Visual Thinking Versus Typical Meetings

Accountability Productivity Teamwork


Key Point: The most creative and productive meetings I have ever participated in usually involve a visual component. Whether it’s on a napkin, white board, plastering a wall with post-it notes, something extra seems to positively emerge when the discussion becomes visual. The CEO I work for embraces visual thinking. When you’re “clicking” with him, the white board or iPad Pro is filled with very visual pictures of a desired future we jointly developed. It got me thinking about why having a visual element is so effective? So a little research journey introduced me to both visual thinking and NeuroLeadership

Visual Thinking is drawing in order to make sense of the world. When we visualize something, it becomes more concrete. Complex concepts become easier to understand. Visual Thinking has been widespread in science and mathematics for many years. Along with NeuroLeadership, and design thinking, visual thinking is emerging as one of the best practices in leading-edge organizations.  

A great article by David Gray, the founder of xPlaner, a company that teaches people how to apply visual thinking and NeuroLeadership, references the SCARF model developed by David Rock, author of Your Brain at WorkQuiet Leadership, and Coaching with the Brain in Mind

“Some social needs are as important to the brain as air, food and water. If these social needs are not being met, the brain reacts in the same way as it would if you were literally starving or gasping for air.

SCARF stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

Status: People need to feel important, recognized, needed by others.

Certainty: People need to feel confident that they know what’s ahead, that they can predict the future with reasonable certainty.

Autonomy: People need to feel like they have control of their life, their work, and their destiny.

Relatedness: People need to feel like they belong, to trust the group they are in will look out for them.

Fairness: People need to feel like they are being treated fairly, that the ‘rules of the game’ give them a ‘fair chance.’”

Gray suggests that typical business meeting triggers anxiety and emotional distress, activating the fight-or-flight response and causing people to shut down, while visual thinking sessions address and resolve many of those issues:

“Status: In a typical meeting, status and hierarchy create distance between people. Sitting around a table increases the sense of direct threat.

A Visual Thinking session flattens the hierarchy. As soon as people start drawing, it’s ideas and insights that matter, not status. Also, because people are focused on the shared picture as opposed to each other, status takes a back seat to creating something together.

Certainty: In a typical meeting, abstract language, diagrams and complex PowerPoint slides create a sense of uncertainty about the future. It’s difficult to translate abstract ideas into concrete action. Without a clear picture, people procrastinate or act in ways that are counterproductive.

Visualizing the future makes it more tangible. Drawing a plan is thinking it through. Drawing what ‘good’ looks like, who will do what, and how, makes the future less abstract, and reduces anxiety and uncertainty about next steps, reducing resistance and making it easier to move forward.

Autonomy: In a typical meeting, the boss or presenter is in charge of the agenda and the dialogue. Other participants are reduced to listening and asking questions instead of actively contributing. This reduction in participation leads to reduced commitment and makes it less likely for people to carry the ideas forward after they leave the meeting.

In Visual Thinking sessions, everyone is involved in making ideas and plans more tangible and concrete. This increases people’s sense of control. If everyone participates in creating the picture of what will happen, it is easier for them to take ownership and run with it.

Relatedness: Typical meetings are focused primarily on the exchange of information, not team-building. Most business meetings are dry affairs. It’s blah blah blah, until it’s over. When a group of people works together to create a shared picture of their situation, their vision, and a plan to get there, they are simultaneously building a sense of who they are as a team. Creating a vision together makes it easier to take action after the session is over.

Fairness: In a typical meeting, the extroverts — people who like to talk — often get the lion’s share of the airtime. Introverts, who may have great contributions to make, may not get the time and space they need to share their ideas.”

Character Moves:

  1. Consider making visual meetings versus typical meetings a more regular part of your involvement and contribution process. In fact, if you are aren’t collectively creating pictures, models, and graphics, you may be accepting meetings in their lowest form of “blah, blah, blah.” How effective are they really?
  1. Consider where and when facilitating a meeting in which a “conversation and visual thinking” process is the best medium; where everyone is up and having a “voice.” Find out how leading organizations are applying this.
  1. The best visual thinking sessions ensure there is time for both individual reflection and group discussion. Consider referencing the book “Gamestorming” for more ideas and approaches you might apply. 
  1. Meetings need to get reimagined and reinvented. Consider visual thinking as a process to do that. We need more connected and faster moving organizations. Visual thinking and NeuroLeadership can accelerate us. Learn more about both. 

