Last month, we were excited to open the doors of the Scriberia studio and welcome change-makers keen to learn about the power of pictures to transform organisations. Our Visualising Change event featured a panel of four fantastic speakers, who shared their experiences of using scribing, rich pictures, animations and visual thinking strategies to engage teams, create alignment and overcome huge organisational challenges in a variety of contexts.
Scribing is a mirror that can reveal strengths and weaknesses
Deborah Fleming, Chameleon Works
Deborah Fleming is the founder of Chameleon Works, a consultancy that helps organisations through times of change. She joined forces with Scriberia last year, when her client – a major retailer – found themselves at a particularly difficult crossroads. And the experience she shared with the room might be best described as ‘visual thinking as therapy’.
With the peak of their success some years behind them and an uncertain future ahead, bitter discord and disagreement had broken out amongst the board. And, as Deborah said: ‘When there’s elements of misalignment in the board, an organisation’s fairly doomed.’
‘Like the cork in a champagne bottle, these frustrations and anxieties had been stuffed down, and were ready to explode at any moment,’ said Deborah, who realised that to break the deadlock she would need to break with conventional methods of communication.
That’s why, on the advice of a colleague, she called Scriberia and took a visualiser along to her next, emotionally fraught session. She started negotiations afresh, beginning with the question: ‘Imagine if all your hard work over the next three years of your lives pays off. What would that look like?
‘Instead of me just jotting it all down on post-it notes and bog-standard flip-charts, we suddenly got these amazing visuals accompanying the words,’ she said.
‘The dialogue was the real focus, but the pictures were appearing on the wall in real time as we talked. It was an incredibly powerful experience for everyone.'
‘They were able to get all of their thoughts and feelings out, and put them where everyone could see them. And when I asked, “How does it feel to have created that?”, we actually had one person in tears.’
Deborah also found that, working through problems visually, gave the team license to think and express themselves in metaphor – giving them a language with which to address the most painful or difficult issues for which they hadn’t found the right words.
She explained: ‘When things change, you have to let go and leave something behind. So I got the team talking about luggage – the things you really need to take with you – and baggage, the heavy stuff weighing you down, that you really should leave behind. That really simple metaphor that made such an impact visually, made it possible for everyone to confront something very painful. There it was on paper for everyone to see.’
Deborah said that scribing acted as a kind of mirror: ‘Sometimes, when you feel stuck, it’s hard to see that you have all the answers they need – you just need a mirror and scribing is just that. Suddenly the group could see themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, their ideas, really clearly.’
The content captured by our scribes eventually formed the basis of a rich picture setting out a vision for the future upon which all of the stakeholders were agreed.
‘It was nerve-wracking,’ admitted Deborah, ‘to stand in front of these 12 highly-skeptical people and reveal the picture. But when we did, they went “YES! That’s it!”. And there was great relief on all sides. All 12 board members were so delighted with it, they signed it.’
And, since, the picture has been used as a powerful communication tool, at every level of the business.
‘They can look back now nearly 11 months after the original picture was drawn, and say, “Wow, we’ve really got somewhere!’’.’
Create a map
Richard Webb, See What You Mean
Richard Webb is a consultant and founder of See What You Mean. He works with executive teams on communication and bid strategies. When working with The Crown Estate, he saw a need to create a picture of The Crown Estate, that explained how the various, disparate pieces of the estate fitted together.
The Crown Estate includes many prominent buildings around Britain, as well as large areas of farmland, and even the sea bed. ‘Previously,’ explained Richard, ‘people had only ever used photographs of farmland or photographs of Regent Street, to explain what The Crown Estate was. But there was no story behind it, no human emotion, nothing that people could connect with. They don’t tell you anything about the values of your organisation.’
Richard and his team set about creating a pictorial landscape that incorporated every aspect of the estates considerable assets as well as all that it stood for. The shops and arcades of London’s Regent St, found their place alongside rich farm land, rugged coasts, windfarms as well as more abstract concepts, like environmental responsibility.
‘Having a picture like this allows you to mix a lot of different ideas, a lot of human ideas about culture, and be able to link them to the more tangible things, like bricks and mortar. It gives a far more coherent sense of the organisation as a whole,’ said Richard.
He described the picture as a map ‘that guides conversations and allows you to remember the unfolding of your argument, whoever you are, and whatever aspect of it you’re talking about.’
Because, that is the beauty of a rich picture. It establishes a structure that everyone can agree upon, but it supports a limitless number of narratives and interpretations.
‘It works in a really flexible way,’ says Richard. “It allows you to tell stories that are different – that have a different focus or purpose – yet every story fits the picture, and reinforces the connections that exist between these different parts of the organisation.
‘Everyone can see something in the picture that they understand and identify with.’
But, to gain the most from it, Richard advised there should be a law against sending this kind of communication by email! ‘Present someone with a picture like this, and no explanation, and you can expect a pretty blank face.
‘For the people in the room who made this, it makes perfect sense. But I always tell them it’s what you say when you talk about the picture, it’s the conversations that are sparked by it, that, in the end, prove its value.’
Cut through hierarchies
John Fitzpatrick, Senior Digital Service Manager
John Fitzpatrick is a Senior Digital Service Manager for National Prisons and Probation service. That might not sound like a role that is ripe for fun and creative collaboration, but the indefatigable John makes it so.
Most recently, we worked with John to design a picture of the role of digital in the prison and probation service, which he says has facilitated conversations at every level, from the front line of the service to senior figures in Whitehall.
