Visual Leaders: New Tools for Visioning, Management, and Organization Change
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Q&A with David Sibbet, author of Visual Leaders
How would you describe the shift in visual facilitation within the last 10 years?
With the introduction of highly visual computing, the Internet, presentation software, and now tablets and mobile devices, it's clear that combining words and images is widely effective. In the 1970s and ‘80s, visual facilitation was a novelty outside of the design professions. Now, it’s common. An International Forum of Visual Practitioners is now in its 18th year as a marker for this shift. The introduction of the digital camera made it possible to link any in-room visual work with any virtual communication networks in real time, and has been directly instrumental in propelling the field forward. The biggest impact in the last ten years has been the steady shift to virtual work on the part of larger companies that operate globally. Learning how to work visually in these settings is an emerging area of innovation.
Why did you decide to write a book about Visual Leaders?
There are three primary reasons. 1. The explosive growth in multimedia, visual, and mobile communications is challenging leaders and managers to provide active guidance for their organizations in making sure everyone is focused on the right things. 2. Visual meeting methods and the ranks of visual practitioners are growing as ways to facilitate more effective and innovative group processes in key meetings and teams. Leaders and managers need to know how to work with people who have these skills, and know how to guide them in supporting organizational strategies. 3. When it comes to thinking about how organizations work and how they should change (a key job of leaders and managers), visualization is the doorway to systems thinking and making sense out of complex situations. Learning to be aware of one's own mental models and metaphors is key to contemporary leadership, and active mapping, diagramming, and visual note taking are ways of evolving and upgrading mental models.
Which industries are using visual leadership today?
The methods drew out of the high-tech field in which designers and engineers are active. Both professionals use visualization as a central strategy for coming up with new ideas and implementing them. But the dramatic rise in big data, analytics of all kinds, and general growth in information and communications fueled by the web means that every management team need to process a great deal of information to make sense out of things and make decisions. As a result, visualization is an active part of planning and product development in every kind of consumer-goods organization, service organization, healthcare system, professional association, government agencies, and not-for-profits.
What is your experience in the visual facilitation world?
I began working as a visual facilitator while doing leadership development back in the 1970s for Coro, an organization in the SF Bay Area that was a pioneer in experience-based learning. When I set up business in 1977, my initial clients were strategy consultants who wanted to use visual-meeting methods in key strategy meetings. I worked with General Electric, Apple Computer, General Mills, and Hewlett-Packard and many others during that period facilitating annual strategy retreats and processes. This evolved into long-term relationships with National Semiconductor, Mars, the National Park Service, and Hewlett-Packard facilitating strategy and the internal training of staff that could support organizational change and strategy implementation. Hundreds of other clients in nearly every sector and across the world demonstrated the viability of this approach and led to increasing focus on sharing tools and publishing about this emerging field.
How do you see visual leadership impacting organizations in the next 5 years?
Today's young people are fluid with new media, including video. They are at home with multimedia communications on many platforms. As this new generation moves into organizational life, organizations themselves will adapt and become more adept at visual communications. This is already happening in many companies, although others are still straddling generations. It is also clear that many of the bigger challenges societies and organizations face are system-level problems, with large arrays of interconnected forces and factors shaping events. Visualization of all kinds will become not just a desirable but an essential tool for understanding this level of challenge.