Here are some extracts from the more comprehensive support provided with Visual Concept.
Before beginning a serious session we need to consider the people, the place and the circumstances that we optimise our results.
Who do we need to involve in the session? Is it a solo exercise or do we need to bring in others if so who? Generally we should look to include all parties with a stake in the issue so that they share ownership of the solution. Another useful principle is to ensure you have sufficient variety for instance, if you exclude those whose views differ from your own you will impoverish your work. Generally it will be quicker to manage with the smallest possible number but sometimes it will be desirable to include as many as possible. By using syndicate group processes, perhaps by utilising physical media, many people can be involved in a single thinking process.
The physical ambience is also important. People will find it harder to be creative if they are in their normal place of work, interrupted by phone calls or otherwise divided in their attention. Generally you should aim for informality a relaxed ambience where people feel safe and uninhibited. Arrange the space so that everyone can see one another and see what is going on. Bring people together, set the scene and build the atmosphere perhaps with an introduction to each other and to your process and share something of the outcomes people expect. A warm-up exercise is always helpful before you get down to the serious stuff.
The same applies for solo work learn how to approach your work so as to be in a creative frame of mind.
Design your process. Your own preparation is very important to the dynamics of the whole event. Design the whole thing in detail, selecting processes you will utilise. Having done so pace the process carefully but dont be too dogmatic about it you are exploring the complex world of human thinking and may need to be prepared to be a little adaptable.
Perhaps the most important aspect of preparation is formulating the questions. You may chose to involve the group in this but even so it will be advantageous that you have thought it through beforehand. While questions will need to be open ended yet tightly focused on the issue at hand, they should aim at opening up enquiry and challenging limiting mindset and assumption patterns. For instance, a group will be more innovative if the original question How can we increase productivity? is rephrased to What are the blocks to achieving high productivity and how can we remove them? Try to get people to address the issues at a higher level from that at which problems are experienced.
WRITING ON OBJECTS
Firstly some hints about how to turn your thoughts into objects. It is worth applying a little rigour so as to avoid losing the power of the medium. In the full flow of a session you may want to express thoughts very rapidly but take care to be clear. At a later stage your thoughts will be in differing relationships and much of your original meaning may be lost if you have not been precise enough. This becomes more important when working with others as the original intention can so easily be accidentally distorted. Make each thought clear and robust.
A few simple guidelines will help;
The first and most obvious is ONE IDEA TO A SHAPE. If the word and appears you may need to write two separate shapes.
The second is BEWARE ONE-WORDERS. For some purposes single words are all that is required we may be listing subjects in a timetable, for instance. However take care not to be so brief in other situations. At the time one word may capture all you mean. When you return to a model after some time you may have difficulty remembering all the nuances originally implied. It is better to ask the question what about--------? Make each idea robust and complete e.g. instead of freedom you might on reflection write being trusted to act on individual initiative.
The third is AVOID RELATIVE STATEMENTS. Again there is a danger of losing meaning unless you make clear explicit statements. If you put, for example, more time off, nobody but you may know how much more you have in mind nor how much time off you have now. If you find you have used a relative statement change it into something specific. In the example you might on reflection re-write this as no more than 40 hours per week at work.
Often it will be necessary to work through a complete model to ensure all meanings are clear and that ideas have the correct syntax in the context in which they now appear.
We associate simple thoughts so as to comprehend more complex structures we bring those simple thoughts into relationship. When this is represented visually we call it a cluster. A cluster of clusters may well describe the whole of a topic. Usually visual thinking can help us to collect all our thoughts on a topic and then help us explore ways of structuring those thoughts so as to improve our understanding.
Such associations of ideas facilitate much of our understanding of the world around us. If we are mapping existing knowledge that may be all that is required we know what we know in the way that we know it. However, if we want to think about something unfamiliar or to innovate we will find such patterns of thought constraining. It hard to break free from what we call mindset. Mindset is valuable to us so long as it refers to a stable aspect of experience. If something is changing we may need to escape our mindset in order to see things afresh.
We can make use of visual thinking to allow new associations to arise and thus develop our capacity for creative thinking. If that is our intention then we should avoid the temptation of inventing cluster titles and then filling them up that way we tend to reinforce the existing mindset rather than find alternatives. Such a way of working is what is called pidgin holing good for adding information to an established pattern but no good for creative thinking.
Try different techniques for making intuitive associations between ideas. One may be to apply different colours to different kinds of idea and then to cluster by colour. A more subtle way may be to simply move into proximity, ideas that have some sort of affinity. Let your intuition tell you how near to one another ideas should be placed. Keep moving ideas until clusters naturally fall out. Only when this has happened should you allow yourself to consider what each cluster is about, formally make it into a cluster by enclosing it and then give it a name. With a little practice you will find you can cluster a great deal of complexity and get some surprises from the meanings you generate.
DYNAMICS OF RELATIONSHIP
Naming clusters of concepts and then finding the dynamic relationships between clusters is an immensely powerful attribute of the human mind. We all learn to do this as children but most of us lose our ability to do. With Visual Thinking you will re-discover your ability to make meaning out of experience. Allow your intuition to cluster your thoughts and then put a boundary around those clusters and name them. This business of naming is very dramatic. There is in it the very stuff of making meaning out of primeval experience.
Having named the parts explore their relationships. Look for causal or temporal connections. Look for tensions and pressures. Look for feedback loops and sequential chains. As you do so you will be defining the systemic relationship between the elements. You may also discover aspects that need further exploration.
INTERFACING WITH PHYSICAL MEDIA
You can map and model directly in the virtual medium of the software and also transfer that thinking into a physical medium and back again. This can be very useful in group-work situations where a number of people are being asked to contribute ideas. Suppose they are working with MagNotes you can enter their work either at the same time or later using the brainstorm facility so that you can enhance their process, put it into the computers memory or send it down the wires as well as producing clearly readable output. The Brainstorm feature has been developed specifically to permit the rapid entry of ideas as they are being generated.
From this point it is easy to model the material, if necessary using a projector to enable group members to participate in the process. Transfer from the computer to the physical medium can be achieved by printing out individual ideas onto low-tack labels that can then be put onto MagNotes for modelling and the results returned to the computer.
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