I was honored to have the chance to do large scale visual notes at the Sprout Fund’s Making Sparks event in Pittsburgh recently. Community members, childhood development specialists, technologists, and media producers converged to share ideas, tips, and inspiration around the topic of how to create projects that engage children ages birth to eight in the creative use of technology and media.
Heda Sharapan from the Fred Rogers Company made the crucial point that understanding kids is the crucial first step when thinking about appropriate use of technology to help them develop. That means spending a lot of time observing them at play.
The Sprout Fund brought in graphic recorder Leah Silverman, myself, and several others to translate the ideas swirling around the room into images and key points.
As you will hear in the video above (starting at 3:20), this topic is close to my heart, as I spent years working with children helping them grow through art, theater, and music, incorporating technology when appropriate.
When it comes to a loving a place, it’s always a combination—the place itself and the people you meet there.
For example I met wonderful people living in Washington DC, but the place itself stressed me out. I kept ending up in the Pentagon parking lot by accident. I love the people in DC, don’t love the city.
Philadelphia has wonderful people and I seriously loved the town. The stress and celebrity get siphoned off to New York and DC and leaves the big, badass, City of Brotherly Love to keep its awesomeness secret.
Greater Philadelphia contains 5.8 million people, making it the 5th biggest metro area in the USA. It has a big, robust mass transit system, and a constellation of colleges and universities to rival Boston—University of Pennsylvania, Temple, Drexel, University of the Arts, Villanova, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Swarthmore, St Joseph’s, and Rutgers -Camden, and the University of Delaware (yes, much of Delaware is basically a Philly suburb) to name just a few. Philadelphia has history to burn, picturesque streets, layers of immigration, a solid international airport, interesting neighborhoods, and if you have lived in DC and New York City as I did, you will find Philly rent and real estate prices a steal.
Philly is an hour and a quarter from the Jersey shore,
an hour from Amish country
and an hour and a half from Chesapeake Bay.
Plus, if you need it, you’ve got easy access to New York and DC. It’s just two hours each direction.
As geographer Jim Russell put it to me, Philadelphia is ideally placed for locational arbitrage. In English, that means Philly has a great location between two mega nodes of business, government and Culture, NYC and DC. And it’s big enough to have its own critical mass.
Like other big cities, Philly was punched in the gut by the decline of heavy industry in the 1970’s and 1980’s. But it’s been long enough for the city to stabilize and let its other assets flower.
With the emergence of networked culture, the many dots of Philly are starting to connect to each other and create a beautiful picture. Here are a few of my favorite people that are connecting the dots or who just made Philly a place that I love.
Roz Duffy. Roz helps organize dot connecting events like BarCamp Philly, Refresh Philly, and now TEDx Philly. She also is just straight up good people and has a very nice cat. Roz has good taste and paradoxically puts that good taste to effect organizing open, self organizing events, proving that not all self organization is created equal.
Alex Hillman. Alex helped found Independents Hall, a coworking community in Old City. When I moved to Philadelphia, I joined Independents Hall and had an instant network of hackers, designers, telecommuters, scientists, and homebrewers. Indy Hall is a membership club which provides its devotees with shared workspace, an active online discussion group, and excellent social and educational events. Meanwhile, I’ve seen Alex build up his business and community ventures. Inspiring stuff. Aside from his own ventures Alex helps create spaces where other people can shine. He is dangerously awesome.
Geoff Dimasi. Geoff is also one of the founders of Indy Hall, but works offsite at his own company, P’unk Ave. Geoff helps organize community events like the Junto and Ignite Philly. He partners with the Free Library of Philadelphia to help them connect with a younger, more digitally connected generation and was always a friendly face in the neighborhood.
Chris Bartlett. Chris is an uber connector and a mensch. He recently took a position as the director of the The William Way Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. Sexual identity is something that cuts across all socioeconomic groups and neighborhoods, giving Chris a unique window into the fabric of the whole city. Chris also makes a point to connect to Philadelphia’s technology, government, and business communities. Among his many initiatives, Chris started the Philadelphia Gay History Wiki which documents the lost generation of gay Philadelphians who perished in the AIDS onslaught of the 80’s and 90s. Chris has been thinking about what healthy community means for decades. Philly is lucky to call him its own.
