deFrost #54: Visualising to see and solve problems

September 5th 2018

Do you think of yourself as a visionary leader? At our recent deFrost* event our guest speaker Ben Crothers, Senior Designer and Facilitator at Atlassian, challenged a room of 30 leaders to r

Do you think of yourself as a visionary leader?

We usually define being visionary in a general way. We think of a person who can tell a compelling story about the future and galvanise listeners to act. As far as it goes, this is an accurate way to think about the term. But it’s not the only way.

At our recent defrost* event, Visualising to see and solve problems, we challenged a room of 30 leaders from across all three sectors — corporate, government, and not-for-profit
— to reconsider what it means to be visionary. We proposed that being visionary can also mean being able to make simple drawings that tell a story. It means being comfortable with live sketching to show people important elements of a problem to be solved or product to be built.

Our guest speaker, Ben Crothers, is no stranger to helping leaders improve their visual thinking and visual communication. As a Senior Designer and Facilitator at Atlassian, he has recently published a book, Presto Sketching, which aims build the creative confidence of leaders so they are positioned to converse and sketch live in their workplaces.

On the night, Ben began by challenging leaders to embrace a growth mindset. He encouraged them to think of learning sketching as comparable to learning a language. He provided them with a set of simple reusable drawings to get ideas out of their heads and get teams aligned so they can make better decisions. Finally, he explained the ways he integrates visuals into his work as a facilitator, showing attendees how to immediately apply what they were practising.

Complementing Ben’s focus on the micro-skills of sketching, our Pivot team presented a case study from the recent strategic collaboration with UTS. Dreu Harrison, Pivot’s Director of Strategic Innovation, outlined how they were asked to help the UTS leadership to answer a question: “Where does UTS play?”

By interviewing 30 key leaders and stakeholders across the university, the Pivot team uncovered a recurring ‘garden’ metaphor, that many of the interviewees used to describe the way innovation and entrepreneurship worked at UTS. By abstracting from this metaphor, the team was able to visualise a simple map of UTS’s stakeholder ecosystem and value chain. The team then used this map to focus two multi-stakeholder consultation workshops. A crucial outcome of these workshops was that UTS developed a shared way to both see and say ‘where they play’ in their innovation precinct and ecosystem.

deFrost* attendees found the theme and activities of the event both encouraging and challenging. We look forward to delivering more events of this style for leaders, because we believe everyone is creative and, with a little help, can learn to be more intentional and more effective when creating with teams.

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