What is visual thinking and what are its benefits

In this post, I explain what is a visual thinker and the benefits of using the visual approach for individuals, groups and managers. Originally, it was a document that I shared with my superiors and colleagues to help them better understand. Then I thought that everyone could benefit from it.


What do I mean by visual thinker?

Visual Thinking

As a visual thinker, I use a visual approach mainly during live events to allow you and your participants to anchor information, find patterns, make your ideas visible, establish connections and relationships between your ideas, and to ultimately make sense out of chaos or complexity. It also activates the emotional intelligence of people, not just the rational one. It consists mainly of combining hand-made graphic elements with texts and visual metaphors. Different techniques allow me to meet different needs and obtain different results.

What are my visual techniques?

Visual Thinking: visual practices

I use Graphic Facilitation and Graphic Co-creation as thinking tools for better discussions due to a different meeting setup. Both help people to find solutions, to innovate, to brainstorm, to reach consensus, to make decisions. Compared to the other techniques here below, the level of involvement of participants is high to very high in these two first techniques.

I use Graphic Recording to visually capture live the main message of conferences, meetings, or training. This helps participants to “see” their thoughts, to consider the topic being presented and discussed from another angle, and to better retain information and learning. Depending on the circumstances, I work on a large mural or on flip-charts.

The use of sketchnotes is quite similar to graphic recording in the sense that I also visually capture live what happens during an event. The difference lies in the paper size which is that of my notebook. Here participants don’t see my visuals directly (unless a camera projects my work on a big screen). I also use sketchnotes on many other occasions “just for me”, at work and at home. Whether it’s to organise my thoughts, to sketch a work planning or a process, for a to-do list or a grocery list, to plan my vacation, etc. Anyone can benefit from the practice of sketchnotes, and I guide those who wish during small learning sessions.

Linked data course skecthnotes

I use Visual Communication with hand-drawn illustrations to attract people’s attention incredibly. It gives more impact to your message, which is better understood and memorised by your audience. This is the technique with the lowest involvement level of the participants.

Visual support to the EC DG HR Away Day

On a smaller scale, I use visuals in my daily routine as a working tool to offer more efficiency to my colleagues. It helps to clearly represent complex processes, workflows, etc; to capture, modelize and structure association of ideas, also for problem solving and project management.

What are the benefits of visual thinking?

It’s not my goal to go through the benefits that neuroscience has long proven of hand-drawn visuals and you certainly know the power of using the visual, auditory, and kinesthetics’ senses in education. I will just mention the benefits of the visual approach that come from my direct experience.

Benefits for an individual

  • To grasp complexity better than reading a linear text 
  • Open your mind to other perspectives 
  • Stimulate your imagination and creativity 
  • Help better retain information and learning  
  • Being more present and focussed 
  • Have more fun working on serious, tedious, complex topics 

Benefits for a group or a team

  • Brings a new energy to the room that boosts collaboration and engagement (people realise this is not an ordinary event) 
  • The large format graphic helps participants to work together more effectively because:
    • they can “see” their ideas and what others are saying too
    • everyone can contribute, feel heard
    • the process and its progress is visible
  • The large format graphic creates also a neutral space that encourages the debate about ideas while it reduces interpersonal conflicts
  • Helps the participants stay focussed on the discussion (less distracted)
  • An individual can isolate himself from the group and think in front of the large format graphic
  • Brings more clarity and less ambiguity
  • Generates collective intelligence, creative and emotional intelligence 
  • Improves collective understanding of concepts and sharing of agreements. The group can get on the same page 
  • Allows to achieve emotional and deeply relevant results
  • The meeting report is created on the go.
    • It will hold the participants accountable for what they have said and decided
    • It will help them to remember and share their work with others 

Benefits for managers and the organisation

  • Powerful and effective tool 
  • Gives the image of a modern and positive leadership 
  • Better decision making and better shared decision making, both achieved much more effectively 
  • Enables to tap into the collective, creative and emotional intelligences of a group in order to:
    • Deal with complex issues 
    • Collect information to make informed decisions 
  • Meetings with fewer interpersonal conflicts and more debate about ideas 
  • Greater buy-in for visions, strategies, actions plans, decisions; better commitment to these and better appropriation for a sustainable change
  • Greater accountability for what is said and decided 
  • Promotion of a transparent communication 
  • Recognition to individual contributions and group consensus 
  • More motivated teams 
  • Brings fun into otherwise boring jobs, tasks, and meetings

Do you love stories?

