Build to Think: A Roadmap for Helping Individuals and Teams Get Unstuck
Give an employee a plan, and they will build. Teach an employee to build, and they will think.
Most of us don’t learn by listening. We learn by seeing and doing. Because that’s how we process meaning, retain, and draw conclusions from information.
For some reason, at the end of our formal education, most visual learning and communication opportunities disappear. Business plans, reports, lists, meeting notes, and emails are the most common means of communication, instead of sharing ideas with graphics, story illustrations, and 3D models. That’s why “death by powerpoint” is a thing.
At Ei, we often hear our workplace partners’ desire to empower employees to solve complex problems and contribute to company strategy. But complex business problems aren’t linear and can’t be boiled down into an “if this then that” persuasive essay. They are made up of interconnected parts, irrational office politics, and undiscovered employee capabilities. At the same time, one person’s understanding of a problem can be entirely different from the colleague sitting next to them. David Sibbet, a visualization expert, famously argues that if you want everyone to have a shared mental understanding of a problem or its solution, the best way to do achieve it is with an image. In their book Draw Your Big Idea, Nora Herting and Heather Willems also note that visual communication “stimulates cross-cognitive brain function” by calling on various tools and skills such as memory, creativity, spatial analysis, and symbolism all at the same time.
Here at Ei, we believe in life-long learning. To (re)build visual thinking and communication skills among employees and teams, we developed a simple tool called “Build to Think.” This tool guides employees feeling “stuck” in a problem to a possible solution in a tangible and visual way.
Here’s how it works:
1. Grab a partner and block your calendar for an hour.
2. Individually, brainstorm challenges that are on your plate.
3. Select one where you’re feeling stuck, and share a story with your partner about a time when this challenge felt particularly thorny.
4. Keep going! List all the stakeholders who are affected and all the pain points you can think of. Make a list of all the unknowns.
5. Brainstorm… Now that you’ve gotten all of that out of your head and down on paper, work with your partner to generate as many ways as possible to address the challenge.
6. Bring an idea to life. Take a compelling idea, and think of a “hack” – a simple, low-cost, quick way to test the idea and to learn more about the challenge. Sketch the hack in action.
7. Decide. Share your idea with your partner and decide whether and how to make it happen. If you found something that could have energy or work, jot down the next steps. Who should you talk to? What should you make next? When can it happen?
That’s a tiny glimpse into visual communication and prototyping. We like thinking this way around Ei and think your employees will, too.
We invite you to try out our Build to Think tool and share it with your team the next time you gather to solve a challenge. We’d love to hear about your experience and the solutions you test—drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.