sparking creativity through visual thinking

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Visual Facilitation in Action

What’s this visual facilitation thing look like and how can it boost learning in my event?

So glad you asked, here’s a case study to answer that question.

The Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Eduction (PULSE) Northwest is an amazing group of PhD scientists and educators with a mission to institutionalize better science education for all students. They train their peers to become change agents. Kind of a different role for these researchers and teachers, one that requires emotional intelligence, team building skills, leadership in many forms, and most of all, wisdom.

Each year PULSE NW recruits new institutions (colleges, universities, technical colleges and community colleges) to experience a three day meeting to focus on becoming change agents. This year we had 13 institutions and about 50 people. Here’s how visual facilitation fit in:

Participants see their connection to a larger community of practice: Check: Created a large scale map with names/institutions added with the names of past cohorts

An overview of the retreat process: You got it: Drew a large format agenda so everyone knows where we are going. And add the guiding principles and workshop goals posters in while we are at it to keep everyone on the same page!

Cover Vision Story by Skagit College

Cover Vision Story by Skagit College

Teams need to create a vision for their work? My favorite, I led the group through a visioning process using the Cover Vision Story by The Grove.

Large group conversations: Gotcha covered! Graphic recording to capture the salient points to keep those ideas alive.

Small group conversations with a large group harvest: Check again. Graphic recording to collect those insights that arise and keep them in the room for the rest of the sessions.

Systems thinking content delivered: Ditto. Naturally, all that information was captured live while the facilitators lead the groups through interactive learning experiences.

visual summary cover

Visual Summary to remember the content and spirit of the event.

How to remember what happened during the weekend? Easy. Create a visual summary of the weekend with photos and all the visuals. Participants find this useful for starting conversations with others about what they are trying to accomplish. Just click on the cover image to the right to download this summary.

Our evaluations spoke to the success of including the visual work in the retreat:

  • “Claire opened my eyes to new ways to do meetings.”
  • “The vision exercise was very valuable and a great collaborative process for our group”
  • “[The most useful activity in the meeting} was making visual representations of our vision and action plan”

Do you have an event where you want to engage participants to create a unique and effective learning environment? Let’s talk. I’d love to hear your ideas and see if there’s an opportunity to collaborate to boost learning at your event.


Create Your Vision

What’s your dream destination? And that’s all a vision is, the destination you intentionally wish to reach. Like planning your dream vacation, your vision can be that “wished for” destination where you relax and soak up the good things in life. When you plan a trip, the route may be clear with the use of a map. What if your vision (or your group’s vision) was the equally practical tool to get you where you want to go? You get to create your own map.

After returning from a year of travel, I decided it was time to create a new vision for my life and work. When faced with the myriad of choices of how to create a vision, I decided to walk myself through the visual planning process that I often invite others to go through. I began by getting everything off my shelfs that I know about visioning, namely The Grove’s Strategic Visioning materials, resources from my OSR graduate program and other treasures from along the way. With these, I tailored a process that would work for me.

A simple Visual Planning Template using Creative Tension

A simple Visual Planning Template using Creative Tension

One of my favorite concepts about planning is the one of creative tension (also called structural tension). Robert Fritz from the MIT Sloane posse talks about this on this vimeo video and here’s a great “user’s guide” on the Productive Flourishing website for you to see what I mean. This basically says that if you have a clear idea of where you are along with a strong vision of where you want to go, your map to get there becomes evident. Your mind is designed to fill gaps, make connections, create maps and so you see the path. Visual planning works really well for this, when you can see the current reality and the vision with that wide gap in between, it’s powerful.

The trap many people fall into is jumping to the path before they know where they are and where they want to go. What’s the secret sauce? Time. Allowing time for reflection and dreaming. Reflection about where you are and dreaming about where you want to be. Then you can jump into planning. We naturally want to “solve the problem” first, understandably, and time always seems like a scarce resource. Once you get over those two mindsets, you can create an inspiring and creative plan.

