“If you can draw it, then you know you understand it.” That’s what my Virology prof in grad school would tell us. “Scientists must be able to sketch out complex subjects to communicate and share ideas – especially things which cannot be seen or experienced in everyday life.”
I encourage you to practice visual thinking and using visualizations in group conversations. The best leaders use words well, and great leaders use words and visualizations.
The first reason visualizations are effective is because complex things are broken down into parts with connections and relationships. The second reason is that you’re working with the best capabilities of the human brain. A significant fraction of our neurons are committed to visual processing. You might as well leverage that for your leadership work!
One of the big wins for visual thinking is getting to clarity quickly. Here’s a critical leadership insight from Dan Roam: “We’re not going to make complicated things simple, but we can make complicated things clear. And when they’re clear, we can solve them.”
What visualizations should leaders use?
- Metaphor and analogy are visualizations. The words paint pictures in the minds of your listeners and partners. People will remember these because our brains are wired to work this way.
- Mind maps and structured outlines of content are visualizations which work better than dense text and simple lists.
- Graphs are more powerful than tables of numbers. There is a good body of practice about the best ways to present quantitative information to convey the key ideas but not be manipulative.
- Process diagrams and qualitative system diagrams convey much more than the words in the boxes, showing order, relationships, and interconnections.
The person who can go to the whiteboard and sketch out the situation is often the most powerful leader in the room. You want to be that person.
Back of the Napkin (Dan Roam)
Visual Thinking (Wikipedia)
Make better graphs in Excel (article)
How to build flow charts in Word (article)