Thank you so much for publishing an article about the field of graphic facilitation and for including my name in the first graph. It’s a good thing my SEO rocks because you didn’t mention the name of my business, Making Ideas Visible, or supply a link. But hey, that’s okay.
Seriously though, thanks. I come from a family of MBA’s (none of who have been in HBR) so this is a bragging right within my family that I’ll be able to milk for some time.
Here’s what you got right.
Yes, graphic facilitation is a great tool/process for engagement. It never fails to wow the participants because it’s powerful to see someone capture your ideas as they are occurring in real time. To feel like you’ve been heard.
The point you made about capturing the content so it can be used later is right on. Visual maps live on long after the meeting, guiding and directing the course of action, and can be shared with people who weren’t there which is incredibly useful.
Here’s what you got wrong.
I sent you to Prof. Martin Eppler because you wanted to quantify something that by its nature is a hard to quantify. (I have a lot more to say about this in a future post.) And he’s apparently doing research around retention and right-brained thinking.
But saying that expensive (and hard to learn) software programs that let people do their own drawing may be more effective? Wow, that’s a stretch.
I know from being a figure drawing teacher that giving people a tool and expecting them to take to it like a duck on water just doesn’t happen without a lot hand holding, instruction and cheerleading. There are huge emotional and psychological barriers in the way of adults doing art. I see this all the time.
I do agree that having people create their own pictures is powerful stuff. Read on for more on that point.
What we do in the room with these murals humanizes people’s experience of information. There is something so reassurring about seeing complexity depicted in simple, colorful shapes. To see words hand-written. It’s like poetry in action. In this world of technology, that’s deeply comforting and sustaining.
Call me a graphic facilitator not an artist.
I take issue with being called an artist in this context. And for calling my work, and that of my colleagues, “pricy artist’s handiwork.” Ouch!
When we talked I didn’t refer to myself as an artist. I get that this can be confusing because in my field of visual practioners, we have a variety of terms we call ourselves: graphic recorder, graphic facilitator, visual facilitator, visual mapper. We generally don’t call ourselves “artist.”
What makes it even more confusing is that some of us are hybrids. Some facilitators work graphically. A few, like me, are graphic facilitators who facilitate which means that we design the meeting, create the processes for the group and shepherd the meeting.
I apologize for the confusion this creates.
I don’t think of myself as an artist when I do graphic facilitation work. Yes, there are drawings that depict recognizable icons but art is about a tenth of what’s involved with this work. And plenty of people do this without art training.
When I graphically facilitate, I’m listening as a journalist would for the key themes and highlights in the story, organizing the information spatially, instinctually finding the structure, giving visual emphasis and hierarchy to the story as it emerges on the paper. And also paying attention to where the group needs to go next.
Like the cave drawings.
Yes, I do work with the artist materials of paper and markers, which aren’t far removed from the pigments used on cave walls in the earliest versions of my field’s depictions.
And like those cave painters who recorded the pertinent information for their tribe’s survival–where the hunts were good, the kinds of animals that were found, key details about the weather–me and my fellow graphic facilitators help our clients see the crucial elements of their terrain: the challenges, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses so they can plot their course ahead.
We are strategists. Truth-tellers. Visionaries. Interpreters. Mappers. And information organizers for our tribe.
So back to the term artist….and yes, it doesn’t help my case that my client at Accenture referred to my visual maps as artwork. I have an MFA (Masters in Fine Art) so I feel qualified to define what is and isn’t art, at least for myself.
Art—what we tend to think of as fine art—has original content. Creating visual maps from content that emerges from a group’s collective process and not from me, doesn’t qualify as art, in the original sense.
And I really cringe at the phrase “pricey artist’s handiwork” as if we’re selling our wares on Etsy along with potholders and hand puppets. (No offense to Etsy which I love.) I felt when talking to the writer that he had a bias against the fees we charge. It would appear he does.
My job won’t be outsourced.
I have no problem charging what I do because I offer a unique service that is highly valued by my clients. My expertise is grounded in all my previous work and life experience along with an advanced degree.
There is no one else on the planet with my particular combination of skills: public policy background + non-profit management + journalism + conceptual art + stock trading + politics + teaching + facilitation. I know I’m not in danger of having my job outsourced to India as we enter what Daniel Pink calls the conceptual age because my work of structuring the complexity is needed now more than ever.
When I first came across the field of graphic facilitation, it was thru a visual map I found online. The caption said:
They will be teaching this in business school five years from now.
So Harvard, heads up.
Whoever has the best picture wins.
Indeed, I’m counting on that happening because my hope for the field, and many of my colleagues including Dan Roam share this, is that we aren’t seen as “the artist,” the person in the room owning the creative process for the group.
It is my hope that we will be the enablers of everyone else’s creativity. That we will teach people to make their own pictures so that we aren’t seen as “the artist” but the person able to bring the artistry out of the people we work with who are hungry to express themselves creatively.
I believe there is artistry in everyone. As Ellen Dissanayake writes in Homo Aestheticus, this used to be an accepted fact. Our culture has taken the ownership of creativity out of the hands of many and put it into the hands of a few. I would like to return it to the many.
Because as Dan explains, whoever has the best picture wins. They get the funding, they grab the power. Reagonomics was born on the back of a napkin. Did you know that? We all need to be able to compete.