Skip Walter was asked to present at the Institute of Design Strategy Conference on May 9-10, 2012. The requested topic was to describe how human centered design was used in a company he had started. He had talked about the topic before, but in 2 hours not 40 minutes. We had a little over two weeks to pull the presentation deck together, but it was one where we each already had a number of things scheduled.
He liked my painting from the When Science and Art Dance post for the title slide, but asked me to put mathematical formulas on the left side instead of 1’s and 0’s.
I asked him to tell me what he liked about the painting, what details were saying something to him about his topic. We also spent several hours where he talked and took notes on a whiteboard about what he wanted to say. From there he went back to his office to outline his presentation and see what slides he had. I went to the studio to start painting the themes I heard.
A dialogue between slides and paint
The first rough cut was a mishmash of slides with pictures from a variety of places and styles, bullet lists and charts, with logos and different templates. The script had a lot of detail about what happened with who and when.
My paintings were more about the energy that emerges when words and pictures come together.
I’d talk a bit about what I was seeing as the essence of the story. He would take out a bunch of detail.
I saw a flow between the sides of science and art. He saw Design emerging from this energy in the middle. The essence of the story was coming together. Memories of other pieces that fed the core of the storyline began to emerge as the detail fell away.
Walk into your story
The story really began to shift when Skip printed out his slides and put them up on the wall. When you do that you can walk into it, toward it, and see other possibilities of sequence that are hard to discern when you are looking at them in a Powerpoint window. Once that story became clearer, I could paint to support it.
In this case, we had a scientist and an artist to play back and forth between the sides, which worked well. But you could also have two people decide to play those roles. One write a story, the other finds images that say something about the ideas. Start with really rough drafts. Talk about ideas at each stage. Allow each others work to influence you. See what emerges.
Don’t take a huge amount of time. We had to work quickly, so there wasn’t time to get attached to details or to pick on them. We kept moving, and the issues worked themselves out in the end.
I recently came across the work of Raf Stevens, and he sent me an advance copy of his new book, No Story No Fans for review. I’ve been slowly reading a section, then thinking about it, and reading more. I’ve also been thinking about how it relates to the storytelling aspects of the VisualsSpeak tools.
The book incorporates a number of interesting new media approaches. He developed the material in conjunction with a network of people who he connected with online. I like crowdsourced approaches, probably because I’ve seen the value in developing my own products. Each interaction brings another piece of understanding. He also uses QR codes to link to video and websites. It deepened my experience by going to view the samples he referred to in the text.
Selling the use of story
The book does a particularly good job building a case for how story can be used in business. There are a range of examples, which show how this can work. If you need to convince someone of a storytelling approach, you will get material that will support you.
Even though my tools are about surfacing stories and I tell a lot of stories in my workshops, I can now see many opportunities to use more stories in my marketing and on my websites. I will return and re-read sections as I shift how I incorporate story, and how I become more intentional in that process.
Story Listening and Story Circles
I know this is where the magic happens when people use VisualsSpeak. Shifts happen in the space between the stories of different people. I recognized what Raf described but I wonder if people who haven’t witnessed that kind of process would?
So much of what goes on is beyond words. There is a synergy that emerges in the space that I always struggle to describe. Raf does a good job of starting to talk about it. He gives some ideas of how it happens and what you can do to begin to create it.
What are we looking for in business storytelling?
There is an example in the book I keep thinking about where Raf worked with a pharmaceutical company. They surfaced a story that really resonated with people inside and outside the company. This is the start of the story:
“Most people may know what we do. Sometimes people ask what we stand for. They want to know who we are.
First of all, we are like everybody else, ordinary people facing ups and downs in our moods and health, dealing with our little daily worries. Some of us are scientists, some are businessmen, and some are something in between. We have children we are concerned about and aging parents we love dearly. Just like everyone else, we have our hopes and fears and moments of happiness and joy. Like everyone else, we know about pain and distress.
Secondly, we are a group of people, very diverse in thought, nationality and character, who have come around a dream that was brought to us by the founder of one of our earliest pharmaceutical companies. We want nothing less than to contribute to the progress of health, and we are willing and able to work hard for it.
Finally, we are a company. We develop pharmaceutical products to address medical needs that have not yet been met. Once developed, we distribute them around the globe.”
I keep wondering if the resonance is coming from a story of this company— or if it’s discovering the universality of this company? Couldn’t you substitute the details of almost any org and have it be true? I’m left wondering if I am looking to surface what is unique or what is universal?
