Some learnings on visualizing complexity

Last week, I was part of a facilitation team, hosting a session for 88 people from a large retail organization, with the goal of defining ways to collabaratively achieving their strategic objectives. My role in this team was to visualize the complexity as it evolved from the process. This visualization will be digitalized and be used as a visual portal to the wiki-like web environment in which all the content was structured and delivered.

In the end, I think we were succesful in delivering what we promised. The visualization was spot-on on a content level and visually very appealing and supporting. However, if I were to do it again next week, there is a number of things that I would definately do differently.

Keep the thing together

During the course of the event, the workwalls I dedicated for the visual were needed or were in the way. Consequence: people walking around with the different parts of the visual. Beside getting smudges all over it, it really didn’t help in two more fundamental things. Firstly, the wall didn’t get to be the visual anchorpoint we meant it to be. People noticed, but it was not there all the time, at the same place. Secondly, I had to work on a part of the visual without the reference of the other parts directly around me. I had a real hard time making it visually “one thing” because of that.

So, if I were to do this again, I would really make a point of building it up, and keeping it together in a prominent place throughout the whole event.

Align with the design (more)

In retrospective, a lot of the work done on the preparation day in order to get the structure of the visualization right, was done quite frantically. Having learned from previous experiences, I teamed up with the colleague responsible for capturing all the content in the wiki in order to discuss structure, way of working and syntax agreements. However, the structure of the visualizations being a derivative of both the desired event outcomes and the design of the agenda for the event, I would have ben more relaxed if we had done this structuring work in advance and in closer cocreation with the facilitation team.

Use the template as a starting point

This one is really only rational in hindsight, as we do say in the Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE). Looking back, we found a structure that really worked for this session and that will probably work for a lot of the interventions we do. The main components of my visualization turned out to be:

  • The current reality as seen from different perspectives (stakeholders)
  • The current reality described as a complex system (including The Problem)
  • Future Vision (what we want to achieve)
  • The way in order to get to the Future Vision (how we think we’ll get there)
  • Guiding Principles for the way to get there
Note that these aren’t the actual titles used in the visual but these are the more general descriptions of the different parts of the visual. They will be named depending on the nature and theme of the event.
As a final thought, the above learnings are just a small excerpt of the whole set of stuff I learned from this experience. Also, choices that were made seemed the right ones at the time we made them. I think we did a great job that, with these learnings, we’ll be able to do even better the next time!


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