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EMPATHY IS A GAME CHANGER

Empathy.jpg

One of the reasons that I love reading is observing the power that language has.  Choosing one word over another can make a tremendous difference in how we respond to a story, whether fiction or non-fiction.  

Since my job requires such deep listening, I’m also tuned in to the words I’m hearing repeatedly in meetings and brainstorming sessions across all sectors.
 
Words like:  Innovation, Transformation, Collaboration, Customer Centric, Empathy, Relevance, Diversity.
 
When I read that list, each word has value in navigating our rapidly changing world.  And while overuse has risks in diminishing that value, there’s one word that has particular power in our evolution.

That word is empathy.
 
With technology driving so much change, we have to design new systems, products and services to keep up.  The only way to do this effectively is to first truly get to know who we are designing for.
 
The best example I’ve heard of using empathy in design recently is the pirate themed CT scanner at Children’s Hospital in NYC.  A CT scan only lasts for a minute, but the 10-15 minutes of prep time can be quite stressful for a child who’s likely in pain.  Kids enter the room and walk a plank to a boat-shaped table where there are pictures of pirate monkeys looking on from the walls. The fun distraction helps them relax so they can hold completely still while in the scanner.
 
I think what impresses me the most about this is that it’s not about profit. The child will have the test regardless of how they feel about it.  This design required truly putting oneself in the place of that child and creating a better experience for them.
 
That’s empathy and it’s a game changer.

 

 

Simple Drawing Tip: Vehicles

Summer is a fun time to be outdoors and catch up with family and friends.  It's also a great time to practice new skills before the busy fall hits.  Thanks to those of you who have shared your progress drawing simple people.  Keep up the great work!

For our next Simple Drawing Tip, we're going to learn how to draw three simple vehicles.  Vehicles are an important part of visual language because as mobile objects they can communicate a variety of different ideas quickly.

A car or truck for example, can communicate mobility, action, speed, or a step along a journey.  It can also be used as a container that carries one idea to another. 

I find myself drawing rockets when future scenarios are being discussed, a new idea is being launched, or I need a container that shows high velocity.

Below are simple step-by-step instructions on how to quickly draw a car, truck or rocket.  Once you have the basic shapes down, have fun customizing your own vehicles!

 

6 POWERFUL WAYS TO USE GRAPHIC RECORDING POST-EVENT

A 3-day event is recapped at the closing dinner using a graphically recorded summary.

A 3-day event is recapped at the closing dinner using a graphically recorded summary.

The value of graphic recording is obvious during a live event:  The real-time visual representation of what attendees are hearing helps to solidify the content in their minds and to remember it going forward.
 
That’s the process side of graphic recording, but what about the product?  How can you maximize this amazing artifact by using it after the event?
 
Here are just a few ways our clients have used the maps we create live post-event:
 
1.  Recap the Event
Use the visual maps to re-cap and close out your event.  All of the key information is right there in visual form making it easy to speak to.
 
2.  Host a Gallery Walk
Take the maps back to your HQ, and hang them in a lobby or common area and host a Gallery Walk for employees who weren’t able to attend the event.   This will make effective and immediate use of the graphic recordings, and it will allow everyone to participate in the thinking that was started and further the discussion.
 
3.  Create a Visual Report
Re-cap your event in the form of a printed book or pdf.   Showcase the maps along with event photos and a written overview of the event in chronological order.  It’s a wonderful surprise to send to attendees a shortly after the event.  They love receiving the visual report and reviewing what they learned, and since it’s packed with interesting visuals, they love sharing it with their colleagues too.
 
4.  Social Media
Incorporate the graphics in blogs, newsletters and all of your social media outlets.   You can even pull out specific quotes or icons from the maps, providing social media content for weeks after your event!
 
5.  Animated Follow-Up
Take the digitized maps and create a Prezi or Sketch Video with voice over and animation.  It’s a very engaging way of diving even deeper into the content.   The videos are also terrific marketing pieces to have on your company website.
 
6.  Products
There are many products that can be easily created in very small to large quantities to suit any budget.  Here are just a few ideas:
•  Posters
•  Puzzles
•  Trade Show Walls and Curtains
•  Mouse Pads
•  Smart Phone Covers
•  Trading Cards
•  Stickers
•  And on and on and on!

USING VISUAL METAPHORS

As a graphic recorder,  I listen intently to conversations or presentations, synthesize what I’m hearing, and then quickly draw it out.
 
So when someone in a group uses a metaphor, it’s like tossing me a softball because invariably they bring specific images to mind.  When this happens I always read the room to see how the metaphor landed with the group.  Just because it’s meaningful to one person doesn’t mean it resonates with the whole team, and if I can see that it doesn’t, I won’t draw it.
 
But a metaphor that does resonate with a group can be a powerful way to get everyone on the same page.  It can even create a common language within the organization, which increases both communication and collaboration.
 
