Learning my ABCs

When I told people I'd spent two days learning to draw and write, they thought I was a little crazy. But my new found skills in visual facilitation are proving popular with a lot of different audiences. Here's what I learned and how I'm putting it into practice.

It's difficult keeping your own professional development up to date when you work for your own business, so over the last couple of years I've made a concerted effort to identify at least one training opportunity to challenge my thinking. Last year, I attended a week-long programme on policy innovation with the Science Policy Research Unit - or SPRU - at the University of Sussex, meeting people from around the world and putting my ideas to the test. This year couldn't have been more different, as I embarked into the world of Bikablo.

Bikablo is an approach to visual facilitation and teaches you with the tools you need to develop a new visual vocabulary. A small group of us spent two days in Glasgow with the wonderful Andy and Marcus from workvisible to learn the basics, from lettering to icon sets. As a person with very limited artistic ability, I was a little nervous about how well I would master the skills, but I was delighted at how accessible it was. Our finale drew what we had learned into one big image and during the two energetic and fun-packed days, I went from no drawing talent to being able to produce something vaguely recognisable. Better still, I could apply these skills in a practical and innovative way to my work.

Since the training in May, I've managed to apply the skills in two different ways:

Strategy progress update with a client

I was asked by a long-standing client to review progress on their strategy, which I'd worked with them to develop back in 2017. Instead of slides and spreadsheets, I designed a set of flip chart templates to use throughout the day. Starting with an agenda, we worked through each strategic objective, identifying where progress had been achieved and what needed to change, so that - by the end of the day - the client had a clear picture of what was left to deliver in the strategic period. This type of review is an essential part of any successful strategy implementation, but it was the first time I'd used the visual skills. I'm pleased to say the Board members enjoyed the innovation, and applied themselves to it throughout the day.

Conference presentation to demonstrate a case study

When another client invited me to deliver a joint conference presentation on the project we had worked on for their institution, I immediately suggested we put the visual tools to use, and they agreed! I took a similar approach by developing templates instead of slides, and this time designed a way to capture 'live' feedback from the session participants. It was a great opportunity to try the format in a different setting. My fellow-presenter embraced the new approach. And the participants seemed to enjoy the difference, too!

So, what have I actually learned? I think there are three main things:

1. Be more confident about trying new approaches. I set up Lucidity to do things differently, to challenge traditional thinking. To do this effectively, I need to push myself out of my comfort zone. Visual thinking has certainly done that.

2. Be open minded about where learning can happen. I took a punt with the visual facilitation training, hoping that it could be applied to my work. Connections are there to be found, so I'll continue to look out for different options in the future.

3. Creativity is about more than just drawing. The biggest thing I took away from the workshop was the opportunities that being creative provides. Creativity is at the heart of Lucidity and the work we do, and this was a timely reminder that creative thinking solves a lot of challenges.

I've long been a an advocate for learning new skills, and my experience with visual facilitation has cemented that enthusiasm. I don't yet know what's next for my professional development, but I'm excited about the possibilities!