How drawing gets in the way of teamwork – and how it helps

How do you draw cooperation?

Many people that follow a visual thinking course want to learn how to draw icons.

The answer is simple: Google cooperation + icon. Or look at the noun-project. Plenty of examples that you can easily copy.

But then you do not see what cooperation in your team looks like

What is it that you work on together? Do you develop a new product? Are you performing surgery? Or do you provide mental healthcare for teenagers?

And why do you want to draw the way you work together?

Probably because you do not cooperate as smoothly as you would like.

If that is the case a cheerful icon does not help. But you can use your visual thinking power to gain perspective on what is going on.

Because the way you look at a problem determines the way you try to solve it.

And we often do not look thoroughly

Because looking is more than focusing your eyes on something. Your ideas about the world determine what you see and what you do not see.

When you perceive something, you use your senses and your imagination

Stanford Professor Robert H. McKim already wrote that 1972 in his book Experiences in Visual Thinking. In his terms your imagination comprises more that your creative ability. It entails everything you have ever experienced – and what you learned from it.

Now we would call that your beliefs, or your mental models

The interaction between your perception and your imagination is your perceptual filter.

When you study something that filter gets in the way. Because it generates images that do not always reflect what is in front of you.

What do you see when you look at a naked woman?

On the left you see the woman in McKim’s book. In the middle you see your filter of perception. On the right  you see 3 images it can deliver.

At the top you do not perceive anything – you are daydreaming. Maybe you would like to drink a cocktail together, or you are just thirsty. At the bottom your attention is focused on what is in front of you – without adding stuff to it.

Most of the time we are in the middle

We project something on what we see, like when you see an animal in a cloud. But often we are not that creative and we jump to quick associations.

We stereotype all the time

We simplify the amount of input, so we do not drown in it. And that is fine.

Except when you stick to your first image. Then you fix your perspective: You can no longer look past your own interpretation.

How do you keep an open mind?

Therefore you need to pick another filter. You break the pattern that your brain automatically generates and organize the information in a new way.

McKim calls this recentering. You can also call it reframing.

Look at the woman through someone else’s eyes

 For instance through the eyes of:

That makes you look in a different way – and see more.

Now let’s look again at cooperation

When you use an icon to pin it down, you confine your perspective to a simplified image. And you miss out on what more there is to see.

What else can you do?

You can develop a visual together

To map out how you want to work together. That is a conversation worth having.

But if you want to resolve an issue, you have to know what is really going on

And also address the difficulties – without having people pointing at each other.

How do you draw that?

Imagine your team as a vehicle

Take a sailing boat. Draw a simple boat an a big piece of paper: It does not have to be more than this.

Pass on the marker: Let everyone draw themselves in the boat. Who is on the lookout, who stands at the wheel, who is in the galley? Who navigates?

Maybe someone is still at the jetty

Or someone draws himself in a lifeboat next to the ship. A drawing makes it easier to discuss sensitive issues. You are not talking about each other, but about a picture.

You can also map out the underlying dynamics

Therefore you use arrows and circles in a causal loop diagram. Which patterns are useful and which are frustrating your team’s performance? Here is an extensive article that helps you on the way when you want to take this systemic approach.

Mapping out team dynamics is quite a puzzle, but that is what you need to do if you really want to change something.

Because you can only tackle a problem if you face it

By looking at it with an open mind – and seeing different perspectives.

And now

How do you work together in your team? Draw a vehicle and place yourself in it. Add the rest of you team members, or let them draw themselves.

Or let’s map out the dynamics in your team together.


Visual thinking with a Stanford professor: How to generate ideas by drawing

It is the end of the 50’s.

Professor John Arnold takes a risk: He hires industrial designer Bob McKim at the Stanford mechanical engineering department. McKim has no Phd.

Arnold is a pioneer: He wants to teach his students productive and creative thinking.

The courses he and McKim develop are experiments to find out how to reach that goal.