Perhaps we need both kinds of stories.
Telling stories over time
One of my favorite part of the book was Raf’s reminding me to think about telling stories over time. It’s easy to get caught up in the thinking that you need to get the one perfect story (and produce it in some slick very professional format.) That was more true before we had the tools to easily create multimedia, but it’s not true now. Our business stories can be more of a net across many channels. This has me thinking more strategically about how that can happen. Instead of being all over the place as I am now.
Best part of reviewing this book has been discovering the larger body of Raf’s work. He takes a creative approach to everything he does, so follow his links. He’s done some particularly interesting work on Prezi. Here is one example:
Sometimes the personal identity stories that we tell about ourselves can be the greatest impediment to creating the change in our lives that we want to make. The kinds of stories I’m talking about are the ones that define us, give us our identity, and by speaking them are how we are known.
All of us have them, and they can change depending on the situation we are in: at work, with family, as a parent, as part of an organization, at school, etc. Stories about ourselves are necessary, because they help us to identify our place in the world and can help give comfort and meaning to our lives.
In this post I want to talk about the need to sometimes interrupt the stories we tell, so that we can examine them in the context of where our life is now. Stories can get stuck in a rut. What was true about our lives five years ago may not be true today. And yet we may be telling the same story about ourselves.
Above is an image I created on the ImageCenter to help me explore the metaphor of helping people get out of their story-telling rut. This image helped me to write what I have been struggling to put into words. That was a different kind of story–telling rut and perhaps the subject of another post.
At VisualsSpeak we use photographs and paintings to provide people with a lens with which they can see their stories from another perspective. Using images can help us to make connections to hidden parts of ourselves and surface a different perspective we may not be aware of. Even if our story is not in a rut, the very least examining a personal identity story can do is to add depth and nuance to it.
One reason we like using visual methods for the purpose of looking look at stories is because when people use images they are the ones adding richness and depth to the telling, which has an empowering effect. And by using visuals we can help examine these stories in a way that is gentle, compassionate and doesn’t have the appearance of prying.
Wired for stories
We all tell stories. It’s how we’re wired. Just about everything we humans say is communicated through story. Books, magazines, movies are all stories. The six o’clock news will tell you ‘Our top story tonight is…’ Even company reports are stories told in the language of mathematics. Every individual or group has a story.
It’s not unusual for therapists or mental health counselors to hear clients frame their story in a negative context based on some trauma the person has experienced. Part of their job is to help people examine and re-frame the experience, so that they can start to develop a new sense of self. In a way, it’s much easier to understand the need to help someone change his or her story from the perspective of a mental health professional, because a personal identity story based on a traumatic event is often about negative self-image, which doe not help someone live a fulfilling life.
Moving from the obvious to the not-so-obvious is the need for those of us working with individuals or groups in a personal growth area to interrupt and have our clients examine the stories they are telling. These stories have to be examined for their validity in the present moment, not years ago, if we want to help the individual or group to move forward.
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that people purposely try to deceive us. Most likely the person telling the story believes what he or she is saying. After all, the story may have served them very well. And it may be perfectly valid.
Insert the story-telling rut metaphor here
Think of the stories people tell as a car driving down an icy road. The only way you can drive, without losing control, is by keeping the tires in the ruts created by the many cars traveling through the same ruts over and over again.
For those of you who have never experienced driving in cold climates what happens is this; Cars drive through snow and ice until ruts (paths) are formed. Drivers will stay in the ruts because that is the safest place to be. If your car starts to leave the rut, you can lose control of it very quickly and then bad things can happen.
The stories we tell about ourselves are very much the same way. They become ruts that are safer to stay in then to veer off and create a new one. After a while, the story becomes so normal and ingrained that we don’t even realize that we’re in a rut and that other possibilities exist.
For those of us who facilitate personal growth processes, such as coaches, counselors, etc, part of our job is to gently interrupt the story being told in a way that helps our clients to make sure that the story and goals being stated by the client match up. What we really are doing is to make sure that the core beliefs and values of the client are in sync with his or her goals.
It is far easier for us to make changes and achieve goals when our values and beliefs are aligned with what we are doing. Are they always a perfect match? No. Are there times when we have to make choices other than ideal? Absolutely. But the closer we come to aligning our core beliefs and values with what we want to achieve, the more energy, focus and commitment we’ll have in the pursuit.