Kelani Nichole and Howie Ross. Just plain good people. OK, they are smart and good looking too. Kelani helps connect the art world to the nerd world and vice versa. Plus she is one of the main forces behind BarCamp Philly. Thanks for being awesome. Kevin Werbach. How many business school professors do you see narrating a slideshow called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in World of Warcraft?” If you know a single one, I guarantee that his name is Kevin Werbach. Kevin connects the world of DC telecommunication policy wonkery to the worlds of business, government, and culture with his Supernova Forum conference. This year is the first time he held it in Philadelphia, where he brought together representatives from Google and Comcast, raconteurs like Dana Boyd and Jeff Jarvis, and representatives of startups like Etsy and Packlate. Kevin brought me in to do large scale visual notes of sessions at Supernova and he was a pleasure to work with. Tip of the hat to Kevin. John Coffey. John Coffey is a sailor, windsurfer, videoblogger, and a friend. One day I was going to shoot photos at a political rally and when I brainstormed with my wife who I should call if she was not available and I got caught up in the craziness and needed to get bailed out of jail. We locked eyes and simultaneously said “John Coffey.” (I know we should have consulted you first John, but now you know). How many people do you know who you would call in that circumstance? For me, John is that guy. And a big hug to Sam who is always a blast to hang out with on Chesapeake Bay or or on terra firma.
Liana Dragoman and Brent Boyd. Liana is an artist turned UX designer and Brent is a machinist turned engineer who I met at the PhillyCHI Design Slam. Brent took us fly fishing in Pennypack Creek in North Philly and Liana hit us up with some homemade jam. Here’s Brent’s homemade backyard hydroponic garden. And here’s a link to a salad Liana made with her backyard produce.
Michael Carvin. Mike is one of the people who makes PhillyCHI the excellent organization that it is. I appreciate his contribution to the Philly UX/CHI scene and give him a long distance hi five. Bill Green. I met city councilman Bill Green during Philly’s push to get Google to install a high speed local data network in a Philly neigborhood.
We shot this little video:
Bill gets the potential of the tech sector’s contribution to Philadelphia. I even see him coworking occasionally at Indy Hall. Here’s to a new school vision in a historic city. Gloria Bell. Gloria is always out and about promoting Philly businesses and supporting them through her consulting services. Gloria is an ambassador of social media marketing to normal people, and that is a crucial niche.
Yuriy Porytko. Yuriy has a helpful spirit combined with business, finance and technology acumen that make him a gift to Philly’s emerging technology startup scene. And he knows how to have a good time. Nazdrovia!
Manny Rechani. With Manny, I’m reaching into central New Jersey, but since I met Manny in Philly and he does trek down to the city frequently, he makes my list. Manny and I met after TrendCamp. After years helping big companies wrangle massive dataflows, he started the Innovators Club where old dogs mingle with new dogs to exchange wisdom and learn new tricks. Manny gets the official Jonny G. stamp of awesomeness.
Kevin Lee. Kevin is a charismatic introvert, an original thinker, a storyslammmer, and a stubborn dreamer. Since I’ve known him, I have seen him pushing himself to learn new things from visual thinking, to storytelling, to iPhone app development. He dreams, and he has the stubborn persistence to follow those dreams. That is the recipe for awesomeness.
Jonas Milder is the Chair of the Masters of Industrial Design (MID) Program at University of the Arts. Jonas has reinvented the department with the goal of helping each student become a “…facilitator, enabling a dialog among the various stakeholders involved and affected by the project or challenge at hand.” In doing this students help create cross disciplinary approaches to help real world clients like Campbell’s Soup, Independents Hall, and the City of Philadelphia with complex challenges. Jonas is a visionary who actually knows how to build.
Noticing a theme here?
