In everyday business situations, the ability to comprehend abstract knowledge is a prized skill. Anyone who can take complicated information and visualize it in drawings is in possession of an essential key competency and can, by making business processes visible, enable solutions to complex problems to be developed. The following three steps can aid you in doing this!
The majority of the participants in our bikablo training sessions are there because they want to learn how to quickly and aptly visualize complicated and abstract concepts. We also teach people how to get started with this during our brief Impulse training sessions, such as those we hold at large conferences. Once I’ve given the audience a few rudimentary visual vocabulary elements, we take on the task of creating a visualization of a complex topic. I like to use a real “huh?” statement for this, like this one:
“In the EMEA, the client pays the sales agent, who then pays the company a commission based on the earnings. In the US, the company bills the client directly and pays the sales agent a fixed fee per item sold.“
Huh? Come again?!
The reality is, that, every day, statements like these are flying by at the speed of sound throughout conference rooms and during PowerPoint presentations – and no one is checking to see if the audience has really heard them or if there is a common understanding.
How could we quickly visualize these statements as thought sketches? Obviously, this is not going to be the same as creating a beautiful flipchart for a presentation. Thought sketches are more of a visual re-questioning, to make sure that we have correctly understood and can, together, move forward in our thinking:
- Have I understood correctly?
- Is it correct to present it this way?
- What do I have to change so that it correctly reflects your meaning?
- What kinds of solutions can we come up with when we look at this sketch together?
Schauen wir uns also unseren komplizierten „Hä-Satz“ etwas genauer an.
Admittedly, sometimes when it comes to complex content, we visualizers feel like deer caught in the headlights. “EMEA – US – Client – Sales Agent?” Even I didn’t understand at first what all of this meant. This is why I draw what I have understood step-by-step. Each step becomes, at the same time, a question to the speaker – am I presenting this correctly?
Step One: understanding the basic structure of the content.
I begin with what I have been able to understand. At first, it isn’t much: EMEA (whatever that is) and US appear to be two different “systems” that need to be represented in contrast to each other. I will therefore divide my paper into two sections and give each of them a title.
I then go back to the speaker with a question: have I understood this correctly? If not, I take a new sheet of paper and make a new start.
Step Two: identifying the players and key elements.
In both of these systems, there appear to be three identical “players”: the sales agent, the company, and the client. To represent these, I choose the simplest image that spontaneously occurs to me. And then I repeat my earlier question: “Is this right? Is anything missing?”
Step Three: showing the interrelationships.
These three players all appear to have specific business relationships with each other, and that seems to be the sticking point. In the “EMEA” system, the client pays the sales agent …
… and the sales agent pays a portion of this money to the company – the commission.
It’s different in the “US”: there, the company bills the client. At this point, it is a good idea to rethink everything, so as to stay within the logic of the “EMEA” system. What is happening with the billing is that it is reversed: the client pays the company and then the company pays a portion of this to the sales agent – the fee.
But: how can we visualize “a commission based on the earnings” or a “fixed fee per item sold?” One tip: visualization means “image plus graphic plus text.” If you can’t immediately come up with a suitable image, just write it down.
Ask for clarification from the speaker – and keep drawing!
It’s time once again to ask the speaker: “Have I understood this correctly?” It might be that he or she will say: “Yes, exactly, and this is also important . . . “ – and will take the pen and complete the sketch themselves. Or, you might hear: “I realize now that I’ve made a mistake in my thinking here – let me try to draw it myself.”
So, you see: even when you are visualizing complex business processes, drawing helps you to make detailed content clear to both yourself and to others. In the process, always check – as in this example – that the visualization represents a mutual understanding of the situation, and on this basis, collaborate on further developing ideas or concepts. And, perhaps the result will be the quick clarification of a misunderstanding or a difference of opinion – or the issue that is at the root of them!
See also blogpost Sketchnoting in Dialogue, Part 1: Using Sketchnotes to Cut Through Complexity