the Steelcase exhibition called “Work, Life, Tools,” architect Helmut
Jahn said, “If I don’t draw, I don’t understand.” Jahn was pictured
with a pen, his tool of choice—the extension of his thought as he
envisioned it. Like Jahn, a leader needs to give form to thoughts.
When leaders draw, they convey their thinking.
by Nate Burgos
Stream of Consciousness
In his book Art
is Work, the graphic designer Milton Glaser states, “The act
of drawing has nothing to do with being an illustrator. We draw
because it enables us to see.... Drawing is the path to observation
and attentiveness.” The key phrase here is “to see.” How many times
have you encountered something like this? You are involved in a
meeting and you have difficulty absorbing what the meeting leader
is actually saying. At the end, someone asks, “Did you understand?”
Your body language may say, “yes” with a hesitant dipping of the
chin, but your mind nods left to right and right to left realizing
you didn’t understand at all. If you could only see what was being
said. If you could only see the
criteria being addressed. If you could only see the ideas being relayed.
allows you to see and provides a tactile relationship between subject
and interpreter. Drawing can be
described as making adjectives of nouns (data). Drawing
toggles between what is and
what can be. With
a few quick strokes, you can capture multiple views of a concept
and crystallize possible solutions. Drawing is conversation of minds
over matter: you can see what is being thought and said.
comes in two main types: representation and notation. You can achieve
representation, for example, through diagramming a flow chart. You
can diagram with pen and pencil or digital tools like Visio.
Another means of representation is thumb nailing, conceptualizing
a page layout. Modeling by diagramming and thumb nailing makes the
abstract tangible and contributes to a project’s context.
can be described as a context-sensitive platform. Its purpose is
to map elements in space and time, whether toward such complex entities
as the composition of an interior or an exterior product. When visualizing
a total system, composed of hierarchies and connections, drawing
can simplify what we comprehend. Drawing can weed out bad thinking
and usher in good discourse. Because it is highly plastic, it can
adapt to the climate of the room.
can also bring down barriers. During product development meetings,
I have witnessed sketches on the wall that motivated us to visually
display our views. We pass the magic marker on like a baton in a
relay race and the sketch builds in density. This collaborative
sketching produces a mosaic effect. Drawing is the lingua franca
that dynamically brings together specialists of different disciplines
for brainstorming, troubleshooting, and decision-making. Drawing
has the power to unite people in a spirit of cooperation.
(textual drawing) also proves helpful. Taking good notes is as relevant
in the workspace as it was when we were in school. Jotting down
key terms and phrases could be perceived as an array of fragments.
However, the glue that binds these notes is one’s linguistic flow—how
one outlines the issues being expressed. A streamlined notational
breakdown of a discussion can be a checklist and a summary. Like
representational drawing, notation is both an additive and subtractive
exercise. We deliberately select the facts and figures that matter.
serves as a visual aid. When I was a formal student in visual communications,
I remember relating a concept that I thought was solid and witty
to a professor. He looked at me blankly and replied, “I can’t see
what you’re saying. I have to see it to believe it.” My professor,
a man of words, wanted to see a picture. Most of us do.
Lessons from the Drawing Board
telling proves insufficient, show it.
experience… begins with an impulsion,” said John Dewey in “The Act
of Expression” from his book on aesthetics Art
as Experience. It doesn’t take great visual charisma or even
talent to describe a concept through pictures. Heed your expressive
impulse and act. If your point will benefit from visual representation,
seize the opportunity to illustrate it. Pictures fill in the conceptual
void when words fail to express what we are trying to relate. Taking
initiative in using visuals has the potential to make the quality
of interaction with other specialists or with the subject itself
more efficient and exciting.
you do a rendering, however rudimentary, people’s attention focuses
on what was drawn. More than eye-candy, the drawing becomes a communal
anchor for questions and issues brought to the discussion table.
As the drawing progresses, more questions and issues reveal themselves.
Participation increases visually and verbally in “real time.” The
drawn image escapes flatland because it becomes a social vehicle.
The element of conversation brings an extra dimension to what is
drawn. This builds a sense of community and leads to shared involvement
and, hopefully, proceeds to shared ratification.
physical environment can be conducive to self-expression and co-creation.
Frequently I notice office spaces with walls made for drawing. If
the walls can’t be drawn on, use any available surface. I use medium-sized
Post-It notes or a board on the wall when I can’t write on paper.
Colleagues doodle on the back of lunch napkins. The more surfaces
you have for mental maneuvering the better! Make a notebook or grid
paper your visible thought companion.
should be a liberating experience. You can be wildly spontaneous
or awfully mundane. Take risks and visualize the “what ifs.” Ask,
“What if it was done this way? What if it was done that way?” Mistakes
pave the way for discoveries. Cross out or erase and move on. The
drawing becomes a soundboard, taking advantage of various conceptual
takes and directions. One stroke leads to another and in the words
of writer Eudora
Welty, “The picture composes itself.”
embodies more than the physical act itself. A scene, a phrase, or
even a word that strikes you for whatever reason can prove to be
a visual trigger. When we draw, we draw from opinion, from facts,
from nature, from the media, from a number of influences. Most of
all, we draw from curiosity; we want to make the unknown known.
The activity of drawing is an all-encompassing one.
the artist who signs a masterpiece, drawing authenticates conceptualization.
When you are involved in the image-making process, you are an “eye”
witness. Name and time stamp the work to confirm the project visuals
for future reference.
from history makes history. We are documenting evolution. As we
invest in the information display of a project, we make visible
the decision-making. We gain the wisdom of best practices as well
as the lessons history teaches.
make meaning.” This is Rule 47 of Tom Peter’s Rules
for Leaders. (Rule 48 is “Leaders learn.”) Drawing facilitates
this meaning making. As part of a leader’s skill set, drawing shows
what matters and what makes sense. Drawing literally draws out the best of the leader and his
or her colleagues in their thinking about a need or a problem. In
so doing, insight and discovery increase the intellectual depth
of the collaboration. Such communication resonates with purpose,
community, and inventiveness. Drawing enables anyone to make visible
their imaginings and sustain them so all will be led on a journey
of realization—locally and globally. “A leader is one who knows
the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”*
from John Maxwell
Burgos is a design manager at Chicago-based Morningstar,
the global leader in investment information innovation. He is also
a teaching associate with Research Professor John Massey, a graphic
design pioneer, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, his alma
mater, in addition to teaching computer graphics at Loyola University.
He attended the Yale Summer Program in Graphic Design in Brissago,
Switzerland and the Maine Summer Institute in Graphic Design. His
current passion projects include designfeast.com, memory-banks.com, collecting
rare books, and piano. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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