Earlier this month I graphic recorded Dignity Health’s annual summit, held at the Disneyland Hotel.  They rather brilliantly incorporated the environment by using Disney characters and their stories as metaphors throughout the 2-day event.  One keynote speaker even used video clips from Disney films to highlight effective ways to lead, communicate, and make use of existing tools.   
 
The visuals I created reinforced these key messages.  Attendees will be able to use the digitized versions of the maps to help them remember what they learned and to share those learnings with their colleagues.

And for me personally, I'm still humming tunes from my favorite Disney musicals and generally feeling inspired.
 

Explainer Video For The Leadership Foundry

Explainer Videos are a wonderful way to communicate complex information quickly, succinctly, and simply.  By combining drawings, motion graphics, and voice over, we tell visually engaging stories within one to three minutes.  We know that in today's world, that's about as long as the average person's attention span will last!

The Leadership Foundry initially engaged us to update their course materials.  They saw us doing live graphic recording and were impressed with how effective our simple visuals were in telling a story.  For them, the story is the journey of how their students can become great leaders through the three different courses they offer.

http://www.graphicrecordingstudio.com/studio-illustration/

We then took this new, more visual approach for them a step further with a one-minute sketch video.  It's a simple overview of what they do, why it works, and how to contact them.  Click on the image below to enjoy this quick video.

SIMPLE DRAWING TIP: PEOPLE PART 2

Let's take our same two people from our last Simple Drawing Tip, and add a few things to communicate more ideas.

First, let's erase our man's left arm and our woman's right arm.  Next, draw in new arms around each other's shoulders.  This is a simple yet effective symbol for "partnership" or "collaboration".

Now let's expand on this by drawing more people on either side of them to communicate "team" or "teamwork".

Let's take this one step further and show even more of a crowd by drawing in a few simple heads.  Then let's add a few simple buildings behind the crowd.  Now we have a community!

Simple Drawing Tip: People

People often tell me that they can't even draw a stick figure.  I'm here to tell you that anyone can learn to draw simple symbols.  So, this is the first in my series of Simple Drawing Tips.

If you can draw a circle, a triangle, and a rectangle, you can draw a person!  Once you get this down, start playing with hairstyles and clothes.  Drawing people is simple, EASY, and fun!

 

How Politically Skilled Are You?

I recently graphic recorded a leadership training course.  I’ve been contemplating one of the modules on Political Skill, and thought it was worth sharing a few insights.

There are many skills required to effectively lead teams.  Most are obvious:  Good communication, knowing how to manage conflict, having a clear vision, to name a few.

A more subtle skill that is rarely talked about but equally important is Political Skill. Most of us don’t want to think of ourselves as “political”, especially in the workplace.  But Political Skill helps us to read people and situations so we can influence others, which is nothing to shy away from.

Family upbringing, education and life experience all influence our Political Skill level, and so does our early environment. For instance, people who moved often as children tend to be very good at reading people.  They had to figure out how to make friends quickly and adapt to new situations and environments.  On the other hand, those who grew up in rural areas without a lot of playmates didn’t have the opportunity to practice and hone that skill. These people aren’t generally very politically skilled early in their careers, but most improve over time.

So, how politically skilled are you?

Here are a few things to ask yourself:

  1. Are you a good listener?  This means listening to truly understand what the other person is saying, not listening to formulate your own response.
  2. Have you taken the time to get to know your managers, peers, and those you lead? Do you use the language of appreciation they prefer?
  3.  Do you spend time building your network?  Strong and lasting relationships are key to career success.
  4. Do you practice integrity?  Simply put integrity is always doing what you say you’re going to do.

And, remember that a good leader is AUTHENTIC.  People don’t follow someone they don’t trust.

Seeing Is Understanding

As a graphic recorder, hearing the words “Now that I SEE it I understand it!” is music to my ears.  And that’s what I heard repeatedly last week at the Kitchen and Bath Industry show (KBIS).

NKBA Certification Journey

NKBA Certification Journey

A relatively simple illustration can quickly communicate pages of written words.  Take for example this Certification Journey I illustrated in the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s (NKBA) booth. There’s nothing particularly complicated about the process to become a certified kitchen and bath designer, except that the process is different depending on where a designer is in their career.  This isn’t terribly complicated either, but explainingthe different pathways and their various requirements toward certification on a website with only words might take up to four clicks to accomplish.  And we all know by now that we’re a one click culture at best.

We also know that people love to look at pictures and that visual stories not only hold our attention but also increase our retention.  Sure it’s fun to look at, but its value is that how designers can quickly understand what it will take for them to achieve their certification goals.  Instead of getting distracted after that second click and giving up on the idea, they’re now on their way to gaining more industry knowledge, making more money, and having the professional recognition they’ve been dreaming of.