Visual thinking in the Triangle, 


One Millennial View: I happen to enjoy meetings, but I’ve certainly exited some of them saying “Yeah, that could have been addressed in a two paragraph email.” Now, considering my entire business is visual (for those that don’t know, I work in an online and TV video creation department), I know how crucial “seeing” something is. However, it does take time, and no business wants to or can afford to waste resources on quality, creative production if the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. As Gray alludes though, a voice-only platform can be “blah blah blah.” Meetings are great when done well, so how about this solution? If it can just be said in an email – email it. If the meeting involves visual thinking, then we’ll GLADLY put in the work. I’ll even order pizza.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Carry Their Stuff to Their Car!

Growth mindset Personal leadership Respect


Key Point: You have to CARE to coach well! A lot data says leaders are lousy at giving feedback and could do a much better job at coaching. How good are you at giving feedback and coaching? In a recent Forbes article, leadership pundit Mark Murphy shared research he’s been conducting at Leadership IQ involving more than 30,000 employees. People answered more than one hundred questions about their jobs, including the question “I know whether my performance is where it should be?”


You can see from the chart that only 29 percent of employees say they “always” know whether their performance is where it should be. As Murphy states in the article, that number should be really close to 100 percent. One of the core functions of leaders is to provide feedback about employees’ performance and the data clearly shows that this just isn’t happening.

At the other end of the continuum of caching prowess is the legendary Bill Campbell, who died of cancer at 75 this past spring. He was one of the most influential figures in Silicon Valley. “Coach,” as everyone called him, could not write a line of code and yet became revered for his ability to give feedback. He got a degree in education and became a college football coach until his career took a turn into Apple and the technology world. “Coach” went on to become a successful VC, CEO/Chairman at Intuit, and a valued and trusted adviser to an impressive list of high-tech legends including Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, and Ben Horowitz, among others.

According to legend, Campbell didn’t operate from a high tech office very often. Instead, he conducted business from a table (with a plaque reading “Coach’s Corner”) in the Old Pro sports bar in Palo Alto. Campbell was an investor in the bar, and apparently gave much of his advice to big shot tech executives there. The story is that Campbell doled out copious amounts of both hugs and profanity as needed. And that is an important part of being a great coach; raw, genuine authenticity. However, according to an article in Inc., the No. 1 rule Campbell both followed and emphasized was: Care about people more than anything!! And above all, regardless how good the content of advice is, that is the foundation for rich feedback and valued coaching.  

According to a Fortune interview with renowned Silicon Valley VC Ben Horowitz, this principle was the first filter on all Campbell related counsel. As an example, Horowitz referred to a high profile company restructure he was involved with that included laying off 1/3 of employees. There was pressure for Horowitz to fly to NYC to participate in a press conference on the matter. Coach strongly advised Horowitz to attend and told him to place his attention on what people needed most; his genuine care.  Campbell:  “Be there (at the company’s offices) all day – help them carry their stuff to the car.” Horowitz referenced the importance of that advice and in a moving tribute to Campbell’s passing, wrote: “The worst thing about today is that I can’t call Bill. I miss him so much…”

Character Moves:

  1. Above everything else, including our insatiably insecure egos, we must sincerely care about people FIRST. It’s not easy to do, because it requires energy and intentional, proactive commitment. Metaphorically, do you choose the “press conference “over helping people carry their stuff?
  2. For goodness sake, be one of those leaders where people working for you know where they stand! You have to care to coach. Coaching involves regular and timely feedback! And giving feedback, especially constructive feedback, involves talking about the hard things. 
  3. Imagine if people put up a plaque on your desk that exclaimed: “Coach’s Corner.” And think about living a life where people you cared about said, “the worst thing about today is that I can’t call ____ I miss ___ so much…”

Coaches Corner in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Coaches. Teachers. Mentors. Guides. Whatever you want to call them, we all want them. Often times we hear about such a thing in a workplace and think that only the lucky few are truly in presence of one. That’s unfortunate. But we also have to lead by example too… You want to get coached? Ask for it. We’re bad at that. It’s no coincidence that a common way to break off relationships these days for Millennials is to “ghost” someone. You simply don’t respond to texts or calls or whatever, until they finally get the hint. It’s as “non-confrontational” as you can get, and a great example of the ultimate lack of feedback. Let’s face it, lots of us will go out of our way to avoid any hard conversation. But especially at work, a place where we’re supposed to learn and grow, feedback and coaching is crucial. Please coach me, even if I have to “run laps.”

