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Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words…

17th April 2015

By Wayne Hall

I’ve written articles before on the subject of ‘thinking in pictures’. It’s a technique I’ve used over the years to great effect in engaging with clients, suppliers – and, of course, our own team at Impact.

In my experience, there’s no better way to focus your thoughts, and those of others, than to produce a pencil and scribble down a few lines, circles, words – even stickmen. Artistic ability (or lack of it) isn’t important: what matters is the effect. 

I suspect we’ve all been in meetings where some (or all!) of those round the table simply don’t seem interested in the content: I certainly have. This usually means zero productivity; but I’ve found that as soon as the pencil comes out, accompanied by the question “‘Do you mean something like this?” even the most indifferent participants sit up, take notice and start getting involved.

This truth has been forcibly brought home to me several times lately, so I’d like to explore it in a little more depth.

In any partnership – between business owners, clients and suppliers, or team members – clarity and joined-up thinking are absolutely essential.  However, in many cases, there tends to be a creative ‘left-brain’ and a logical ‘right-brain’ aspect to the relationship. Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak are an obvious example.

The methodical Wozniak developed something entirely new in computer circuitry – but it was the visionary Jobs who grasped both its true potential, and how to realise it commercially. I can just picture Jobs sitting down and sketching out his concept of what we now know as the personal computer to Woz, who to that point had seen only a set of electronic circuits that plugged into a TV. However crude that drawing may have been, it would have instantly joined up their thinking and paved the way to the brilliance of the Apple Mac. Together, they accomplished things that, individually, perhaps they might not have, and our world would look very different today.

And that’s the key here. No matter how simplistic a drawing may be, it has an amazing power to help shape, direct and clarify any kind of idea or thought process. It’s a technique you can use in any aspect of your business. Whether you’re planning future goals and events, or drawing up lists of potential new clients, departments, products, services or team members, it’s important to give your ideas physical form early on. This makes them tangible and real, which in turn allows them to be passed around a table, discussed, commented on, adjusted, improved and dreamed about.

In 2003, when I became Creative Services Director here at Impact, I was planning the future structure of our creative studio. We were winning more and more blue-chip work, and we needed to develop our creative team into one that larger clients could identify and feel confident with.

I started by drawing a series of boxes in two separate groups, labelled ‘Creative’ and ‘Studio’. I then set about filling in the various roles – Creative Director, Art Director, Senior Designers, Artworkers, and so on – in the relevant spaces. Through this simple exercise, I found it easy to assign our existing team members to where they were really needed, and identify the gaps that needed filling.

I shared my simple sketch my fellow Directors, the staff, and the recruitment agents. We passed it around the table, stuck it on the wall, and made copies so everyone could take it away. As a result, everyone involved knew exactly what we were looking to achieve.

Within a couple of years, this ‘paper’ studio was a living, working reality. What was great about it was that not only had we known where to start, but we also knew when it was finished. What had been great was that we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.

So, here’s a challenge. The next time you need to convey something to others, draw it as a picture. Do it several times if need be. Don’t be afraid of what it looks like (others will fill in the blanks), but think about the power of what it’s communicating to everyone who needs to know about it.

Then if it works (and trust me, it will) do it again – and encourage others to try it, too!