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Visual Leaders By David Sibbet Book Review

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Visual Leaders: New Tools for Visioning, Management, & Organization Changevisual

By David Sibbet

Wiley, 2013. 228 pages

Review By Aubrey Warren

“Leaders, more than ever, need to know how to use visual tools, manage visual practitioners and their work, and understand how to help their entire organisation be visually literate – especially if you don’t think of yourself as being skilful visually.” David Sibbet, a leader in visual facilitation, has produced a, not surprisingly, visual guide for leaders and facilitators about leading thinking and change in our “unabashedly visual” generation. “Visualisation is a critical part of leadership excellence in our times. The purpose of this book is to provide you with both understanding and practices that assure you can take full advantage of this revolution.”

Sibbet has collaborated with Professor Evert Lindquist, professor in public administration at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, to adapt visual techniques Lindquist developed for policy makers and analysts to the everyday work of leaders. Lindquist developed three “domains”  of visualisation:

“Data visualisation”: data analytics, financial analysis and simulation modelling. The book is not about this domain.

“Graphic design”: the ways in which information, products and services are designed and presented, from websites and magazines, to architecture and learning materials.

“Visual facilitation”: the practice of engaging people visually in planning, strategy, team building, problem solving, and learning – including the use of pictures, videos, scenario planning, and graphic recording.

“Cognitive visualisation”: Sibbet’s additional domain that includes “personal visions, metaphors, mental models and other frames of reference that guide and shape our behaviour. It is the connection of these to their outer manifestations on charts and in media that makes visual material meaningful.”

“One way to grapple with complexity is with visualisation technologies,” says Lindquist, “ranging from projecting findings from large data sets, to fining creative ways to display information, to engaging staff and communities in recognising complexity and identifying strategic directions.”

The book’s contents are organised in six sections: •    The Visual Leadership Challenge – why visualisation offers advantages, seven tools, and how to run visual meetings. •    Looking At Your Own Leadership – understanding mental models, frameworks and metaphors in leadership and organisations. •    Power Tools for Visual Leaders – seven visual tools: metaphors and models, visual meetings, graphic templates, decision rooms, roadmaps and visual plans, graphic story maps, video and virtual visuals. •    Managing the New Media – identifies 24 interactive media resources (from the telephone to e-learning and blogs to virtual reality •    Leading Organisation Change – “a graphic framework that steps through at a general level the types of stages a change process goes through, and the types of activities and tools that generally come into play.” •    Links, Books & Other Resources

As a facilitator who likes the idea of graphic facilitation but struggles with the “artistic” aspect (“I can’t draw pictures”), this book is encouraging. It provides a rich resource of tools and templates to stimulate thinking and provide options for encouraging groups to generate visual thinking. I doubt I’ll ever use half of them, but just being able to identify one or two to apply to a particular workshop or meeting will be of value – as is the guidance on how to match a situation to a particular visual tool. For example:

•    Using a large blank sheet or Web whiteboard to record everyone’s thinking about what success for a project would like like; •    Graphic recording to capture lists and clusters related to issues and challenges a team or organisation is facing •    Creating a graphic history to bring new team members up to speed in a simple storytelling form •    “Hi-Lo” (High reward / Low Reward and Easy / Hard matrix)  grids for sorting options and making decisions •    Graphic action plans to record agreed actions, times and targets on goals and strategies.

The Grove’s Strategic Visioning Model (p.121) is offered as an overarching / unifying approach to applying a range of visual graphics tools to planning. “The core intention of SV was to overcome the analytic bias of traditional strategic planning, which emphasises hindsight ... Innovative organisations need to balance hindsight with aspirational thinking and the kind of thought that comes from envisioning a different future. Both of these perspectives need to converge and support insight in action in the present.”

The SV model takes you through three stages (past, present, future) using six tools: graphic history, context map, spot matrix, cover story, five bold steps, and graphic game plan. The process is designed to “integrate intuition, feeling, thinking, and sensing”.

Perhaps the simplest way to explain the power of visual facilitation and leaders is “helping people see what they (and you) mean”.

David Sibbet is a world leader in graphic facilitation and visual thinking for groups. He was the visual cartographer for the 2008 TED conference and is the founder and president of The Grove Consultants International,  a company providing group-process tools and services for panoramic visualisation, graphic facilitation, team leadership and organisational transformation.

Download FREE Excerpts: Contents and Part 1: The Visual Leader Advantage

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