My Approach: Drawing and Mapping the Way to Clarity

When I was first asked to use a visual tool as part of a Design Thinking project, my first response was, “I can’t do this—I just don’t have the skills to draw out anything that would be useful.” I can’t draw, I don’t have any particular ability to create anything visual at all—I just don’t have that capability. My skill is writing—I can research and write about anything, and I’m always tempted to think I should try to leverage whatever skills I think I have.

The root of my challenge here is that I was thinking too literally—since I can’t draw, I can’t use visual tools. It took someone more perceptive than I to help me see beyond this supposed limitation. Recently, in a workshop, I was using the online tool Draw.io to create a Story Map, a kind of flow chart, of a process that I was putting together. One of the instructors came over and said, “You know, you’re drawing right now.”

Map

That was all it took to unlock my thinking—I suddenly realized that I drew things out all the time to help me understand them. I’ve sketched out an Input/Output model to help understand the components of a proposed dashboard, and how those elements fit together:

Dashboard

I’ve learned to use Mind Mapping (and a nifty tool called The Brain) to lay out diagrams to pull together and organize ideas:

ESN

And I draw out academic models all the time, just to help me understand them better, and to help me gain insights. I recently wrote about the Job Demands/Resource Model, in an earlier blog post—it wasn’t until I drew the model out that I really started to make sense of the connections in the model:

JDR Model

In all of these examples, I’ve intuitively used some sort of a visualization to get me closer to understanding and gaining insight from whatever I was working with. But I would never have said that that was what I was doing. Sometimes it just takes a little nudge, like the one I got in my workshop, to open your mind–and remind you of what you’ve been doing all along.

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