The Power of Immersion and Visual Thinking

I am currently keeping my blogposts to a minimum, because I am focusing on book writing and delivering a small number of keynotes and workshops. However, I haven't stopped experimenting. During the last workshop in The Netherlands I changed the structure of the workshop and I had the opportunity to work together with JAM, a Dutch company focusing on visual strategy facilitation. It was a big success.

One of the main changes I made to the workshop structure was a new focus for the break-out sessions. I gave the immersion into client issues much more space. The workshop had two "client immersion sessions" before actually thinking of drafting an innovative business model around the clients. The ultimate task was to re-invent the consulting business model. Instead of getting them to start with business model innovation immediately I made them think about how consulting clients really feel and start innovating from there. This worked out really well, notably because JAM made the outcomes more tangible through images.

In the first break-out session I asked the groups to make a simple client profile (based on a method from XPLANE, which they call "empathy map"). The goal of this exercise is to think of the client more holistically.

The next break-out session consisted of sketching out the most important client issues. Wouter (1st image below) and Jan (2nd image) from JAM did a wonderful job of making these client issues more tangible through visualizations.

The groups then had a chance to walk around and look at the other groups' work. In addition I asked them to put stickers on the client issues which they found most interesting. This "silent feedback" gave the groups a direction for the following break-out sessions.

After the client immersion sessions I asked the groups to outline the building blocks of their business models with the business model canvas.

At the end of the busy day each group presented their work and we voted for the best new consulting business model.

By the way, the workshop was kindly hosted by, a company led by Ronald van den Hoff. He is disrupting the meeting space and event venue business with an innovative business model. Workshop participants had a chance to learn about his "lessons learned" when I interviewed him on business model innovation issues during the workshop.

All the other photos of the event can be found on my Flickr page. Big thanks to my business partner Patrick van der Pijl who took the pictures, but more importantly, set-up and managed the event.

Drawing your Business Model: cooperation with XPLANE, the visual thinking company

I've always been an admirer of the work of XPLANE, the visual thinking company, and its founder Dave Gray. So I'm quite excited to announce that we are now collaborating on visualizing business models. I will speak about the topic at a workshop organized by XPLANE on September 30th in London. The overall theme is "Thinking Visually to Tackle Business Challenges"(flyer).

Find the first XPLANE sketch of how a visualized business model could look like on slideshare:

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: dave xplane)

The XPLANE workshop in London promises to be very interesting. They will apply a creative and innovative approach to problem solving with participants. Personally, I am a firm believer in visual thinking and apply it in all my work. If you want to start learning about this I think the XPLANE event is a good place to start. Workshop goals are:

  • Understand the meaning and value of visual thinking
  • Use a creative and innovative method to solve business challenges
  • Use visual tools to help you generate, evaluate and organise ideas
  • Learn how to use them to contextualise, prioritise and harness change
  • Extend these new techniques and methodology to your team

Find out more about the event in their flyer and if you're interested subscribe on eventbrite.

On XPLANE's website you can also find a multitude of examples of their work. Below just one case study (pdf) that illustrates what they do:

Visual Thinking Books - References and Reviews

At the moment I am completely immersed in reading about visual thinking for my upcoming book on business model innovation. Do you wonder what the connection is? Well, the book I'm working on will be very visual and practical, containing only the very necessary text...

Visual tools are an increasing must in the executive toolbox - particularly when you think of all those terrible ppt-decks and never-read-business-plans full of text and numbers.

Let me briefly share some of the literature I have been looking into the last few days:

  • The Back of the Napkin (Dan Roam). Dan has created a great and practical book on how to use images and sketches in business. The book contains a couple of very interesting concepts and processes that helps you apply visuals to your particular business problems. To get a good preview you can check out the book's website which features some attractive animations to explain key concepts. Verdict: Very useful book!
  • Marks and Meaning, version zero (Dave Gray). Dave, a friend of mine, is founder and chairman of XPLANE, the leading visual thinking company. He is currently working on a book on visual thinking and has put a pre-release version ("version zero") up for sales on the web. I could almost blindly recommend this book, though I have only ordered the book this evening after a chat with Dave on the Web. By buying the pre-release you will have a chance to comment the book and influence the final version - interesting approach. You can follow Dave's thinking on his communication nation blog and a whole bundle of digital presences.
  • PresentationZen (Garr Reynolds). Garr tackles one of the most important and imaginable issues in the boardroom: making powerpoint presentations interesting and attractive. A must for every frequent user of powerpoint. Check out Garr's lecture at Google's headquarters to get a freeby of his work. As real digital citizen Garr's thinking can be followed on his website and blog. Verdict: A good resource for ppt-artists.
  • Beyond Bullet Points (Cliff Atkinson). In his extremely useful book Cliff shows how you can use storyboarding to make sticky powerpoint presentations. As a resident of LA he gets his inspiration from Hollywood's film industry. This book is quite likely to make you change the way you design your ppt-decks. The approach and process outlined is very intuitive and very practical. Verdict: A must if you want to bring some storytelling to your ppt-presentations.
  • The Storyboard Design Course (Giuseppe Cristiano). A really nice book on storyboard design. This is a professional tool for storyboard designers in the film, advertising and computer games industry. It is an introduction to storyboarding going all the way to camera angles etc. Verdict: You'll have to do the translation for applying it in business yourself (e.g. powerpoint). If you are a movie fan it is a must.

