Open systems, neurolinguistic programming, psychosynthesis, creative visualisation, right-brain thinking, all use pictures to develop holistic thinking. I first learned this technique from Chris Bull then of Sheppard Moscow Associates. When combined with counselling skills and coaching it can be a powerful catalyst for change.
When to use it
“Pictures” are best used when the client (an individual or small team) needs to think about where they are going. They are looking for a direction in work, life or through a specific problem.
How to use it
You simply ask the client to draw a picture of how they see their situation now. They then label the picture with a phrase (Often in the form Verb (modifier) Noun) which describes the process that is going on there. An example could be “Struggling Alone” when people are working frantically. The client then draws another picture that describes how she/he would like things to be at a time in the future, one to two years is usual. She/he describes the desired process as a verb and noun (say) “Achieving calmly”. Finally, you help the client to choose the change process that will help her/him to change things from the present to the future process. This might be “Pausing to think”.
People usually feel much better when they become clearly aware of the present situation and why it is frustrating them. This gives them something to tackle. Building a vision for the future energises them. It is even better in a group when people find they share the same dreams. The strategic direction can inform and give life to all the work that a person does. Old issues that have festered for years get confronted and dealt with.
- People are often shy of drawing and worried about having to perform. Be light and gently supportive. Some people will not draw under any circumstances. Help them work through the same questions by interview or writing words and phrases on a chart.
- Encourage people to draw freely and not get too formal with structures and organisation charts. Ask the client to explain the picture while you listen and explore her/his feelings.
- Notice the energy behind their description of the process. Be patient and wait until they have come out with a description that means something to them.
- Ask people for verbs and nouns to describe what they need to do to change things from the ‘now’ to the future process. Boil these down by voting “Which are the three verbs and nouns that appeal to you most?” Then distil these to find a strategic direction with vitality.
- Encourage the client to use this direction as a metaphor to inform their work or life in the future. Ask “What does this mean to you? How can you use it with your boss, colleagues, customers etc.?”
An example of the “pictures” process.
(These pictures are from a clip-art collection. In a real situation, people will draw “stick people”. The images, feelings and ideas are important, not the art.)
The preferred future state
The present state
Then ask the client to come up with a strategic direction, also a short phrase, to get from “now” to the preferred “future”. As above, “Pausing to Think”. Then ask what that would mean and what the client would do in practice.
I usually use A4 paper in a one to one setting and flip chart paper in a group. In the latter case, I encourage shared working at all stages.