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Hey… Put That Thing Back in Your Pants!

Growth mindset Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: It’s great to back! Garrett and I missed you all. A couple of times through our holiday we talked about how odd, even somewhat “empty” it was not to be working on the blog together. We missed connecting with our many wonderful and loyal readers. But that was the point: We wanted to turn the spigot off and drain the bucket. It was time to refuel and refill. Thank you for understanding. So, we thought (in case you forgot about us), that we might have to use a “cheap” clickbait title to reacquaint your interest. Sorry about that. But of course, you all know we’re talking about putting our smart phones away!

I recently read that Marc Benioff, the Salesforce CEO, “strips” his executives of their mobile phones and tablets before meetings. According to the Fortune article, a company spokeswoman characterized this a bit differently but essentially confirmed the principle:

“Benioff does not ‘take anyone’s phone,’ she noted. ‘But mindfulness is part of our culture, whether it’s in meetings or day-to-day in the office. Not using phones is a common practice at our major off-sites and important meetings to enable people to be more present.”

The reason I found Benioff’s position regarding mobile devices so interesting is that our culture has been wrestling with the same predicament regarding phone etiquette, and being truly present. Coincidently, I was reading Sherry Turkle’s profoundly important book, Reclaiming Conversations, and now I’m convinced; Millennial or not, in order to be really present with each other in OUR workplace, the phone or tablet needs to be put away if we want to REALLY listen.

This principle is important, not as an edict from a dog-eared boomer executive like me, but because the research is so powerfully clear. We thrive based on the contact that comes from personal, ideally face-to-face conversations with each other. However convenient it may be, texting or emailing is not representative of a fully rich conversation. When we rely on text, we cannot interpret how our words land. It is so easy to write things that are not fully representative of how we really feel and/or to perhaps to state things that are insensitive, cruel, even hateful, without seeing the outcome. Funny enough, Steve Jobs never allowed the iPhone or iPad to be at the family dinner table. As Turkle points out, meaningful conversations have trouble reaching their full potential with even a silent phone sitting on the table between us. Let’s have the strength and discipline to know when to put mobile devices away and let’s really TALK/LISTEN! (It’s also a reminder of what you’ve read here many times before: The conversation IS the relationship).

Character Moves:

  1. Ideally, I would convince you to read Turkle’s book. She presents tons of research on the importance of reclaiming conversations. She outlines practical and compelling recommendations. In case you don’t get there, please consider the rest of these moves.
  1. Promote and enjoy the messiness of authentic face-to-face conversations, where we can’t edit, erase, or avoid seeing how our words make others feel. We become better and more capable humans when we practice.
  1. Agree on sacred places where personal conversations and our presence have preeminence; where technology is literally put away and out of site. 
  1. Embrace difficult conversations, contrarian viewpoints, and uncomfortable moments of silence. These are gateways for improving ourselves and our relationships.
  1. Never find it sufficient to say “sorry” by text or email. It is too easy to escape what is necessary to become more authentic, raw, and empathetic. 
  1. Reclaiming conversations involves embracing solitude so that we might have a conversation with ourselves to better have an intimate conversation with others. 
  1. Do not believe you can look at your phone and really be present with others. As good as you think you can multi-task, neuroscience clearly confirms that’s a fallacy when it comes to deeply listening to each other. 
  1. This is not a Luddite rant against electronics or the utility of texting, emailing and/or social media. Technology advancement is phenomenal and I relish using every mobile device and application I have. This is an argument for intentionally reclaiming the importance having richer, intimate, face-to-face conversations! Have the courage to know where, when and with whom you will put your devices away. 

Reclaiming conversations in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Yoooo, so good to be back!! What up fam? Kidding, I don’t really talk like that, but that vernacular is commonplace via text and in social media. See how there’s a time and place for it? (Not here). I think that’s the real point. Should every meeting have a box where you surrender your phone at the entrance and retrieve it on your way out? Not in my opinion. But, I think we can all appreciate having the wherewithal to respect the environments where we need to let our texts, and social media updates vibrate in our pockets and remain unattended to for the time being. (Meetings = No. At your desk = Go for it). It’s pretty simple. We continually face criticism for losing the social skills to interact face-to-face, and we’re not helping defuse that stereotype when we get phone-itchy and we know we shouldn’t. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis