Links between stories, skills and tools to create graphics

On 24 April 2020, I attended an interesting online session by Rafael Höhr on “Applications to create graphics in newsrooms“.

Although the title was explicit, we were going to talk about tools to create graphics, I cannot help thinking that tools are not the most important part in the process of creating graphics. Rafael explained this very well during the session and despite everything we spent (too much) time on tools.

The process of creating graphics should follow this order:

  • First, create a story! A story around the questions you want to answer, around what you want to show, around the 5Ws
  • Link your story to skills. Surround yourself with a multi-skilled team that will help you analyze, edit, interpret, tell, graph, animate your data.
  • At the end only, choose the tool (s) best suited to your needs

My sketchnotes of Rafael’s online session:

Apps to create graphics in newsrooms, sketchnotes

Thanks to my colleagues in the EU Publications Office for organising the online session.

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Teleworking mindfully

Being forced to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty, fear, big changes to our lives. Teleworking mindfully makes possible to live it better! This is the main message of an online session organised by my colleagues from the EC HR department.

Their presentation is based on the work of two extremely inspiring and inspired persons: the master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who described five stages of grief. (it fills me with joy to see how “we” rediscover the Elisabeth’s work during this coronavirus crisis).

Teleworking mindfully, sketchnotes
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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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