‘The final picture has really helped to cut across silos and hierarchies,’ he says, ‘people naturally start to adopt the picture as their own, and seeing people take the visuals to the most senior people in the organisation without any ask is hugely rewarding. It’s non-hierarchical when you start to work in pictures.’
And for John, this has been a powerful way of bringing his team together and giving introverts in the organisation a voice.
‘The introverts, the people who never speak in a workshop or put their hand up to talk, they suddenly become challenged. They’re not always comfortable in standing up and talking, but working with pictures encourages them to share their points and integrates them in the group. We saw so much more engagement when we started using pictures.’
And John’s found that the pictures have helped break down boundaries with people outside of the organisation, too.
He explained: ‘If I’m bringing new people into the organisation, whether it’s candidates for interviews or visitors from the government digital service, I can stand in front of the picture and very easily explain what we do to literally anybody.
‘I’ve got my son coming to work next week – he’s 13 and he’s going to look at the picture and understand exactly what I do.’
Having worked with Scriberia a number of times now, John had a few lessons to share on the creative process.
‘The more practice you get with visual storytelling, the more you mature. The first picture I worked with Scriberia on was an emotional experience; it was very creative and fast-paced. I was getting energy from scribe, Matt, and he was getting energy from me. It felt like part of me and I was very proud.
‘But with every picture you create, each one seems to get better. And that’s because instead of getting hung up on your own opinions, you learn that it’s a collective vision. It’s great that you’re one person championing your project and your agenda, but it’s the change agents in the organisation that really matter. It’s all about collaborating and getting everyone’s voices heard.’
Blow a hole in your
communications brick wall
Stephen Fitzpatrick, Social Movement Designer
Stephen Fitzpatrick is a social movement designer who heads the design activist network, AltForest. He came to us in need of a straight-talking, visually impactful animation to explain tropical ecologist, Mike Hands’, ingeniously simple solution to tackling deforestation in the rainforest.
He explained their challenge: ‘The problem was that for 25 years Mike had been trying to explain what he had been doing to people and they would drift into a coma about two minutes in. He’d go straight in with the complicated science, forgetting to unpack the ethical and social implications of what he was talking about. I spent three months listening to Mike and his team and emerged in a blizzard of information.’
If they were to get their network of investors and influencers, and reach their aim of 125 million people, they needed a clear and engaging way to spread their message.
‘It needed to be completely torn apart and rebuilt’, he said, ‘the idea was to make this appeal to a new audience. Instead of talking about soils and forestry and conservation that make people feel guilty, we had to create an optimistic story about possibility and hope.’
And this is where Stephen found himself stuck: ‘I had the components of the story, but I couldn’t tell the story. It was so complicated and I didn’t know where to begin or end.’
Our team of scriptwriters and animators worked with Stephen to create a visual language that would speak to people across design, technology, finance and policy, and develop their brand identity across their digital channels. Once the animation launched, the change was instantaneous.
‘We were slightly taken aback by the speed of it because it blew such a hole in the communications brick wall. When the dust cleared, we clambered through into a different world where people wanted to know about investability, scaleability… the communication barrier that had stood for 25 years was just gone.’
Following the success of the animation, Stephen and Mike wouldn’t communicate in any other way: ‘Going forward, everything will be in a visual format. We’re not going to do a death by PowerPoint slideshow. Our business plan will be a visual map A1 wall chart. When you’ve got a network of complex, intertwined information, a visual format is the only way to go.
‘However tricky or complicated your problem, Scriberia can help you take out the saturated language, re-frame your problem, and find a visual language that can speak to everybody.’
Drawing is decision making
Dan Porter and Chris Wilson, Scriberia
Dan's request for everyone to draw a portrait of the person next to them resulted in a fair amount of nervous laughter. Hearing about the power of pictures is one thing apparently, but creating them is quite another.
But, showing off artistic prowess wasn't the point of the exercise. It was to highlight the myriad decisions we're forced to make when we draw: Which details are important? Which can be left out? What goes where? What should be given prominence, and so on? Those are precisely the same questions organisations have to ask themselves whenever they're planning for the future, which is why drawing is the perfect accompaniment to any strategic conversation.
'Drawing is decision making in its purest form.'
With some great examples from the Scriberia back catalogue, Dan and Chris introduced us to some of the 'superpowers' of drawing, the ways in which an illustration can enlighten and inform where no other form of communication can. They showed, for example, how drawing allows us to bring together multiple timeframes in one page, as a comic strip perhaps. It's a powerful way of bringing the present and future together and the making the journey between the two more tangible. We can capture not just a moment, but a development, a change or an evolution.
They also discussed how the act of drawing can help us to see the wood for the trees, encouraging us to 'levitate' over a situation and remove the distortions of a personal perspective. As Chris said,
"Often clients say they've had their most productive conversation on a project when they've been working with us to create some kind of map or diagram."
In fact, the Scriberia co-founders were keen to point out that the process of making a drawing is very often as valuable - if not more valuable - than the end product. There's no shame in getting it wrong, argued Chris, if it helps you get to what's right. The sketches become the conversation, which is why Scriberia are careful not to produce polished artwork too early in a project. It's easy to create something which feels too 'finished,' suggesting that decisions have already been made and the debate is over. Quick, rough visuals stimulate discussion. You need to mine those conversations for the best insights before investing them in the final artwork.