Weatherhead Executive Education Program
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

As managers deal increasingly with ill-structured problems, they often find themselves needing to think more like designers. One of the things that characterizes designers and design thinkers is their reliance on sketches. Sketching can be used to explore complex situations, solve problems, or sell ideas. Even if you don't think of yourself as a visual person, you can quickly learn to use simple techniques to look, see, imagine and show more clearly.

Preparing for the Session

One goal of our workshop is to improve our ability to make sense of complex situations. It is hard to imagine a more complex one than that surrounding us in the current economic and financial crises. Locate a newspaper or magazine article that discusses some aspect of the crises. It need not be a long article. In fact, an editorial length piece or a column will serve nicely. Nor is it necessary for you to understand all of the article's nuances.

Read the article you have located (please don't use those given above) to develop a basic understanding of its key points. Be prepared to describe the author's argument briefly to someone else. You may find having an outline of the key points useful. It is not important that you agree with the author or that you have a point of view about the issues discussed. In this exercise we are not looking to defend a position. Rather, we will use the articles to develop a picture of the many issues, ideas, and representations that bear on understanding this situation.

Read the New York Times op-ed Greed and Stupidity by David Brooks. We will use it to illustrate.

The Instructors

Mark Pinto offers a unique approach to organizations through facilitated sessions focusing on process, product and service development. His Concept to Reality (C2R) method of decision making and solution development is designed to bring results in a timely and value added way. Using C2R work sessions, organization teams design the solutions they will implement. Mark guides teams toward greater cohesion and clarity, creating strategies and projects that are personal to the group and the organization, developing critical thinking and self leadership - the key to success in our sketchy business environment. As a seasoned Graphic Facilitator, he blends question based techniques with real time graphic capture creating models and graphics during sessions to document ideas, and decisions. He uses the power of visual input to creates greater meaning and deeper discussion.

Fred Collopy is Professor and Chair of Information Systems and Professor of Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University. He received his PhD from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He does research on business forecasting, visualization, and the application of design ideas to management. He co-edited the book Managing as Designing which was published Stanford University Press in 2004. His research has been widely published in academic journals and practitioner outlets, including Business Week and Fast Company. As a software designer and developer, he created The Desk Organizer (published in 1982 by Warner Software), Rule-Based Forecasting (an expert system to select among alternative business forecasting models), Imager (an instrument for playing abstract visual images as musicians play sounds), and most recently Business Animator (an interactive representation of accounting and financial information).


Dan Roam, The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, Portfolio, 2008. This hands-on view of visual thinking will appeal to many managers who are a bit reluctant about the whole sketching thing. It relies minimally on drawing technique and maximally on several frameworks that help to answer the question "what kind of sketch will help me explore (or explain) this particular problem?" One framework maps what we want to see onto a type of sketch. When we are dealing with 'who or what' we can use portraits; with 'how much' charts makes sense; for 'where' questions, maps work; 'when' calls for timelines; for 'how' questions, flowcharts are right; and 'why' calls for multiple-variable plots. Another framework (SQUID) helps us determine how simple or elaborate our sketch must be (the S), whether it should focus on quality or quantity (Q), whether is it oriented to vision or execution (V), about an individual thing or a comparison (I), and about change or the way things are (D for delta). Roam also maintains an engaging web site.

Malcolm Craig, Thinking Visually: Business Applications of 14 Core Diagrams, Thompson, 2000. This overview surveys the diagrams most often encountered in management contexts. Relationship and influence diagrams, system maps, fault and logic trees, and others are discussed and illustrated.

Bill Buxton, Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design, Elsevier, 2007. This is a book about design by a designer who feels that sketching is at the heart of the designer's skill set. It is less a 'how to' book than a 'why to' one. It is full of great stories and great advice.

Rudolf Arnheim, Visual Thinking, University of California Press, 1969 and Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, Berkeley: CA: University of California Press, 1974 (the new version). The books address how we see. One with a particular focus on how we see art; the other with a focus on how perception and cognition are related. Arnheim's attitude and style are established in the introduction to Art and Visual Perception. "Art is the most concrete thing in the world, and there is no justification for confusing the mind of anybody who wants to know more about it (p.7)." This is a book about concrete details, about helping anyone who wants to see better. In its ten chapters, this book summarizes much of what artists and psychologists know about balance, shape, form, growth, space, light, color, movement, dynamics, and expression. Around each of these thematic concepts, the author discusses what we find attractive and why.

Dave Gray's Visual Thinking School contains mini-course modules on visual thinking, a bibliography, and connections to other sites covering these ideas.

Charlotte Jirousek's interactive textbook Art, Design and Visual Thinking presents visual thinking in the context of a tradition college course on art and design theory.

Ian Sample, the science writer for The Guardian, writes that a psychologist claims that Doodling should be encouraged in boring meetings.

Marcel Danesi describes a couple of Visual Thinking Puzzles on the Psychology Today blog.

Ronald Kritz relates several brief vignettes of Visual Thinking by Scientists.

Though not directly related to this workshop's theme, Garr Reynolds' excellent book Presentation Zen could have been listed above. He has some great material on visual thinking on his blog, including what may well have been your first exposure to the topic, back when Kermit the Frog explored it in the 1950s.

Copyright 2009 Fred Collopy. This document is located at