Artistic Intelligence for Business


This post is intended to shed further light on my work as a consulting artist as it pertains to what is referred to as Graphic Facilitation, so apologies if it is of a more practical bent than my usual irreverent output.

Schein’s model of organisational culture (see illustration above) which originated in the 1980s, is still used by many leading business schools to highlight the key areas of focus for leaders in organisations that are seeking to transform themselves. Artefacts covers things like behaviours, the physical workplace and brand imagery (i.e. what employees can observe). Espoused values are what an organisation and its leaders say about themselves (e.g. values and mission statements). Underlying assumptions covers the opinions formed by those observing the organisation (positive or otherwise). I’ve said before on this blog that organisational culture is what happens when the management isn’t looking too closely. Cynicism forms when there is a gap between the espoused values and what employees observe happening. My approach to Graphic Facilitation involves guiding participants through an honest examination of each of these three focal points to form a new transformative narrative, aided by the co-creation of visual imagery and associated keywords or quotations.


Recent studies from the field of psychology clearly demonstrate the powerful link between images and recall and it is this link that we seek to exploit through graphic facilitation. All too often, people attending training or development events are bombarded with reams of printouts and subjected to death by PowerPoint. Although graphic facilitation might use other media, it is most commonly a more tangible practice and those going through the process often find that working with pen and paper brings an immediacy that can be lost with multimedia tools. Despite the advent of mobile tablets, something as old-school as flipchart paper is eminently portable and flexible.


An important part of exploring creativity at work using this methodology is getting people beyond the notion that they cannot draw. A skilled practitioner need not be a fine artist in the mould of a Rembrandt, nor need they be an astonishing cartoonist like Charles Addams. You do need to be able to distinguish the divergent and convergent messages you are hearing and translate these into simple but memorable images or “icons” that anchor the picture to the point under discussion. Of equal importance is developing the skills of active inquiry and listening so that you gain an appreciation of what goes in and, just as vitally, what you leave out.

During a recent engagement, we talked with the client team about the various things that spark creative thinking. One of these was the idea that you should take yourself out of your normal environment. So the team were tasked with taking a walk in the park to get them into a different frame of mind and with a different perspective on the issues at hand. Following this, they were then asked to work with me to produce their own images that captured their ideas and thinking. There was some initial resistance based on their concept of “not being and artist”, but with only a little assistance they soon got to work on what I think were very well formed graphic representations of their experience.

Ultimately, as with any facilitation exercise, the quality of the end result depends on both the facilitator and the participant being fully engaged in the process and the non-artistic skills of the facilitator are of enormous importance in ensuring and sustaining that engagement. If all of those involved go away with something memorable that helps them recall the lessons they learned in a unique way then you’ve done your job and had a huge amount of fun at the same time.

I thought that it might be helpful to include with this post some links to interesting resources that might help you as you explore your own creativity at work.

Here is a link to an article from The New Yorker magazine (a publication which has a long and famous tradition of cartooning) that discusses what happens to our brains when we look at cartoons.
This link is to an article from The Huffington Post that covers the psychology of drawing and looks at how you might, with practice, develop the mental processes that researchers believe make someone a great artist.
Additional resources and background on Graphic Facilitation can be found here.
Ever been reprimanded for doodling in a meeting? Well, fear no more. Doodling is now becoming an acknowledged tool for smart working, re-branded as Sketchnoting. One of the world’s leading proponents of this technique is a guy by the name of Mike Rohde. His website is much more informative than I can be in a short post so here is a link that will take you there and will explain just what Sketchnotes are, how they are created and why they are important. Mike has also written a book called the Sketchnote Handbook and you can find out more about it here. There are now even apps that can help you Sketchnote without having to worry about pen and paper. And here’s a link to an example of my own sketchnoting.

Another very popular technique for capturing all this great stuff is whiteboard animations. The very best are perhaps those from the RSA and maybe the most famous one is adapted from Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA and illustrates the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace. I’ve done a few of these myself and you can see one below.



  1. […] an earlier post, I took a brief look at Schein’s model of organisational culture. We can see from the model that […]

  2. […] Fortunately for the artists among us, there is a way to make your art pay, either as a way to make a living or as a way of funding more esoteric pursuits. It’s also something that businesses are increasingly seeing the value in and a potential door opener into worlds like UX. Visual recording gets you in the room with people from another world and provides an opportunity to learn their language and understand their issues. If you can match that knowledge with intelligent insight you can start to build a winning combination of skills. You can find out more in a previous post HERE. […]

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