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.
Got some pleasant news a few days ago when I learned my large scale visual notes were being used as a magazine cover illustration.
My friends at ImageThink asked me to represent them by providing Graphic Recording at the March 2010 Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum in Philadelphia.
People at this event shared ideas for finding innovative ways to make their meetings successful in the current challenging economic circumstances while I represented those ideas in pictures and key words as they spoke in a kind of real time mural.
People at the conference gave me great feedback on the visual notes. I sent them photos of the graphics and filed it in my memory as another rewarding and interesting session.
Months later, I was delighted that the editors of Medical Meetings Magazine decided to use a closeup of my large scale visual notes from the event as the cover for their June issue.
This is a great example of the way graphic recording can extend the impact of your event long after it is over. Even if the visual notes don’t end up on the cover of a magazine, you can share them in email newsletters, brochures, slideshows, websites, and so on. If you want conversations to really count, graphic recording is a powerful way to create a vivid record of the ideas bouncing around the room at forums, meetings, and conferences.
I am excited to be the graphic recorder at Supernova Forum 2010, a conference which “…explores the transformation of computing, communications, business, and society in the Network Age. ” It will be a delightful challenge to translate the ideas bouncing around the event into pictures.
Held since 2002, Supernova events bring together several hundred leading executives, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, government officials, and business practitioners to make connections, discuss emerging trends, and discover innovative new ideas and companies.
Supernova will take place July 29-30 at Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
The two days will contain a mix of self organizing sessions as well as a plethora of excellent speakers in a more traditional conference format.
If you want to be an entrepreneurial artist, you can learn a lot from a seventh grader I met this a couple of weekends ago. I know I did.
Meet Johnny D.
Last weekend, Johnny D was sitting behind a table in the midst of the Italian Market Festival in South Philadelphia offering to draw portraits. $3 for a black and white drawing, and $5 for color.
Here is what I learned from Johnny
1. You have got to put yourself out there.
One way or another, you are going to have to put yourself out there if you want to get paid for your art. That can be scary. But there sat Johnny D offering his portraits in exchange for money. If Johnny can do it, so can you. Get the support you need and do it.
2. Exploit opportunities.
Johnny D’s mom owns a storefront on 9th street, smack dab in the middle of where the Italian Market Festival takes place. Johnny took advantage of the opportunity to use that prime real estate in front of the storefront during a time of maximal foot traffic. Your mom may not own a storefront in a bustling foot corridor, but you have your own unique opportunities, if you only are smart enough recognize them and take advantage of them.
3. Remember the the 4 Ps
Remember the 4 Ps? Johnny D does.
Johnny offered his own twist on a classic product: the street portrait. Instead of doing the large, photorealistic portraits typical in street artist portraits, Johnny offered miniature portraits. Instead of graphite or charcoal, Johnny used fine point sharpies. Instead of paper, he used cardstock. Instead of photorealism, he offered an impressionistic portrait, but one still grounded in close observation.
With a street portrait, the final picture is only half the product. The other half is the experience of sitting for the portrait. Johnny offered a differentiated product by virtue of his age. How often do you get to have your portrait drawn by a young person? It was like a time machine. I felt like I was in junior high school having that one “good drawer” drawing my picture. That, on top of his distinctive style, sold me.
It does not matter how good your product is if nobody knows about it. Johnny effectively generated awareness of his product. He set up in a high foot traffic area where people were looking to have fun and spend money. He clearly communicated his offerings with a big stylish handcrafted sign that said “Drawings By Johnny D.” He displayed sample portraits to show people his portraits.
Johnny posted his portrait prices: 3 dollars for black and white, 5 dollars for color. That kind of pricing seemed sensible to me. At the festival people were paying from 3-10 dollars for food and beverage items. So Johnny’s pricing is well within the range of his potential customers’ expectations for festival expenditures. And it is high enough so that if he does decent volume—say 20 portraits, he would generate 60 to 100 dollars. That’s a lot of manga novels, cheesesteaks, or whatever it is that 7th grade boys like to spend their money on these days.
Update: Johnny cleared over $500 in 2 days!
The artist placed himself and his product in the center of a swarm of potential customers so that they would have easy access to information about his product and to the product itself.
My Customer Experience?
When I walked by Johnny I saw his sign, I came closer and looked at his samples, and then I checked for prices. When I looked at his samples, I thought, “Hmmm, not bad.” I kept heading up the street, but as I strolled Johnny and his pictures kept popping into my mind. So I decided to go back. I decided on a black and white portrait.
As he sat and drew me, I asked if I could take some photos for this website, and he said he was fine with that. I loved the way he went back and forth between looking at me and feverishly developing his drawing. Halfway through, I told him I wanted to upgrade it to color. He obliged, handed me the portrait, and I loved it. I handed him a five and walked away happy. The picture is now on my fridge.
Success Breeds Success:
As Johnny drew me, people stopped to watch the performance, which led to him booking two more customers. So get the ball rolling and it will keep rolling faster.
Suggestions for Johnny (and maybe you too)
I think he did a great job with many aspects of marketing and sales for this portrait gig, but there is always room to improve. Here are a couple of suggestions for next time.
1) Offer a whole solution. For example, some people might want a framed picture. So Johnny could frame pictures on the spot for an additional fee.
2) Offer three price points. That way you can upsell people who want a premium product or downsell to someone who is on a tight budget.
3) Collect customer email addresses. Successful business people cultivate relationships. It is much easier to generate repeat business than to keep finding new customers. If you collect email addresses, you can build those relationships via an occasional email newsletter. If someone sat for a portrait, that person is already a fan of your work. It makes all kinds of sense to cultivate your fan (AKA potential regular customer) base. This is gold. It is much harder to acquire new customers than to keep repeat ones.
4) Make a website. A website is a useful resource for building one’s brand. There are many ways to use the site—show samples, give updates on future appearances, give contact information for people who want commissions, give people a place to sign up for your email newsletter, etc. Before creating a website, talk it over with your parents. A website is a public face, and there are safety and privacy concerns with putting your information out in cyberspace.
Now Johnny may not want to implement my suggestions. There are a lot of other things to do in 7th grade beside focusing on maximizing marketing and sales for his art business. I know that Johnny has a lot of other talents and interests. But let me say this. I was very impressed by what I saw last weekend. If he applies the same amount of guts, effort, smarts, and talent, in whatever he chooses to do, I predict a bright future for him. I just wish I was where he was at when I was in 7th grade. At least I can be inspired by him right now.
Thanks to Johnny D’s mother, Molly for giving me permission to use her son as the inspiration for this blog post. And thanks of course, to the artist and entrepreneur Johnny D.