Here are the steps I took:

  1. Reviewed my resources: What do I know about visioning?
  2. Sat down and took an honest look at where I am now. Wrote all of those nuggets on sticky notes and found they fell into four categories: Limitations, Foundation, Opportunities/Resources and Aspirations.
  3. Scheduled time for visioning/dreaming. Got away from my normal workplace. For me, this was the forest that makes up an acre of our property, I call it the cathedral. Used meditation, writing, drawing, literally dreaming of where I want to be in 2020, with no parameters except a time frame, three hours.
  4. Worked with the words and images that came up until I found the one that worked.
  5. Used the “power of threes” to limit what I would want to hold in both the current state, the future and the steps to get there. After all, this is something I want to remember.
  6. Created the three elements that will carry me there (the plan)
  7. Mounted it above my desk.

Because I was working alone and am an extrovert at heart, I needed someone to help. That came in the form of the lovely Natalie Currie, coach extraordinaire who helped provide a container and asked me the right questions to help me dig a little deeper.

So next time you are asked, either by your work or your inner forces, to create a vision, think of it like planning your ideal vacation. Consider it an open invitation to dream knowing that there are forces that will help you get there. And contact me, I love talking about this stuff and I seem to learn something new with everyone’s story. You can see sample of where I have worked with others to create their dream destination by following this link and scrolling to the bottom of the page (names erased out of respect).

What happens when 150+ Visual Practitioners convene in Austin Texas? #IFVP2015, that’s what!

The plenary group of 150+ practicioners

Julie captures a first, 150+ visual practitioners in one room to kick off #IFVP2015

So this is what 150 visual practitioners looks like” announced Julie Gieseke as she launched our first night at the IFVP 2015 conference. “Very few have ever seen this many of us in one room before!” 

She snapped a photo and a historic moment in time was captured. Most of us work alone so it’s an amazing experience to be together. It’s sheer joy to trade ideas, watch others work, and get inspired by how working visually is helping our clients and ourselves.

The conference is designed as both relevant subject areas and live recording of all that juicy content. The learning supports different levels of visual practitioners, from those new to the field, folks wanting to sample a bit, and those who have been walking this path for decades. We get to see the best in our field demonstrate “how it’s done” and learn new ideas from those coming into the field. Colors spill over everywhere, fonts fly around the room, and learning is accelerated. It’s a feast for the brain and the soul. With the vibrant city of Austin as the container, you know it involved some dancing, live music and amazing food. Lots of good clean fun.

The uber talented and generous Liisa Sorsa, Anthony Weeks and Kelvy Bird

The uber talented and generous Liisa Sorsa, Anthony Weeks and Kelvy Bird

There is nothing quite like the annual IFVP conference experience. Simply search #IFVP2015 and see what images start coming up. You will see what I mean. For example, take a session titled “The Ethics and Aesthetics of Visual Storytelling”. Three of the fields most distinguished practitioners got up and talked about their experiences with visual storytelling. Liisa Sorsa from ThinkLink, Anthony Weeks, and Kelvy Bird shared their hard-earned lessons and hosted the conversation with questions from the audience. For a little more of a deep dive, visit Kelvy’s blog where she unpacks their talk a bit more. I promise you won’t regret reading her reflections and there are some great visuals there (PS. Don’t miss the “Slim Volume”, thank you Kelvy!)

This year in Austin proved that IFVP is an international association, the meeting in Berlin last year solidified that. This year in Austin we had people from countries in South America, Europe, Middle East, southeast Asia, India and Australia. This is also reflected on our official website where people can search for visual practitioners around the world or close to home.

After this past year of sabbatical, this conference was an especially valuable time for me. To see all the beautiful work that synthesized our learnings so well was the perfect rocket fuel for reentry. And the joy of being with the special tribe of people… it’s a giving and inclusive group, if you need help, someone is there to give.