Meet John Jones
Here’s a story you might hear.
My name is John Jones. I have been married for 27 years and have two children. I graduated from business school with an MBA. I am a vice-president at XYZ Company and have been there for the past 25 years. I am in charge of company-wide logistics and have traveled all over the world. I have a passion for making sure things run smoothly! I love what I do and want to get some coaching so that I can advance my career.
This is the kind of story we all tell about who we are. John has probably told it hundreds of times. It is neat, compact and conveys that John has a well-defined life. This is how his friends, family and associates know him. It’s perfect and unshakable.
The problem arises when John wants to make a change in his life. His story is so ingrained that he might not be able to get past it to see a big picture view of all his options. And because he has been telling essentially the same story for many years, it may be preventing him from acknowledging any changes in his core values and values, which might be either in direct contrast or slightly different to the story he’s telling.
The story unexamined
Let’s look at some possibilities for what might happen if we helped John to examine his story. One possibility is that his story is just fine. But by taking the time to help him examine it, he can now add some more depth and nuance to it. It’s kind of like getting a tune-up for a car. The car worked fine before but now it’s driving like a dream.
The other possibility is that what John is saying (wanting to advance his career) does not match up with his core beliefs and values at this point in his life. At one time they did but not now.
After some questioning, John remembered that as a young man he thought about doing a stint with the Peace corp. But then he got a great job offer and his career took off. In reflecting on his current life, he realizes that he regrets not joining the Peace Corp and thinks this might be the time for him to do it.
Or maybe John wants to spend a lot more time with his grandchildren but all the travel he does keeps him away from them. Or maybe he would like to retire and go fly-fishing on all seven continents. Or maybe he feels a draw towards putting his talents to work in service of a non-profit. Or maybe he wants to do some traveling with his wife.
You get the idea. It’s not unusual for people to have these realizations when doing personal examination processes using visuals. Not everyone completely changes the course of their life as in the above examples, but the outcome of having these insights is that people go away with a lot more energy and a clearer idea of where they’re headed, because they are in alignment with themselves.
Ever have a story that held you back?
Have you ever discovered that your personal identity story was holding you back? Have you ever been working with a client and have him/her realize that what they had been saying didn’t match up with what they really wanted?
In Part 2 of this post, I’m going to talk more about how using visuals can help our clients examine their stories in a way that is gentle, doesn’t involve ‘prying’ and best of all they will do it without us even having to ask them!
Back in July, Christine Martell sat down for one of our monthly free Tuesday Topics sessions on “Why Visuals Work.” In the 45-minute session, she talked about using visuals to convey information, to organize information, and to elicit information. In the excerpt below, Christine talks about how we get trapped in the same old stories that we tell, and how she worked to figure out what images help us get out of that rut:
Christine:Oftentimes when we come into a group or a meeting, we automatically go into spewing those typical stories that we always tell. But a lot of times, they are not necessarily the most effective stories that we could tell, nor are they complete, nor are they necessarily kind of in alignment with the goal of the meeting or what we’re doing.
Interviewer: So then where do the visuals come in?
Christine:Well, with the VisualsSpeak tools, we will ask people a question or pose an idea, and then we will ask people to select images that they have some kind of connection to that idea for them. Then they’ll start to tell a different story. Oftentimes, what we hear people say is things like:
“I didn’t really know why I was picking the image, but I knew I had to pick the image. It had a kind of attraction for me. And now that I’m starting to talk about it, I’m starting to see why I picked it!”
And then this whole story comes out that they never would have thought of without that visual trigger. So in that elicitation process, in what VisualsSpeak works with, we’ve gotten really good at identifying the kinds of images that will create those triggers.
Interviewer:That seems like it’s a really critical point. We’ve talked about, in conveying meaning for example, that there are specific kinds of images that sell soap or do advertising. And in organizing meaning, that there are some very specific kinds of ways that you can organize with certain kinds of visuals. That must be true in the elicitation area as well, that there are some kinds of images that work much better than others.
Christine: Yeah. You know, when we started this process with VisualsSpeak, back when I was in graduate school, I laminated 10,000 photographs from books and magazines.
Interviewer:Wow. That’s a lot of lamination.
Christine: It was a process, to say the least. I am SO good with a lamination machine!
Interviewer: Extra added skills you bring to the table!
Christine: Exactly. On the resume!
