SYSTEMS THINKING IN ACTION: Seeing is Understanding

photo 0 - SYSTEMS THINKING IN ACTION: Seeing is Understanding

David Sibbet finds it tough to understand a story unless you can see it in some way.

“Really good storytellers paint pictures in your mind,” he told attendants of the 2011 Systems Thinking in Action Conference this morning during his keynote address titled Visual Teams: Graphic Tools for Creating and Sustaining High Performance.

A pioneer in the field of graphic facilitation, Sibbet talked about the importance of visual literacy in systems thinking and how tools such as graphic recordings—those oversized, mural-esque type of drawings that capture the essence of a meeting with caricatures, systems models, thought bubbles, Post-It Notes, scribbled handwriting, and all sorts of arrows—are crucial in the storytelling process.

Sibbet introduced the audience to the latest practices and technologies that teams are using to open up the “group mind” and help teams to be able to think collectively about systems, interconnections, the broader context, and consequences. For teams that work from a systems perspective, visualizing is as common as talking, Sibbet said.

After briefly mentioning consulting firms that heavily rely on visualization, like IDEO, Sibbet gave everyone a crash course in drawing—from learning how to draw a real circle (it’s not about the wrist movement, people, it’s all in the shoulder) to drawing lines to drawing stick figures known as seed shapes that represent people. He showed the crowd how any concept or seed shape can look “enlightened” by drawing a few lines around it that look like a burst of energy.

Sibbet stressed that visual literacy is all about visualizing. It’s the best way the understand all the variables at work.

“To see relationships,” Sibbet told the audience, “you need to see displays.”

Read other posts by Aimee C. Juarez

NOTE: This post was submitted from the 2011 Systems Thinking in Action conference hosted by Pegasus Communications in Seattle, Washington. Photo of Michael Erickson sketching a graphic recording courtesy of Aimee C. Juarez.

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