Deborah Mends from VizThink Lab, Abu Dhabi, charting in French

So how does this visual practitioner process such an inspiring, intense and amazing experience like IFVP2015? For me its drawing a synthesis map of the four sessions that stood out for me along with their highlights. I humbly offer this map below in hopes that is sparks some insight of your own or perhaps just a curiosity of how you can use these tools to work, live and learn better.

IFVP 2016 is already set for Washington DC next July! Join us and see for yourself. It will be a the perfect local for connecting geographically and see how visual thinking is working in our nation’s capital. There are some fantastic practitioners there and a world class city to host. Look for information on sometime in January 2016.





Outgoing prez, Lynn Carruthers admiring the amazing work during #IFVP2015

Outgoing prez, Lynn Carruthers admiring the amazing work during #IFVP2015

a year of travel

Taking a year long sabbatical is not that common outside of academic circles. But that’s what I am calling this year off to travel with my husband. We’ve talked about doing it for 20 years and life has finally presented the opportunity. It seems that you either do it when you are young or when you are older… life gave us the latter and we are privileged either way!

My intention for this trip is to observe the role that visuals play in bringing people together in other cultures. I am hoping that my international tribe of visual practitioners will lend a hand at helping open my eyes. If I am lucky and pay attention, I may get to learn some great new perspectives. I’ll try and share what I learn here.

A quick review of the itinerary: Spain, Portugal France: June-August; UK and Ireland, Sept, Oct: SE Asia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam Nov, Dec; Jan-May New Zealand and Australia

If you’d like to follow our travels, we will be posting at



Our travel map













What can we see by sitting in circle?

There is something amazing that comes from sitting in circle. This fact has been known by people throughout the ages. What about sitting in circle to talk about death? Or more precisely, how doctors talk to patients about death? I was lucky enough to join this conversation and visualize some of the outcomes. This short video tells the story. Enjoy.

what cultural icons have to say about creativity

Need I say more? Great article in Brain Pickings about What Is Creativity? Cultural Icons on What Ideation Is and How It Works and what Bradbury, Eames, Angelou, Gladwell, Einstein, Byrne, Duchamp, Close, Sendak, and more have to say about it. mayaangelou_lisaccond

MFA the new MBA?

“Companies all across America are starting to see a critical talent gap as older employees retire. Arts students may not have all the traditional skills, but they have the most important one: creativity.”

Personally, I am drawn to these three talents this article in Fast Company points out:

1. Integrate arts on the job

2. Fail more often

3. Sit with ambiguity

Do you need to be an Arts graduate to master these talents? I don’t think so, you?

Read more


creative visual literacy

We practice visual thinking all the time, here’s a clever chart that describes some very common tools you may have used. Click on this image and the website is set up as an image map, as you mouse over a part that interests you, an image of that tool will appear. Are you familiar with any of these? Can you expand your visual toolkit?

periodic table of visualilzation methods



everyday creativity

image copyright Winston Roundtree (not his real name) at

image copyright Winston Roundtree (not his real name) at

Do you know a few “creative” people?

The quotes refer to people who work in the so-called creative fields. They often place a very heavy burden on themselves about creativity. It’s kind of a loaded concept.

IMHO, this is hooey. Creativity is just a part of being human in this world. We can’t help being creative. Every cell in your body is creative. These cells have to adapt all the time to conditions.

That said, there is a creative process that’s different for each of us. But I want to speak to those people who don’t think they are creative and invite them to consider Everyday Creativity.

I thought I was having an original thought until I googled it. How about that, there’s lot of people who share this idea.

Interested? Here’s a couple of links that spoke to me:

There’s an article in Psychology Today

An interview with a retired architect and lifelong photographer on his book on everyday creativity

A sample of Everyday Creativity video by photographer Dewitt Jones

“Creativity is the ability to look at the ordinary and see the extraordinary.” – Dewitt Jones

What are your experiences with everyday creativity?


creativity: what’s the source for you?

Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame has this lovely TED talk about her sources… what does it stimulate in you?