A real story of disruptive and unconventional thinking that I told in an interview that is worth reading:

Some years ago, Robert Madelin was appointed  Director-General of DG INFSO and he requested major changes in the way the DG ran its intranet. To explain to him that we didn’t have enough time to apply all of them, given our available resources, I made our case to him with a quickly sketched story on paper, instead of a Powerpoint and Excel figures. Robert accepted our proposition because I was disruptive. I approached him with unconventional thinking. When I went to his office with a drawing, he said, ‘Oh my God, what is that?’ And when he looked closely, it helped him think differently about the problem. This for me was the opportunity to make my case and he accepted my explanation.

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Another happy graphic recording at the INFORM-INIO meeting

I was invited once again by my colleagues of DG REGIO, European Commission, to visually record the two-day meeting of the European funds communicators (the so-called INFORM-INIO networks). More than 250 communicators from across Europe gathered in the magnificent Augustinian cloister in Ghent, Belgium, to discuss the future of Cohesion Policy, learn and share the best practices to communicate the benefits of the EU funds to citizens.

Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium

I thank my colleagues for inviting me to each of the biannual meetings since 2017.

Since this first time we noticed, in the results of the after-event survey, that the graphic recording has become one of the most appreciated elements by participants. The many positive feedback I receive from them during the two days only confirm these results. It proves to me that hand-made visuals have a noticeable impact on people, combining emotions and information.

That all those who took the time to come and talk to me are also thanked.

See all my photos of the INFORM-INIO meeting and from the previous editions since 2014.

Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
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Ghent is “the most beautiful city in the world” said its mayor. Judge by yourself:

Awesome Ghent, Belgium

Read also my post at INFORM-INIO meeting in 2017.

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Burnout, comment j’ai évité de tomber dans le précipice

Read the English version.

Je voudrais partager mon expérience personnelle sur comment j’ai évité de justesse de tomber au fond du précipice du burnout. Sans vouloir donner de leçons à quiconque, j’espère que mon histoire pourra aider d’autres personnes à prendre conscience de leur état afin d’éviter de finir au fond du trou.

C’est en participant à un atelier avec le Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge sur The Use of Self que le déclic salvateur s’est déclenché en moi. Deux jours de plongée en profondeur sur l’utilisation du Soi et de la Présence m’ont obligés à me mettre à nu devant mon miroir interne. C’est surtout durant les exercices que j’ai réalisé combien j’étais mal mentalement et physiquement et à quel point je me le cachais à moi-même. Deux ans que je descendais cette pente dangereuse au travail, et au privé aussi dernièrement, sans vouloir me rendre compte de l’évidence. Je ne citerais pas ici les causes qui m’ont amenées à cette descente vers l’enfer, chacun de vous les déduira facilement par ce qui suit ou bien y entreverra les siennes.

The use of Self - sketchnotes

« L’utilisation du Soi est l’élément clé de l’efficacité avec laquelle nous sommes en mesure d’exécuter avec succès nos rôles. Il repose sur notre conscience de qui nous sommes, la clarté de nos intentions, notre conscience de la situation, nos choix et notre propre gestion en agissant.» – Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge

Prendre soudainement conscience de mes sensations internes que je m’efforçais de me cacher, ainsi que le déni de mon mal-être, l’illusion que tout va bien ou ira mieux demain, le manque total de compassion envers moi, tout ça a été un choc émotionnel énorme. Le choc fut d’autant plus violent que je connaissais parfaitement les symptômes et les conditions qui peuvent amener au burnout. Car je les ai approfondis, illustrés et communiqués grâce à deux spécialistes, Florence Bierlaire et Dr Marie-Pascale Simonnet.

