A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes. Pictures & diagrams can help us to simplify complex relationships. Imagine, for instance, if you were trying to describe all the lines of communication in your co-op. If you try it in words it might run to 30 pages, but you could probably sum most of it up in one (albeit complex) diagram.
That’s not the only reason you might find diagrams useful:
- Some people understand images better than words
- Some people don’t have the time or attention span to commit to a long written document
- It is easy to “zoom out” and get an overview, to spot fatal flaws in a process or proposal
When trying to develop a new strategy for our co-op (e.g. new marketing strategy, or new way of organising the workload) one of the best tools I have found is to try and assemble the ideas in a diagram or picture – even if it is just words connected with arrows.
Have you ever spent a day working hard to develop a strategy or process, the group creates a diagram and then someone is given the soulless job of spending half a day turning those pictures into 4 or 5 pages of words. Somehow, the meaning gets lost in translation. Not enough people read the document because it’s just too much, too dense or becomes more complicated once it is put into words. Those that do retreat to solitude so they can focus enough to understand it. Readers have to construct a mental diagram to make sense of it. There is scope for people to not quite “get” the plan or get it in the wrong way. When the diagram is presented, everyone looks at it together, they challenge it and describe what they like or dislike, they grab the pen and make corrections, suggest improvements, add the missing parts or spot the “fail”.
Here are some sweeping observations I’ve made watching groups of people presented with diagrams or strategy documents:
- Diagrams tend to provoke questions, challenges, declarations of not understanding (which is a good thing), identification of faults and problem solving suggestions. They also provoke physical interaction – people crowd together around the image. Emotional responses such as enthusiasm or rejection are declared.
- Written papers prompt semantics (arguing about the meaning of words), arguments about grammar, boredom, yawning and switching off. Discussion papers provoke a retreat into solitude. It is difficult to gauge responses as emotions are guarded.
I’m not saying there isn’t a need for detailed procedures or guidance to accompany the overview – that is the next level of detail – but if developing understanding is the first goal, why do we turn pictures into words?
Among the services that Co-operantics offers are:
- Faciliation of strategic reviews/away days
- Reviews and development of your governance and management
- See an overview of typical services here
If you are looking for those services please get in touch