I also bought a couple of books on design (e.g. Universal Principles of Design, Lidwell & Holden & Butler) and Innovation (e.g. The New Age of Innovation - Prahalad & Krishnan, The Game Changer - A.G. Lafley & Ram Charan). More on that later. I guess you're not really interesested in the children's books I bought for my 5-year old son ;-)

Anyways, my wallet is about 400.- USD lighter...

"The Wall is the Desk of the Future"

Last Friday I ran a workshop on business model innovation with the management of one of the 5 regions of a top Swiss bank. In the break-out session the bankers split into groups and were supposed to work on huge posters to sketch-out the business model of an innovative bank. That is when I realized how uncommon it still is for executives to think visually and use the wall/poster as a visual thinking aid.

They had lively discussions around their table, but it needed some stimulation from my side to get them to use the posters. I insisted on this because I think visualization of business issues is increasingly a requirement to tackle the complex problems of our time.

Understanding not only the issues, but also the links between issues is a must in today's complex world. Yet, this is very difficult to achieve without a visual aid. That is where the wall is very helpful and gives all participants of a meeting a common reference point... When Dave Gray, CEO of XPLANE, was visiting us in Geneva he said one thing that I don't stop quoting:

"the wall is the desk of the future"

Have a glance at some images I put together in a Power Point presentation illustrating the above quote:

Podcast with Dave Gray on Visual Business Communications & Workshop in Geneva

I'm a strong proponent of using visual techniques and tools in business communications. This starts with sound Power Point Presentations and culminates in the clear and visual communication of corporate strategies (including business models). Therefore I'm a big fan of XPLANE, the global market leader in visual thinking and visual techniques that helps companies solve business problems and improve business communications through visuals. They've worked with a large number of global companies, including Credit Suisse, Nokia, Apple, IBM, Bank of America and many more.

I've talked to XPLANE's Founder and CEO, Dave Gray, about using visual techniques in business in today's podcast. We also talked about the workshop Dave will be giving at our premises at Arvetica in Geneva, Switzerland, on the 18th of March (there are still a few seats available, if you are interested).

Enjoy the podcast:


In the podcast Dave explains the value of visual techniques for businesses and private banks and outlines what we will be doing during the workshop in March. He particularly stresses that mediocre communications lead to misalignment in management and hence result in poor implementation. Dave invites entire management and project teams to participate in the workshop so that they can directly work on concrete business problems. That's quite an opportunity to be able to benefit from individual coaching by one of the leading thinkers in visual business communications.

If you are interested in participating in the workshop download the flyer (pdf) and send us the registration form.

dave gray ceo xplane

Visual Thinking in Strategy Design & Communication

The last few days I have been thinking of the value of visual tools in strategy quite intensly. When I was standing in front of our business strategy library I realized how few of these books use visual techniques to make things clearer. Often there is not much more than charts and quite a number of strategy books are text only. The topic of visual techniques and communication has been on my mind because we are currently in close contact with XPLANE, a company whose tagline is "the visual thinking company". They help businesses communicate complex business issues with simple images. One thing I realized was how XPLANE and Arvetica each create value through visual techniques in different areas with different tools.

: Our main strength is to synthesise the essence of business issues, such as strategies and business models in simple diagrams. These are based on concepts (e.g. strategy maps) and are mainly composed of boxes and arrows. The value lies in creating a rapid understanding and the highlighting of how issues are related to each other. Images communicate relationships between objects than text documents. How can you quickly and clearly describe an interdependant multi-channel market approach with words?

XPLANE: Their main strength is their ability to illustrate complex business issues (e.g. change management) with drawn scenarios. They create a quick understanding with their comic-like pictures, because humans easily relate to stories. In many cases it is not sufficient to illustrate business issues through boxes and arrows only. Human scenarios that describe business issues in an illustrative manner help people relate to a the topic much easier. For example, the above image illustrates how to deal with difficult clients.

I'm quite exited that I will be able to learn more about visual techniques in business from XPLANE. I firmly believe that this will be one of the hot topics in strategic management in the coming years. In business strategy we still poorly communicate when it comes to visuals...

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XPLANE founder and CEO Dave Gray

At the LIFT'07 conference I had the great pleasure to talk to XPLANE founder and CEO Dave Gray. He has built a wonderful company over the years and he follows the same mantra as we do at Arvetica: visual language can help communicate complex issues such as, for example, business strategy or change management.

I very much admire Dave for being able to write a blog, educate interested people on visualization (here, here and here) and still stay an artist... I very much look forward to doing some joint work with Dave and his company.

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