So what we did is we watched how people responded to images. A lot of the images that we thought were going to be so effective, you know, all those metaphor images, those things we see in business magazines and stuff – didn’t work! People would say things like, “Oh, look, it’s a glass half full, you know hat that means.” End of conversation.
The Miracle in July is her semi-autobiographical genre bending interactive story. I’m fascinated on multiple fronts. On the technical side, the Apture plugin for WordPress offers all sorts of exciting possibilities for embedding media into a blog. On the creative side, I’m fascinated by Michelle’s approach to her project.
I imagine most people who embed media are doing it to enrich news type of content. Michelle is doing it to deepen engagement with story. She’s an engaging writer already, then she adds music clips, photos, videos, and maps to offer the reader additional insights into what she’s thinking. They don’t interrupt the flow of the text since they are just small icons that appear inline when there is something else to experience. It’s very different than reading with illustrations.
She’s also built the story over time. Sharing drafts and building interaction with her readers through social media. The story is intense, gutsy. Her words paint vivid images and sounds. It becomes all the more alive with the inter dispersed media. Almost dimensional.
The tension between the visual and verbal
So much of my work emerges out of the space between the visual and verbal. I haven’t been able to translate it into the online space. Or express, or explain, or inspire the kind of engagement I can when face to face. I don’t know if I can flip the engagement created by the Apture technology to be lead by the visual. Not sure if it can assist in creating the tension that emerges when you bounce between the visual and verbal by shuffling through prints and then telling the story they inspire. Or perhaps it’s something else. Another way to tell the painted stories I have experimented with? Just seems like there should be some really creative applications. Ideas?
I like to hear your comments and stay in touch.
I’m working on a new series of tools for personal and professional development. To be the first to know about them and introductory specials, sign up to be on the Early Explorer list.
Life is frustrating at times. Something that really helps get through times of discouragement is having people in my life who inspire me.
Maggie and Mari Alexander inspire me. I’ve written about Mari before in Saving Lives With Images. She’s part of Safe Passage to Motherhood, a tiny non-profit that is working to save the lives of mothers and babies in Africa. In the first post I talked about how they use pictures to teach the Home Based Life Saving Skills program developed by the American College of Nurse Midwives. Over the last year I started attending their meetings, and helping out as I can. The more I have learned, the more inspired I am. This tiny group of people burn with passion, they are determined to make a difference.
Safe Passage to Motherhood is a group of Oregon-based health care providers and educators who are working to help save the lives of mothers and babies in high-risk areas of the developing world.
Seems so simple, yet as I have learned more about what they are doing, I am more in awe. In the first year, four people went over to learn about the village and what was needed, then one midwife returned the next year to begin the training program. They built connections and relationships. Instead of focusing on what the people don’t have, they started conversations about what they did, and how they can use those resources differently. So instead of focusing on the lack of ambulances to bring women to the clinic, they practiced using wheelbarrows for transport. Taught people how to do it as safely as possible when a mother is in distress.
Maggie went to Kenya last year. She trained 4 lead local trainers who trained 12 master trainers . Together they trained 28 local guides , so a total of 44 Kenyans learned how to save women and babies lives in under 2 weeks. This group has exploded into several thousand women and men – learning the key principals of how to save a life and they are continuing to teach 1,000’s more. The numbers of women coming to the clinic for care have tripled. They can’t keep up with the requests for teaching circles from neighboring villages.
The power of one midwife sharing what she knows about simple life saving skills.
Now they are going back to Kenya.
In July 2010, they are going back to Kenya with their sons. The trip is focused on assessing the effectiveness of the work they have done. They’ll continue to train people to identify life threatening symptoms. They plan to add prevention programs for children. They need help. It costs about $6000 each for the expenses to work in Africa for two weeks. Which isn’t very much to teach thousands of people. If you’d like to join me in supporting them, you can make a tax-deductible donation.
If you are in the Portland Oregon area, you are invited to a presentation May 23
You can meet some of the people involved in Safe Passage to Motherhood and hear more of their amazing stories at a presentation on Sunday May 23, 2010 from 3-5 PM.
Trillium Hollow Community Center
9601 NW Leahy Rd
Beaverton, OR 97229
Questions? spminformation @ yahoo.com
I hope to see you there!
Also, there will be two events in the Cleveland, Ohio area on May 23
Sunday May 23, 11 am and 4 pm
24475 Penshurst Drive
Beachwood, OH 44122
Questions? spminformation @ yahoo.com
Who inspires you?
