The Art of Rich Pictures to accelerate Big Thinking

The Art of Rich Pictures to accelerate Big Thinking

Our success in all aspects of life requires us to untangle complex problems or opportunities and make them simple enough to act on. Bringing this sense of ‘simplicity’ to specific subjects (whether it’s deciding how to enter a new market or take a new pathway in your career) is a sought-after skill.

Rich Picturing is a technique to breakdown and simplify ill-defined problems and dynamic opportunities by drawing detailed (“rich”) representations of them. The technique has many applications and can include everything from quick sketches to detailed cartoons.

The value of the technique is to force us to think about any topic in a pictorial way, which helps us work with the subject more deeply and meaningfully.

In an earlier post I wrote about setting up experiments for this year. The fact is you don’t need to be an artist to create rich pictures. Over the last five months I’ve been exploring rich picturing as a way to accelerate my learning and rapidly explore questions. I’ve used the technique in diverse ways – from planning strategy papers through to summarising competitor activities – and every time I’ve found the process far more engaging than writing sequential notes.

Why I use rich pictures

Rich pictures help me accelerate my thinking and learning.  Here’s how:

  1. A picture tells 1000 words: This old saying is absolutely true, even more so if you have a ‘visual learning style’. One of the reasons why infographics have become so popular is because at a glance they are far more effective at communicating large amounts of information. The same applies to rich pictures.
  2. Far easier to interpret and remember: when I look at a rich picture I find the subject far easier to interpret, and far easier to remember. If interpretation and recall is a key measure of communication (and it is in most multi-million dollar advertising campaigns), then rich pictures are a very effective medium.
  3. Representation of context and relationships : notes often present a linear path of thinking, whereas a picture is far better at representing the context and relationships involved in a subject.  The context might be patterns of cause and effect, sequences or processes, or relationships. For example, if I asked you to create a rich picture of your life, you would perhaps draw pictures of ‘work’, ‘family’, ‘friends’, and alongside these subjects the various sub-elements associated with them.  The ‘picture’ or ‘map’ you arrive at would likely be more ‘relational’ than cursive notes.
  4. Stay engaged: when I take my notes as a ‘rich picture’, I am far more engaged in the subject I’m listening to. This helps me to absorb the subject in a deeper way.
  5. A gesture of effort for others: creating a picture of a meeting shows how effectively you’re listening. Now and then after a meeting I’ve said to the presenter, ‘I hope you don’t mind but I took lots of notes’ and showed them the rich picture. On every occasion the presenter has been appreciative that this effort was made to understand their material.

How I use this tool

Here are some examples of some of the ways I use rich picturing:

  1. Taking notes at meetings: I’m far more effective at summarising a meeting when I take notes as a picture.
  2. Articulating components of a problem/opportunity: sometimes wicked problems are difficult to interpret  Breaking the components of a problem into chunks (a process often called ‘chunking up’ or ‘chunking down’) helps to focus on specific elements of the issue. Rich picturing helps us work through the specific elements of a problem.
  3. Writing goals / targets / resolutions: for my New Year’s Resolutions this year, I wrote them as a rich picture, then scanned them, and reflect on them on a weekly basis.
  4. Summarising research: some time ago I had to research the strategies and objectives of a Fortune 500 company. The way I did this was to read all of its annual reports and strategy papers.  As I did this I created a ‘rich picture’ of this analysis on an A4 page. The A4 page became as useful to me as the research itself in understanding the company’s direction and ambitions.
  5. Planning presentations/papers: whenever I’m planning a major presentation, the first thing I do is sketch out the table of contents and main themes for the presentation as a rich picture. This helps me orient my research and fine-tune the message for the presentation. Then as I create the presentation I refer to this page as my blueprint.

Question: Do you have any particular way you take notes or do you planning?  Let me know by leaving a comment by here.

I'm a digital strategist and channel manager with 15 years experience in digital, across marketing, e-commerce, online sales, digital and mobile app strategy. Companies I've worked for include Coles, ANZ and GlaxoSmithKline. I'm also a graduate and previous sessional lecturer of Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University.
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