’s so small, that screen, so…confined. It can make our thinking confined too.
Thirdly (and crucially), it is the physical act of putting pen to paper that is so powerful. It engages the right hand side – the creative side – of our brain. It is that creativity that stimulates and feeds idea generation.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen delegates on my courses start with a blank sheet of paper and then think, ‘Oh hang on. Maybe we can do this. Or if we scratch that out we can do that…’ and so forth.
How powerful is it in an age where idea generation is so key to human flourishing to have a tool so cheap, so quick, so accessible.
The power is in your hands!
Do come and join me on April 26th 2019 for some in person practice. I can’t wait.
*There are software programmes which allow you to draw directly on the screen (Adobe Illustrator and SketchbookPro to name a few) which is great. Start with pen and paper though. Otherwise you’re learning how to draw and learning how to use a software programme at the same time. And despite many protests to the contrary research shows that the brain just isn’t good at multitasking!