Sunday, May 11, 2008

Why do visuals help?

Several recent observations converged for me.

  • A colleague drew a Value Stream Map for a new process we were developing. Two major barriers became clear. In 45 minutes, we had a plan to overcome them, problems that had bugged us for six months.

  • We had a struggle over a particular system of nomenclature; the group of six were stuck. One member then walked to the whiteboard, drew a simple diagram of his understanding. Then another person modified this diagram with her perspective. Soon, all six people had added to the drawing. And a solution became obvious.

  • A vendor was preoccupied with the splendor of his proposal and talked and talked. One of our engineers then asked him to draw how his system worked. Reluctantly, he began putting boxes and arrows on the board. And the conversation turned to solutions. Egos faded.

  • A friend of many years invited me for lunch to discuss an important decision he faced in his career. A visual person to begin with, he had put an elegantly simple line drawing capturing the history, context, and trajectory of his options. Making the drawing, coupled with the active discussion, made choices clearer.

Why do drawings make decision making clearer? People a lot smarter than me have looked hard at this. I simply see that it works.

Somehow, the drawing, however simple or clunky, engages a different part of the brain. Flowing through both the eyes and the ears, the idea finds a different path to the processing parts of the brain. In this way, new understandings of tough problems emerge. The original idea then burns more brightly, more clearly, with more focus.

Go doodle somewhere. It usually helps.

1 comment:

Greg said...

That's why construction drawings are "pictures" of the building. If you had to describe a construction project in words only it would:
(A) Take forever to design.
(B) Take forever plus two to get sign-off from the boss.