Fraser Marshall and Justin Witman. Justin and Fraser recently completed the MID program at UArts, Their project was an exploration of how to integrate design processes into facilitation. They call their precess Humantic design, and I am inspired by their practical approach to using design to help groups converge around productive ways to untie knotty problems.
So this is a VERY partial list of the people who made Philly a wonderful place for me. I am really enjoying Pittsburgh. I am looking forward to meeting more people here and contributing to the social fabric in this city, but a big bleeding chunk of my heart is in Philly.
P.S. I’m going to keep adding people to this entry as they pop into my head so keep checking back.
Melinda Emerson. Her mission to prevent small business failure. She practices what she preaches, working with targeted intensity over time to help businesses succeed.
Will Evans. About half way into my two year stint in Philly, Will Evans moved to town adding a strange X factor to the fabric of the my personal geospacetime continuum. Will didn’t open doors for me so much as show me that certain doors existed. For that, and for pure entertainment value received, I am in his debt.
Bianca Cevoli is funny, smart, and stylish. In fact she is the bomb (the one on the left in the picture above).
julia pellicciaro I almost did not include her in this list, because she is no longer in Philly. Funny enough she moved to Pittsburgh where I now live! Julia was a big part of VizThink Philly and is a soulful humanist with an analytic mind and warm heart.
I run my own business, Envizualize, where I am “keynote listener” at conferences and meetings. I listen intently and create large scale visual notes of the ideas bouncing around the room. I love what I do and have had some impressive achievements. But loving what I do is not enough.
Aside from my actual product, I need to manage sales, marketing, finance, and customer service. I need to scope out the competition and build useful relationships. This is a lot to orchestrate.
But better late than never. I met Melinda at an event in Philadelphia and she had the publisher send me a review copy.
Melinda is brutally honest about all the work that goes into starting your own business. Luckily, she is equally thorough about what you can do to maximize your chance of starting a successful business.
There are many books out there to give a small business owner advice.Two things differentiate Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months from the other books. First, Emerson focuses entirely on preparing well *before* you actually formally open for business. Second, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months explains everything you need to do month by month. Mapping actions to time like this is very helpful. Otherwise it is too easy to put off painful but necessary actions. Mapping actions to time also shows what areas support other areas.
Since this book was not available when I began my business, I will have to play catchup. There is a lot in this book, but I’m just going to move through it 1 month at a time and see how that impacts my business. Tune back in 12 months.
As General Eisenhower said “Plans are nothing; planning is essential.” No matter how much you plan, things are going to go differently than you imagined. But the kind of research you do in creating a plan will serve you well if and when you decide to start your own business. Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months will let you construct a solid plan that you can then improvise off of as reality dictates.
Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam (Using pictures to solve problems—written to appeal to business people. Full of useful models and techniques, gives insight into concerns of business people)
Gamestorming, Sunni Brown, Dave Gray, James Mancufo (Full of ideas for designing workshop and meeting activities with game and visual elements)
Visual Meetings, Dave Sibbet (One of the founders of the visual facilitation movement shares ideas, templates, and techniques for better meetings. He has many other excellent books as well at grove.com)
The Mind Map Book, Tony Buzan (Comprehensive guide to mind mapping. A bit over the top in some of its claims, but there is gold here).
What Color is Your Parachute, Richard Bolles (Interesting use of graphics, in this case in service of finding an appropriate career)
Make a World, Ed Emberley (Step by step drawing instruction to create iconic, bold, images that communicate instantly. It’s geared toward kids, but it is great for any age. Available used on Amazon.)
Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud (Amazing book if you want to dig deep into visual communication, narrative, and design. Highly recommended).
The website of the International Forum of Visual Practioners. Yes the website is dated, but it is a great organization. They also have a linked-in group and a very interesting annual conference in August.
Global community of visual thinkers and communicators. Lots of good stuff here. There are active local chapters in NYC and Austin and a dormant community in Philly that can be restarted if anyone is interested.
My contact info:
I just returned from a powerful conference: The Ripple Effects of Visual Practice, IFVP 2010.
