I put down a pile of library books on the designated square. On the screen appears: Are this 7 books? I click Yes.

And there it is: the complete list of the books I returned.

I love it when you can see what it is about in a single glance. That is also how fast visual thinking works.

What is visual thinking?

Visual thinking is a way to organize your thoughts on paper. It is a combination of drawing and writing. You use shapes, symbols and some key words to map out an issue. This way you can reflect on a question you want to tackle.

Why should you think visually?

Because it makes your work easier. When you think visually, you can handle complex problems in a light way. So you can focus on solving them. It helps you in four ways:

1. You get a quick overview
Our brain is visual. Three quarters of the neurons focused on perception are dedicated to sight. An enormous capacity that you use without any effort. If you cross a busy street, your visual brain runs at full speed. But you do not get tired.

2. You increase your space to think
As soon as you have put down an issue on paper, your head no longer needs to have it ready. That frees up your working memory.

3. You think in more directions
In a linear text you follow the reading direction, in a drawing you can choose different directions for thinking. Your eyes move around the paper.

4. You get to a deeper layer
Your drawing is the tip of the iceberg. From there it is easy to get to the underlying beliefs that frustrate change.

Watch Edith

She is an internal consultant at the police and she has a new project. She always used to be second in command, now she is the one in charge. ‘I am stuck’ she says; ‘I just can’t get myself to sit down and think through my approach.’ I ask her to draw the situation. She starts by drawing herself: two circles on top of each other with sticks as arms. In keywords she writes down what she thinks she should be doing: develop vision and write action plan.

Then she draws her internal client

With big round eyes. ‘The project started three years ago’, she tells me; ‘I just joined and now he really wants it to take off. I feel his eyes on me.’ A bit further down she writes what she does: conversations.

With the drawing in front of us we discuss how she can take a leading role in a way that suits her. Now and then we note something down and we draw lines to connect elements. I want to work in a development-oriented way’, she says. She looks at the drawing.

‘Hey, that is what I already do’

The paper shows a web of actions and ideas. All development-driven.

Her drawing looked like this:

Later she told me that the drawing helped her get her story straight: ‘It was easier to tell and I felt more secure.’

Hm, okay, you may think.

But how can I think visually myself?

Just by doing it. Start drawing. Suppose you want to help a client to create self managing teams. But you find it hard to define a clear approach. Draw a circle and jot down a key word. Then draw another circle, or a symbol that comes to mind. Your visual brain will continue from there. It loves solving problems. You will notice that it becomes easier to draw on. And when you are on a roll, try drawing with your client some time.

Yes, but I cannot draw

That doesn’t matter. It is not about making a pretty picture. It works even better if your drawing does not look that great. A simple drawing lowers the threshold for your client, so he dares to draw something too. A rough sketch that leaves room for his input, activates him more than a polished picture.

Isn’t it childish to draw?

So what? It works.

In short

When you think visually you organize your thoughts on paper with shapes, words and symbols. It is a light way to look at difficult questions.

And now?

Choose a question that is on your mind. Take out a piece of paper, a marker and sit down. The floor is yours.

Here you can download the pdf of the visual summary.