 

Playing With Purpose

Alece-Birnbach-IMEX16

One of the things I love about my job is the exposure to different ways of learning.

As children we all learned by doing, and in particular by playing games with other kids.  Group play not only taught us specific lessons, it also taught us how to collaborate and be on a team. As adults, hands-on learning is still valuable and let’s face it – a whole lot more interesting than sitting still listening to a lecture.

Play With A Purpose is on a mission to bring back play as a learning tool. So when they invited me to bring my markers to Vegas and play alongside them in their Play Room at the IMEX conference, I happily obliged. 

The Play Room was a separate room at IMEX that was set up specifically for networking and for hands-on learning.  There were 12 presentations throughout the day, all of which were highly participatory.  There was also an Idea Bar with idea tenders there to serve up ideas for your latest challenge, or just brainstorm solutions with you.

Throughout the day I bounced around the room listening to conversations, presentations, and ideation sessions. I visually captured the session highlights on white cubes that we stacked into towers and placed around the room . Having visual representations of  key learnings created in real time helped the participants to retain the information.  It’s also proven to be highly valuable to people who missed a session since they could garner the highlights by quickly looking at the pictures and words on the cubes.

The cube towers were reminiscent of the blocks we all played with as children.  What a clever way to foster education and PLAY!

Well…what can I say...you ROCKED it! Thank you so much for doing such a fabulous job on all the graphic recordings from the PlayRoom sessions. Not only are you a great artist, but you captured the essence of each session perfectly and conveyed it in a colorful and fun way. We love the art boxes!
— Sharon Fisher, Play With A Purpose

graphic recording and first year of college student success

Would it surprise you to know that only 55%* of students who start college actually finish and earn a degree?  Unfortunately it’s true. Most of those who drop out do so in their first year, but why and what can be done about it?

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) is dedicated to finding out and changing that statistic. In fact, they’ve developed a program called “Re-Imaging The First Year Of College” with the goal of ensuring success for all students.

What better way to gather data than by creating a real-time mural illustrating student’s concerns, goals, and how they’ll overcome challenges?  Metro State University in Denver and AASCU brought me in to do exactly that on the first two days of school this year.  We were able to talk to students directly and capture their thoughts live and in the moment. 

One thing I hadn’t thought about but was a common theme was the fear of not being able to make friends.  It makes sense though, because we all need support in order to succeed and moving into a new environment means having to create a new friend group.

There were a lot of unexpected comments, and the resulting 4’x16’ mural provides AASCU with the data they need to help them reach their goal. 

Here’s what Dr. Lunden MacDonald, director of First Year Success Program at MSU had to say about it:

"It was a pleasure to collaborate with Alece on a project designed to capture my students’ voice in a mural that will impact change agency in higher education.  Alece and I worked closely to imagine what representational strategies would best reflect the research data my team collected on the spot, and the resulting mural now provides an invaluable perspective on our research and will inform the direction of our future work with students.  On top of that, literally hundreds of students pass by the mural each day and admire how great their own words look!  Thanks for the amazing experience and product, Alece!"

*National Student Clearinghouse

Message, Art, Video!

While I take great pleasure in live graphic recording, we've had more and more requests for videos. We enjoy doing them so much that we decided to create a promotional video to highlight our capabilities in that area. 

In my past experience as an art director and advertising agency owner, strategic thinking was an essential part of creating campaigns for clients such as Invesco Funds and the Colorado Lottery. In addition to print campaigns, TV commercials were an important component to the overall branding strategy.

My partner in creating videos for Graphic Recording Studio, Terry Gordica, has an extensive background in script writing, video editing and motion graphics.  Our combined skill sets make us the perfect team to create videos for either public-facing or in-house use.

Our new video is 1 minute long, so please click on the link and enjoy!
 

HOW RESILIENT ARE YOU?

Resiliency is a word that keeps coming up, particularly in leadership training.  An entrepreneurial mindset is now something senior leaders are expected to have.  But entrepreneurs tend to work 24/7 and that’s just not sustainable over time. So how can we stay fully engaged throughout our careers and avoid burnout at the same time?

I recently graphic recorded a session led by The Leadership Foundry. They suggest 4 principals towards full engagement to help manage energy and build resilience:

1)   Be mindful of the 4 sources of energy:  Body, Heart, Mind and Spirit.

2)   Balance expenditure with renewal.

3)   Push beyond your comfort zone and cultivate a growth mindset.

4)    Develop positive rituals.

They also suggest that cultivating strong personal and professional relationships is key to overcoming challenges.

For more detail, take a look at the map I created of their presentation.

Vision Map for The Women's Bean Project

If you aren’t already familiar with them, The Women’s Bean Project is a transitional job training program for chronically impoverished women.  By moving out of dependency and into personal responsibility, women are able to set a new course for their lives.  The ripple effect of changing one life is huge.  It literally breaks what may have been a mulit-generational cycle of poverty, which in turn impacts the entire community.

