I don’t know about you, but my childhood is filled with memories of my father pulling his pen out of his jacket and drawing on the napkins at restaurants to explain his thoughts or tell me what he was expecting of me. To date, he still does it, the difference is that I now tend to do the same, either when I am trying to clarify or organise my thoughts or to convey my message to others.

Visualisation as we know it, has become increasingly popular in recent years, as a tool used by various industries to structure and frame discussions or to regroup teams. 

But why is Visual Thinking (drawing in order to make sense of the world) emerging as best practice in leading-edge organisations only now, when it has been mainstream in Sciences and Mathematics for many years?


Here are 3 reasons:

1 – Progress in Neurosciences

Neurosciences say (in a simplified nutshell)

  • 75% of our brain’s sensory neurons are dedicated to visual processing.
  • Pictures are retained at a far higher rate than words. How often has someone in your entourage asked you whether you have a visual memory?
  • Drawing practice enhances how the brain shares information about a topic between different regions of its cortex. It anchors and gives the thoughts intentional gravitas.
  • When you visualise something, it becomes more concrete.

2 – The inner child in us

We are all born with a natural curiosity propelled by a rich imagination that motivates us to go after bigger and better, all of which is ‘lost in translation’ as we grow older.

As adults it is fundamental to reignite with our inner child so we can get back that excitement, curiosity, motivation, creativity and desire to play with others; these are essential for sustaining social awareness, kindness, and the ability to cooperate with others.

Julia Cameron in her bestselling creative guide ‘The Artist’s Way’ goes a step further and invites us to connect with our inner child and make use of our creative talents and skills.

With the basic principle that creative expression is the natural direction of life, she leads us to recover and own our creativity. We are all creative, she says!


3 – Creativity as a safe environment

In our daily life or in a business environment, anxiety or emotional distress can often create distance between individuals but also cause people to shut down. When in this state of mind, our brain signals a sense of threat, which induces the freeze-flight-or-fight response. Creativity, or putting pen to paper, helps regulate and channel emotions, breaking the neuro-circuit triggered by our survival reptilian brain. It helps create a safe place where we can set our imagination free and give ourselves permission to reconnect with our inner child via visual expressions.

As soon as people start drawing, it’s ideas and insights that matter, not status or what each other thinks of others. Because people are focused on the shared picture and creating something together.


How to implement visual thinking

Today, using creative processes for decision-making is no longer the privilege of the very few advertising agencies at the era of Mad Men. Just as brainstorming is no longer the only collaborative visual tool available. You can also choose from Mind Mapping, Doodling, Storytelling, Game Storming, Visual Problem Solving, Visual Decision Making, to name a few.

What is fascinating though is that the ‘Creativity Problem Solving” model developed in the 1950-60s by Alex Osborne, often cited as ‘the father of brainstorming’, is still very relevant to any kind of visuals tools, as articulated around 4 basics steps: clarify, ideate, develop, implement.

I think it is safe to say that, through creative expression and using hand-drawings, not only can organisations offer their staff members the safest environment to either visualise their challenges, imagine creative alternatives or develop strategies and plans, it also allows each individual of the team to change their perception of oneself as well as their perception of others.

David JP Phillips reminds us in his Ted talk “The magical science of storytelling” that 27,000 years ago cave paintings (which one could associate to line drawing) were used to transfer knowledge, making these paintings the very 1st form of storytelling, showing us that visual language has been around forever and therefore is what our brain is most adapted to!

So what are you waiting for? Go and grab a pen and remember to have fun!

If you are interested in bringing visual thinking into your meetings and workshops (face-to-face or virtually) to make them more interactive, engaging and productive, why not check out our Bespoke Visual Workshop Facilitation package: Bespoke Visual Workshop Facilitation – Continuous Improvement Projects Ltd (

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