Are there people or organizations that get your attention? What do people do that is inspiring to you?
I’m interested in figuring out how to use social media and images to inspire conversations. I know how to use the images face to face, but I’m not sure the best way to do it online. So I am experimenting, playing with Facebook, Twitter, and my online gallery.
I learned a lot last week about tweeting links to story panels. Twice a day I would post a panel on Facebook, and put out a tweet about it. The story was about the Head & Heart, and you can see the images in this slideshow. The story itself was written into the captions on the gallery.
What I learned
I didn’t put enough words in my tweets to give people enough information about what I was doing, so they found it hard to follow. I found it hard to get a sense of what it looked like from the receiving end. Fortunately, I have followers who were willing to help me craft a better approach for another story this week. This time I have a tweet formula, which will number the parts of the story, and ask reflection questions.
My artwork is used to inspire insight and conversations. My goal is to figure out if it is possible to do the same using social media. Still not sure, but I’m certainly going to try. I hope you will help me figure out the best options.
I’m working on a new product line called Exploring My Options. It’s a system that will include a deck of images, workbooks and worksheets to explore a whole range of topics. Part of what I am exploring is how to bring it to market in new ways, and without printing a lot of inventory. I’m exploring licensing, digital downloads, video and print on demand.
One piece I am playing with are stories that introduce the ideas in a course. I have been painting images for this, that will also become some kind of storytelling deck. Archetypal themes, with the ability to not only explore your relationship to that story, but also offer the opportunity to rewrite it.
Right now, the images are available as prints or digital downloads for web use. If you want to see purchase options, use the add to cart button on the gallery page. It doesn’t really add anything to a cart, it shows you the options in case you are interested. Not my favorite feature of this gallery, but the prints they produce are beautiful, so I am compromising.
I started exploring unfolding these pictorial stories by tweeting and using my Facebook status. I did the first one last week, one panel a day. Some of the panels were in last weeks slideshow, since it started out with my exploring Valentines Day as an idea. Here is the whole thing.
Next up: The Head and the Heart
This week I’m doing a story about the Head and the Heart. I will tweet panels and post them to my Facebook page, every morning and afternoon PST. This time there is a word story too. My hope is you will follow along, and let me know what its like to have a story unfold like this. It’s all an experiment. I also invite you to tell your version of the story in the comments on the gallery pages.
Christine and I were inspired by something we read recently about how to involve a community of people and businesses in donating to non-profits doing exceptional work. This is what we came up with. Your input about our approach would be greatly appreciated.
We are inviting the VisualsSpeak Community to donate to a good cause. And it won’t cost you a cent!
Send us your VisualsSpeak story and we will make a contribution to Mercy Corps. This Portland, Oregon based group has a global perspective. Presently they are contributing their resources to relief in China and Myanmar after the recent disasters there.
This is a Win-Win-Win scenario:
You win – Your story is converted into dollars and then contributed to an organization doing great work on a global level.
VisualsSpeak wins – We get your great stories to share with current and potential community members.
Mercy Corps wins – They receive money from our community to help continue their great work.
Mercy Corps works amid disasters, conflicts, chronic poverty and instability to unleash the potential of people who can win against nearly impossible odds. Since 1979, Mercy Corps has provided $1.5 billion in assistance to (more)
Send us a story* about something that happened while using VisualsSpeak. This might be about a time when there was a significant breakthrough, or something unusual happened, or new insights were inspired, or anything you think others might want to hear.
Include as much detail as possible such as:
Who was the audience?
What was the purpose of the process?
Where did this take place?
How did your participants respond?
Please include the following information about yourself: (as much as you like)
Digital Photograph (or where we can find one on the web)
How to send your story
Leave your story as a comment on our Blog post “What’s your story?”
Send a separate email to info at visualsspeak dot com
Show me the money!
VisualsSpeak LLC will donate $10.00 per story
Christine & Tom will personally contribute $10.00 per story for a total of $20 per story
$300.00 total potential donation! (15 stories)
Donations to be tabulated on June 18, 2008
We believe in giving back. And one of the ways to give back is to support organizations doing great work. There’s not enough time in a day to do everything, so contributing to groups that benefit us all makes sense.
* By sending your story to VisualsSpeak, you agree to give us permission to use it in various ways including but not limited to our website, Blog, and marketing materials.
Thanks for your story and for supporting an incredible organization like Mercy Corps!
More often in life, making a difference is about all of the small steps we take along the way.