(Photo by Lynn Carruthers)
The conference marked the 15th year of the International Forum of Visual Practitioners, and met in Redwood City, just south of San Francisco. The hotel where the conference unfolded is appropriately across the street from Oracle and Electronic Arts.
I say appropriately, because graphic facilitation sprung up in the Bay Area. It’s roots are intertwined with the revolution in human-computer interaction and computational power that flowered in the late 60’s in the Bay Area without which Oracle, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, and Apple would not exist.
Reflections on the Origins and Innovations of Visual Practice â€“ David Sibbet and Emily Shepard
David Sibbet, the founder of The Grove, likened visual practice today to the San Francisco Bay, which is nourished by the confluence of sixteen rivers. He and Emily Shepard emceed a conversation about the roots of the practice, bringing up on stage a procession of people who told stories about their personal histories in visual practice.
Tributaries of visual practice include the community input process facilitated by architects, Fred Lakin’s adventures in computer graphics at Xerox PARC, and Cesar Chavez’s associate Juanita Brown bringing graphic facilitators into the struggle for fairer working conditions for farm workers. There were shout outs to Peter Senge, Michael Doyle, Nancy Margulies, and many others. Sibbet ended by noting the recent explosion the interest in visual thinking.
I decided at the last minute to do graphic recording of the session, and figured this was no time for restraint. I was delighted with the result—it’s an accurate portrait of my own excitement as I followed the testimony of the assembled pioneers of visual practice. It also has quite a bit of information packed into it’s exuberant frame.
Dan Roam’s Challenge: Get Your Clients Drawing.
(Photo by Lynn Carruthers)
I have seen Dan Roam speak before, but I have never seen him speak for a full hour. What a treat. He is the most levelheaded brainiac I have ever encountered. Here are some of Dan’s big points:
1) Whoever Draws the Best Picture Wins
2) Q: What kind of problems can you help solve with pictures A: All of them
3) Q: Do the pictures need to be complex? A: No
4) Q: But I can’t draw! Is there any hope for me? A: If you made it through kindergarten, you have the necessary drawing skills.
5) Most educators think pictures are like training wheels. They help novice learners build confidence, but are unnecessary for advanced learning. Actually, pictures are like the steering mechanism of the bicycle of learning. They are useful for every kind of learning. Friends don’t let friends learn without pictures.
6) Drawing pictures of who/what, where, when, how, how much, and why of a problem engages all the different visual perception and processing pathways of our brain, giving us a 360 picture of a problem and opens the maximum range of possibilities for solving it.
7) Teach your clients visual problem solving skills. That means teach them to draw—not fancy photorealistic pictures—rather teach them to draw conceptually powerful diagrams to help them explore the who/what, where, when, how, how much, and why of their problems. This will lead them to the who/what, where, when, how, how much, and why of powerful solutions. Instead of drawing for our clients, we need to teach them how to draw.
Tangent: Dan talked about how Washington DC desperately needs visual problem solving. I share his frustration at the lack of visual thinking in DC. The thing is, based on my 2 years working in DC, many people there do not want clarity. If they had clarity, they might solve problems and be out of a job. Or more charitably, they might have to take a clear position, which can be dangerous in organizational or national politics. Dan?
Andrea Saveri: Dealing With Gnarly Problems of the Future
Andrea Saveri talked about emerging strategies for dealing with gnarly problems. Saveri said that we are now in an era of massive, often unexpected change, with hairy, complex, wicked problems. Problems so complex that we have a hard time even defining them or teasing out their causes.
Saveri said that the era of “best practices” is ending. Best practices don’t work for novel problems. We are now entering an era where novel practice is needed. Novel practice includes tapping into data to visualize problems and leveraging the power of experts with the wisdom of crowds. She used the gulf oil spill as an example of a thorny problem. We should augment BP’s 1910 solution (attempting to plug the leak with debris) with crowdsourced ideas.