Comment définir et identifier le burnout
Sketchnotes: Comment sortir du burnout?
Sketchnotes: Burnout et résilience

Les personnes à risque burnout, dont je fais partie, sont:

  • perfectionnistes
  • avec des valeurs et le sens d’une mission
  • enthousiastes
  • généreuses
  • motivées
  • travailleuses

Les symptômes, que je sentais et refusais d’admettre:

  • manque de vitalité
  • désillusion, désenchantement
  • perte de joie
  • sentiment d’indifférence
  • repli sur moi-même, isolement
  • cynisme
  • impatience
  • irritabilité
  • déconcentration
  • inefficacité
  • perte de sommeil
  • sentiment d’impuissance et perte de contrôle de ma vie
  • démotivation
  • anxiété
  • perte de sens au travail
  • dernier symptôme fatal que j’ai évité de justesse: effondrement et démolition

C’est en pleurant sur mon état que j’ai averti Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge que je quittais son atelier bien avant sa fin. Elle m’a embrassé, félicité pour mon courage et ma prise de conscience, et souhaité que je prenne soin de moi dorénavant.

Le soir même j’étais chez mon docteur, le brave Dr Sory. Après m’avoir écouté longuement, il m’a mis au repos pour quelques semaines pour épuisement mental avancé et fortement conseillé de voir un psychologue pour suivre un traitement. Ce même soir, je dessinais ce qui venait de se passer. Avoir ouvert les yeux sur mon mauvais état grâce à l’atelier de Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge, la visite chez mon docteur, et la décision de prendre soin de moi pour éviter le burnout :

When I said I don’t want burnout

Quelques temps après, j’avais le sentiment que je venais d’éviter le pire, que j’avais demandé et reçu le soutient qu’il me fallait, même si la remontée s’annonçait difficile et longue. Comme pour moi le dessin est une thérapie depuis l’enfance, j’exprime sur papier ce que je ressens, voici comment j’ai exprimé mes ressentis:

Listen to your internal sensations to avoid burnout

Les visites chez le psychologue m’ont aidé à établir une liste d’actions et de modes de pensées qui me feraient remonter la pente, lentement mais sûrement.

J’accepte:

  • Mon état d’épuisement, que je suis en traitement et que ça va durer longtemps
  • je serais fragile encore longtemps, je dois donc me préserver et être extrêmement prudent à ne pas me fier trop vite à un retour au mieux (Une rechute serait pire)
  • j’ai un seul corps et j’ai dépensé plus de ressources qu’il n’en a (identique au problème de surconsommation des ressources de notre planète)
  • je dois parler pour exprimer ce qui ne va pas et demander ce qui me fait du bien
  • Je ne peux pas faire plaisir à tout le monde en étant toujours gentil
  • je peux décevoir en disant non ou en refusant de faire quelque chose
  • Il n’y a que moi qui puisse prendre soin de moi

Je m’engage, tant que je ne suis pas revenu au top de ma santé, à:

  • Écouter les signaux de mon corps et chaque jour évaluer comment je me sens par un exercise d’introspection (15 minutes de méditation pour faire le point)
  • Réagir immédiatement le lendemain pour revenir à un niveau de bien-être acceptable, si le résultat de l’évaluation n’était pas satisfaisant

Je m’engage dés à présent et pour le futur à :