I’ve always been a fan of the WBP, and in fact designed their packaging for them back in the 90’s when I worked as an advertising art director.  So when the opportunity came to help them visualize their strategic plan I happily jumped in.

This illustrated vision map was created by synthesizing information captured live during board and staff meetings, and interviewing CEO TamraRyan.  The original 4’x8’ mural is hanging at the WBP.  Here’s a quote from Tamra about how they’re using it: 

"It’s terrific to have a visual representation of our strategic plan. It will hang in a high traffic area of our building so that all staff can be reminded daily of where we are headed – our dream for a better future for the women we serve and their families. My hope is that we will enlist visitors who are inspired by our vision map to join us in accomplishing our long term organizational goals.”

– Tamra Ryan, CEO Women's Bean Projec

THE IMPORTANCE OF DIALOGUE SKILLS

I recently graphic recorded a 3-day leadership training class. I was particularly impressed by the information shared on one whole day focused solely on Dialogue Skills.

 Unlike debate (which we may have learned in school) dialogue is not about arguing, but about deepening understanding and finding commonalities with the people you engage with.  How well do you really listen to your boss, coworker, or significant other?  Do you listen to learn or only to respond?  Are you able to suspend judgement and look for common ground?  

Like any skill, the more we practice the better we get, and once we move from debate to dialogue magical things can happen.  In a time that seems to be increasingly adversarial, cultivating this skill is certainly worthwhile for all of us.

MOTIVATING THREE GENERATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE

One of the reasons why I love Graphic Recording so much is that I am always learning, invariably from leaders in every possible arena.  Here's a powerful nugget I can share after a recent conference.

Since this is the first time in history that there are three generations in the workplace, it’s something organizations across all sectors are talking about. Age diversity, like gender or racial diversity, is an asset to any organization.  However, there are big differences between the Boomers, Gen X and Millennials.   Knowing what motivates each is key to finding better ways to understand one another. Better understanding leads to greater appreciation of each other’s differences, which then leads to better collaboration and high performing teams. 

One key difference that continues to come up in conversations I’ve heard is the way the different generations feel about work.  The Boomers live to work, Gen Xers work to live, and Millennials work from 9-5 and not a minute more. This actually doesn’t mean Millennials care less about their work, they simply care more about other areas of their lives.

STEM Thought Leaders Meeting

We take for granted that students from middle to high income families have someone at home involved in their learning.  But what about low-income families who are struggling to make ends meet?  In cases like this there often isn’t an involved family member who can inspire the child to imagine a better future.  The National PTA is committed to giving families the tools they need to help their children see possibilities outside of school. Imagining possibilities can lead to a fulfilling career and ultimately end the cycle of poverty.  It was my privilege to lend visual support at the STEM Thought Leaders Meeting in Washington D.C. where 50 passionate people came together to come up with ways to engage families in STEM.

HAPPINESS AT SCHOOL PROJECT

I had a blast creating this hand-out for Sue Stephenson, speaker and author of “Kidding Around”.  “Happiness At School” is a program that promotes good mental health by teaching kids stand-up comedy skills. And, they get to work with professional comedians too!  Growing up is more stressful than ever, so learning to write, perform and LAUGH about it can only be a good thing.

US Endowment for Forestry & Communities

In the fall of 2014 the US Endowment for Forestry & Communities asked me to graphic record their board meeting in San Diego.  It was an interesting day filled with rich group discussions and informative speakers.  I listened throughout the day and captured the themes and key points in pictures and words.

The Endowment loved the accessibility of the quick hand-drawn images I created live during their meeting.  So when it came time to design their annual report, they asked me to do the same thing by reading the content and drawing it out.

They have 5 focus areas in the annual report, each with 3-5 short articles about that subject.  Much like listening and drawing, I read the articles, synthesized the content and created a single image to represent each subject.

I love this type of work because I get the chance to work digitally and design each illustration.  It’s just one more way to maximize the power visual communication.

Re-Imagining the First Year of College

I know I’m not alone when I recall how challenging my first year of college was.  I grew up in a very small town and suddenly found myself in a big city with kids from all over the U.S. who knew more about well, everything.  It took a lot of courage to stay and believe in myself enough to know that I could learn fast and excel.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) knows my story all to well. That’s why they’re committed to helping students through their new program “Reimagining the First Year”.  

Faculty are the single most important factor in making a smooth transition into college.  A meaningful connection with even one teacher early in a student’s college experience can help them to feel they belong and stay in school. I know exactly who that teacher was for me, and I’m sure you know who it was for you.

I was privileged to capture this keynote by Carla Hickman with the Education Advisory Board at the AASCU conference.  Here she outlines 6 roles faculty play in student success.