Value will come less from experts broadcasting their solution from on high and will come more from people who facilitate group formation to provide value. How does visual thinking fit into this proposition? Here a just a couple of Saveri’s thoughts.
1) Data enriched discourse via data visualization:
Dashboards, maps, and mashups to make sense of oceans of data. Make the invisible visible.
2) A new mythology of interdependence. Our job is to unleash new myths where the heroes are groups. There is a visual component to developing and communicating these new myths.
The thematic parallels between the Supernova Forum, where I created real time interpretive murals in late July and this IFVP conference fascinate me. Supernova forum grappled with the implications of a networked world for large institutions, through the lens of communications technology and policy. Saveri looked at the same topic through her own Clay Shirky-esque lenses. Clearly, our capacity to address rapid, complicated, change looms large for a lot of people right now.
Amidst all this deep macro thinking, that little voice in my heart squeaked “Ok, ok, but what about meeeee?” Luckily, Julie Stuart provided just the right session on personal branding.
A few things that popped out:
The energy I bring to a room is a big selling point. Maybe even the main one.
Style is a big part of brand. Embrace my style.
People buy stuff because they want it. They don’t buy it because they don’t trust the seller. The key to conveying trustworthiness is to present myself to people authentically. That sounds easy, but there are lots of layers of the onion to peel back before I can illuminate humanity with the shining heart of the onion that is Jonny. Are you ready? There may be some crying involved.
Many other great nuggets in this session. Thanks Julie!
Visual Practice in the Trenches:
Bruce Flye shared his experience of working as the Director of Planning and Partnerships at the Brody School of Medicine where he employs a range of graphic facilitation techniques. The session was a fascinating journey into the kind of challenges that our healthcare system is facing today, and one institution’s creative approach to thriving in a complex ecosystem. Katrina Geurkink created a splendid visual record of where her mind went during the session.
(Katrina Geurkink’s graphic record of her thoughts during Bruce Flye’s session)
The Future of IFVP:
The organization got a right on time shot in the arm with the election of 6 new board members. IFVP is an all volunteer organization which relies on the efforts of the board to keep the organization vital and relevant. After years of an overworked, too small board, we decided to expand the board and recruit new board members. In a competitive election we found ourselves with a mostly new board that features members with expertise in technology and nonprofit management, both useful for moving the organization forward. Plus we elected a board member from England, so I guess the “I” in “IFVP” is for real. I appreciate the contributions of past board members and applaud a new wave of visual practitioners for stepping up.
A Few Noteworthy Folks
I met so many vibrant, smart, people at the conference I can’t list all of them. That said, here a few people who made a big impression on me:
John Ward. John reached out to me before the conference to help with the conference. He was very busy coordinating things during the conference itself, but he took a moment to let me know how much he liked the graphic recording I did for the roots of graphic recording session, which meant a lot to me.
Fred Lakin. As so often happens, respect often comes after butting heads. Fred and I did collide during the graphic jam, when he and another esteemed visual practitioner were blowing off steam and annoying the living hell out of me.
Fred produced an event the next evening that blew my mind. He brought in an artist who mixed and processed our live iPad and paper drawings in real time as people socialized in the background. Wonderful stuff.
I bought a copy of Fred’s novel, Live Graphics Nightly, about a future when visual improvisation is a popular art form and it kept me entertained and enthralled the plane flight back to Philly. Fred is a visionary troublemaker, and we need more of that in the world.
Nancy Margulies. I had minimal interaction with Nancy, but I have huge respect for her work, so it was a thrill to just be there with her.
Rachel Smith and Peter Durand. Rachel and Peter are each exploring ways to merge digital technology with hand drawn graphic facilitation. It is great that they are pushing the edges.
One of the best conferences I’ve ever been to. Fabulous speakers and facilitators for all the sessions. All of the sharing is amplified by the graphic recording and facilitation that is woven into the fabric of the conference. If you are interested in facilitating learning, collaboration, and high performance, you should attend this conference. You do not need to have special drawing or visual skills to get a lot out of the event. And next year’s conference will be in Hawaii, so you pretty much have to come.