  • Reprendre le contrôle de ma vie sur ce qui est sous ma responsabilité
  • Mettre des barrières au travail pour éviter le stress permanent
  • Dire stop à la surcharge de travail, et de travailler uniquement pour les ressources d’un seul corps et un seul mental
  • Arrêter ce qui me pompe de l’énergie et qui n’a pas de sens
  • Me ressourcer régulièrement à travers ce qui me fait du bien, les marches dans la nature, le dessin, la méditation, la lecture, les voyages, la famille, etc
  • Questionner mon employeur, ma hiérarchie directe, sur ce qu’ils vont mettre en place pour que j’aille mieux. Si j’assume mes responsabilités, comment assument-ils les leurs pour prévenir mon burnout et celui des autres collègues ?
Ma remontée depuis le gouffre de l’épuisement mental

J’ai repris le travail depuis peu. J’ai reçu beaucoup d’encouragements de la part de mes collègues, beaucoup de compréhension aussi, et toujours la même constatation que le surmenage au travail et le burnout guètent de plus en plus de gens et de plus en plus souvent. De la part de ma hiérarchie directe, j’ai aussi reçu une écoute attentive, de la compréhension, des réarrangements de mon travail (Je suis, par exemple, passé d’un à deux jours de télétravail), et d’autres mesures qui devraient m’aider.
Je suis conscient que je suis encore loin d’être revenu à mon état normal de bien-être, je suis encore fragile. Je dois rester fort prudent. Mais je sais que je suis sur la bonne voie.

J’ai appris à mes dépens ce que c’est que de se croire un surhomme capable de pouvoir tout faire, vite et bien, souvent pour faire plaisir, encore plus souvent par peur de décevoir. J’ai appris que le manque de congruence au travail, le manque de sens dans trop d’activités, créent des failles qui ne font que s’agrandir en moi pour devenir un abysse. J’ai appris qu’être gentil tout le temps et avec tout le monde ne contribue pas à me respecter. J’ai appris que ne pas écouter les sensations internes de mon corps est le pire mal que je puisse me faire. J’ai appris que je suis le seul responsable de mon bien-être.

Je remercie les personnes suivantes pour m’avoir aidé, conseillé, guidé, soutenu, informé, aimé, consciemment ou pas: Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge, Florence Bierlaire (psychoterapeute et amie), Dr Marie-Pascale Simonnet (Psychiatre à la Commission Européenne), Andrea Agosta (mon psychoterapeute), Dr Sory, Agnès (ma cheffe), ma famille en commençant par ma femme et mes enfants qui ont endurés des moments difficiles, mes amis et collègues.

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Burnout, how I avoided falling into the precipice

Lire la version française.

I would like to share my personal experience of how I avoided falling into the burnout. With no intention to give lessons to anyone, I only hope that my story can help others become aware of their own condition so they don’t end up on the precipice.

It was by attending a workshop with Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge on The Use of Self that a click triggered in me. Two days of deep diving on the use of the Self and the Presence forced me to see myself on my internal mirror. It was especially during the exercises that I realized how much I was hurting mentally and physically, and how much I was hiding it to myself. Two years that I was on this dangerous slope at work, and lately in my private life also, without wanting to realize the obvious. I will not mention here the causes that led me to this descent into hell, each of you will easily deduce by the following or will see his own.

The use of Self - sketchnotes

Use of Self is the core element in how effective we are in successfully executing our intended roles. It is built on our awareness of who we are, clarity of our intentions, consciousness to the situation, our choices and managing ourselves purposefully in acting“. – Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge

Becoming aware of my inner feelings that I was trying to hide, the denial of my malaise, the illusion that everything is fine or will be better tomorrow, the lack of compassion for me, all this was a big emotional shock. The shock was all the more violent as I knew perfectly the symptoms and conditions that can lead to burnout. Because I have deepened, illustrated and communicated these thanks to two specialists, Florence Bierlaire and Dr Marie-Pascale Simonnet.

