In many organizations, the role of Human Resources leaders has been to advise and counsel other business leaders. Relationships of deep trust and open communication are built over years of working together, where the HR person and the business person both benefit. The business leader benefits from having a safe place in which to wrestle with leadership challenges and decisions, and the HR person benefits from being a valued confidante, mentor and coach. It’s often mutually fulfilling. The relationship deepens. Both parties may grow significantly in the process. Some of my most treasured professional and personal relationships have been born of this dynamic, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
It can also be a very limiting model for the business and for HR professionals. Being in service is comfortable, and gratifying. You feel good at the end of the day for having helped your partner work through a difficult situation or decision. Yet the decision is ultimately someone else’s. The HR leader is absolved of accountability. In what other leadership roles is this the norm or acceptable?
We’re living in an ultra-connected and increasingly fast-paced world that is demanding more and more speed in everything we do, everyday, in a constant quest towards ever-growing productivity. With these ideas in mind, we thought this month’s Visual Thinking School was the perfect playground to run a fun experiment that combined both a deep sensorial journey with the clarity that visual thinking provides. We prompted our participants to “Slow Their Roll,” to re-connect with their senses, unplug from technology, and be more aware of their surroundings.
The idea for the VTS on July 1 was inspired by the Slow Movement that started back in the ‘80s. This notion of Slow Design created a revolution against the idea that ‘doing things faster means doing them better.’ This new movement instead focused on savoring time, doing things as well as possible (not as quick as possible), and aiming for quality over quantity – a new approach toward problem solving that is more mindful, conscious, and aware.
We kicked off our afternoon session with an icebreaker and an XPLANE lesson on drawing fundamentals. From there, tables of teams took the tips they learned and dove right in to the first VTS task: map drawing. Each team was given a card with a secret destination around downtown Portland. The groups then worked together to draw a detailed map, with their phones as reference, from our office to the destination.
Our VTS-ers then took it to the streets! With maps in hand, each team was tasked to find their destination without any tech aid, keeping a keen eye on the colors, textures, architecture, scale, sounds, people, and smells that surrounded them and documenting all of these on a clipboard as they walked.
Once groups got back to XPLANE, they were asked to re-draw their maps (tech free) with a difficult twist: They could not draw maps using the standard aerial view. Instead, they could do storyboards, street-views, or even a “recipe” type map with instructions, all while incorporating the colors, textures, and sounds they noted through their journey. Street names, arrows, and direction words were not allowed!
After the drawing and instructions were complete, we mixed it up again. All of the groups swapped their maps and were asked to go on a scavenger hunt across the city to re-find these secret locations.
To wrap up this three-hour long adventurous VTS, we had a full half hour sharing session with the whole group. People came together and showed off their extremely cool new drawings and talked about their adventure through Portland. It was interesting to see how the activities led groups to an experiential journey that bonded team members, started conversations, and prompted participants to be aware of their surroundings using all of their senses to perceive places they’ve been before, though in a completely novel way.
Our goal was to have participants leave with a spark. In these crazy days of our ever connected, multitasked lives, we wanted to stop people, give them focus, and ask them to look up from their phones. Ultimately, we wanted to help them question the process of decision-making and take into consideration what’s around them.
Technology has taken us further than ever and it's helping solve both the simplest and the most complex challenges. However, it is important that we remain aware of how to use it and when to take a break from it because technology can accelerate us towards a rather unproductive way. The fine balance between using our human senses with the right amount of technology is key to more meaningful and mindful decisions.
I’ve known about XPLANE for several years, and long been interested in the models they work with in their consulting practice. Attending VTS was a great way to learn more about them, and to gain some exposure to new techniques for creative idea generation. What impressed me most about the workshop was the hands-on approach XPLANE uses, and the way their models can lead to productive collaboration and surprising outcomes – even working with partners I’d just met.
I have a PhD in marketing and use several techniques similar to those introduced at VTS, primarily when conducting workshops and seminars. The process of sensemaking among consumers and organizations is a topic I’ve researched extensively over the past decade, and I was curious to see how XPLANE applies the sensemaking construct in their client work.
The most valuable component of the VTS workshop for me was the discussion led by Matt Morasky at the session’s conclusion. We began by examining the projects each small team had created over the previous 30 minutes, discussing how each project’s material affected the viewer’s sensemaking experience, then moved on to higher-level constructs that helped clarify the creative outcome. Connecting abstract meaning to strategy creation is one of the most difficult tasks in any collaborative creative process, and this discussion made the connection vivid and clear.
Melea Press, PhD is a Visiting Research Scholar/Professor of Marketing at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland. She lives in Portland, OR where she consults on market research, strategy, and academic-practitioner collaboration.
XPLANE’s latest Visual Thinking School (VTS) session focused on ways to envision the future, or what we like to call “futurecasting.” 34 participants worked in small groups at XPLANE’s headquarters to imagine the future of commuting in Portland in the year 2025. Three exercises guided the conversation:
- “Ideation Post-up”
Participants rapidly developed ideas on their own and as a group, filtering to the top three ideas.
- “What if we were…”
They then stepped out of what they knew and adopted perspectives of different companies, experimenting with new lenses and ideas.
- “Cover Story”
Highlights from both exercises were drawn as magazine cover mock-ups to illustrate what success would look like. From the covers of Imbibe to The New York Times, groups reported their stories of future states that included bike limos, ziplines, driverless cars, and ferries. Lastly, public presentations allowed them to identify common themes across these covers.
Across these exercises, groups created visual artifacts that captured main ideas and set them up for the next steps of determining how to get there. Participants left VTS with the ability to take these exercises and apply them to their personal goals and their jobs. We look forward to hearing back about more successful examples!
Interested in getting a spot at our next VTS? Check out more information here.
Technology and behavior are radically reshaping business—on a global scale.Did You Know? 6.0: Change to Thrive advances the conversation about how organizations can adapt and prosper by changing the way they work.