Natasha Trethewey is a poet who keeps a notebook of pictures, except the pictures in her notebook are actually words. It’s worth mentioning up front that Natasha isn’t just any poet but rather a US Poet Laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner in Poetry. There are some pictures that grab her and won’t let go; some even haunt her. Natasha says it’s her job to choose the words that communicate her vision so that her readers can create a similar image in their mind. Her strategy for writing poetry relies on her strong visual thinking skills.
What A Poet And Oat Drink Have In Common
When I first read about Natasha’s strategy in Psychology Today, it reminded me so much of a similar interview I read with the Creative Director of Oatly, John Schoolcraft. In 2012, during the rebrand and radical transformation of the business, John and the CEO Toni Petersson created a book called Change. Every employee received a copy. The book contained the story of what Oatly would become. It was the vision of the business documented in mostly images. Four years later in 2016, John and Toni transformed the business and the brand by executing the book.
In a world awash with data and information, training ourselves to become better visual thinkers is akin to training ourselves to become more fine-tuned to what is valuable and what is noise. By improving this skill, you’ll change the way you ‘see’ information because you’ll begin to look at the world through a new lens. Our daily lives are governed by complexity and this fresh perspective can help us sort through not just complex information, but complex ideas. Visual thinking isn’t just about thinking in pictures, it’s a brilliant method that gives us a new way of reading and understanding, learning and absorbing, making connections and remembering, planning and creating the future. This last point cannot be emphasised enough. If you want to create a particular future for yourself, for your team and/or your business, you have to see that future in your mind. And it needs to be crystal clear and in kaleidoscopic colour.
How To Think In Pictures
So how can you become a better, or even great, visual thinker? Like anything, it’s about practice. Here are some challenges that you can try out to sharpen this skill.
- Do you have a giant list of things you need to get done? Rip it up. Create a flow chart of your to-do list instead.
- Use your imagination more. Start by daydreaming of your next holiday. Imagine where you’ll stay, what you’ll eat, what you’ll see. Make the colour and detail as rich as possible.
- While in a lecture, meeting or simply just watching a Ted video, don’t write down any notes, draw them instead. Get your doodle on!
- Work on remembering things as images instead. Were you ever fan of the TV show Unforgettable? The lead character Carrie Wells has total recall which means she can remember both the big picture and the tiny details. Be more Carrie.
- Need to present your ideas, research or data to a team? Use more images rather than words. Look no further for inspiration than the brilliant David McCandless, author and founder of Information Is Beautiful.
Often I start a blog post with a quote, but I’m going to switch it up and end with a quote instead.
“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”