Comment définir et identifier le burnout
Sketchnotes: Comment sortir du burnout?
Sketchnotes: Burnout et résilience

People at-risk burnout, including me, are:

  • perfectionists
  • with values and the meaning of a mission
  • enthusiastic
  • generous
  • motivated
  • workers

The symptoms I felt and refused to admit:

  • lack of vitality
  • disillusionment, disenchantment
  • loss of joy
  • indifference
  • fallback on myself, isolation
  • cynicism
  • impatience
  • irritability
  • loss of concentration
  • inefficiency
  • sleep loss
  • feeling helpless and losing control of my life
  • demotivation
  • anxiety
  • loss of meaning at work
  • last fatal symptom that I narrowly avoided: collapse and demolition

While crying I warned Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge that I was leaving her workshop well before its end. She kissed me, congratulated me for my courage and my awareness, and wished me to take care of myself from now on.

The same evening I was at my doctor, the good Dr. Sory. After listening to me for a long time, he put me on long sick leave for advanced mental exhaustion with the strong advise to see a psychologist. That same evening, I drew what had just happened. Having opened my eyes on my bad condition thanks to the workshop of Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge, the visit to my doctor, and the decision to take care of myself to avoid burnout:

When I said I don’t want burnout

Some time after, I felt that I had just avoided the worst. That I had asked for and then received the help and support that I needed. Even if the recovery looked difficult and long. As drawing is a therapy since childhood for me, I need to express on paper what I feel, I drew what I felt this way:

Listen to your internal sensations to avoid burnout

Visits to the psychologist helped me to establish a list of actions and ways of thinking that would take me back slowly but surely.

I accept:

  • My exhaustion state, being on treatment and that it will last a long time
  • I will be fragile for a long time, so I must protect myself and be extremely careful. Not to trust an apparent quick return to feeling better (a relapse would be worse)
  • I have one body and I have spent more resources than it has (identical to the problem of overconsumption of our planet’s resources)
  • I must say loudly what is going wrong and ask for what makes me feel good
  • I cannot please everyone by always being nice
  • I can disappoint by saying no or by refusing to do something
  • I am the only person who can take care of myself

I pledge, as long as I am not back to the top of my health, to:

  • Listen to the signals of my body and every day evaluate how I feel thanks to introspection (15 minutes of meditation)
  • React immediately the day after to return to an acceptable level of well-being, if the result of the evaluation was not satisfactory

I commit myself now and for the future to:

  • Take back control of my life on what is under my responsibility
  • Put barriers at work to avoid permanent stress
  • Say stop to work overload, only work for the resources of one body and one mind
  • Stop what pumps me energy and makes no sense
  • Regularly regenerate myself through what makes me feel good, walks in nature, drawing, meditation, reading, traveling, family, etc.
  • Ask my employer, my direct hierarchy, what they will put in place for me to go better. If I assume my responsibilities, how do they assume theirs to prevent my burnout and burnout of other colleagues?
Ma remontée depuis le gouffre de l’épuisement mental

I returned to work recently. I received a lot of encouragement from my colleagues, understanding as well, and always the same observation that burnout risk at work is increasing for more and more people and more and more often. From my direct hierarchy, I have also received attentive listening, understanding, rearrangements of my work (I have, for example, gone from one to two days of teleworking), and other measures that should help me.
I am aware that I am still far from being at my normal state of well-being, I am still fragile. I must remain very careful. But I know that I am on the right track.

I learned at my expense what it is to believe being a superman who can do everything, quickly and well, often to please, even more often for fear of disappointing someone. I learned that the lack of congruence at work, the lack of meaning in too many activities, create cracks that only get bigger in me to become an abyss. I learned that being nice all the time with everyone does not help to respect me. I learned that not listening to the internal sensations of my body is the worst thing I can do. I learned that I am the only one responsible for my well-being.

I thank the following people for having helped me, advised, guided, supported, informed, loved, consciously or not: Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge, Florence Bierlaire (psychotherapist and friend), Dr. Marie-Pascale Simonnet (Psychiatrist at the European Commission), Andrea Agosta (my psychotherapist), Dr. Sory, Agnès (my boss), my family starting with my wife and my children who have endured hard times, my friends and colleagues.

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