When was the last time you decided to DRAW or MODEL a business strategy?
This is a question I often pose to professionals and students and I am always met with a blank stare. Surely, I must be kidding. Isn't this a bit too much like arts and crafts? In business, we don't draw or make things. But what if we did?
Maybe we are too limited by our preconceived ideas of what these terms mean. When I want to understand a concept better and more objectively, my two main resources are the dictionary and people. Let's begin by looking at the definitions of these words and their origins to better understand them.
To DRAW is really not about pretty pictures. Its origins are much more aggressive - to drag - and its definitions reveal a deliberate set of actions to direct or manipulate a situation toward certain desired outcomes. To DRAW can mean:
- to induce or attract
- to provoke
- to elicit
- to extract the essence from
Aren't these the fundamental goals of any organization's interaction with its stakeholders through marketing, service design, business analysis or strategic planning? All of these actions represent the engagement of constituents, framing their actions to achieve defined objectives, learning from them and understanding the situation better to ultimately improve it. From this perspective, drawing is much more about business leadership than aesthetics, but the outcomes can be equally beautiful.
Of all the definitions, my favorite is to "eviscerate." This is when one really goes for the guts of a problem or situation. In most business contexts, the rule of time is money dictates the need to make decisions and reach a point of resolution as soon as possible. This is what Dick Boland and Fred Collopy refer to as a decision attitude, rather than a design attitude. Unfortunately, this drive for resolution does not allow one to get beyond the known or superficial - resulting in outcomes that are expedient and obvious. This is the enemy of innovation. To eviscerate means opening up a project exploration and is an exploratory process on the path toward eventual resolution. It is messy and takes time but leads to a deeper understanding of a problem or situation and ideally better decision making.
Drawing is a powerful tool for designers and artists, but eventually they are constrained by the limitations of two dimensions. To fully understand complex relationships, a third dimension is often required. Architects typically take a multi-modal approach, continuously switching between sketching (informal drawings), measured drawings (more formal) and models to develop a design from inception to implementation. Similarly, in business design a multi-modal approach is also necessary. Once a drawing reaches its limitations of effectiveness, it may be time to switch to a model for a new perspective and new insights.
To model a problem or situation adds additional insights for understanding, learning, and developing an idea. However, a common misconception is that a model is the presentation tool to show the client at the end of the process. To be most effective, models are an integral part of the process, not just the product. By deconstructing the definition of model, both as a product and a process, we again discover many of the outcomes and objectives of a smart business leader.
Beginning with the model as product, it is a small copy - a reproduction of intended outcomes in a reduced scale. As a copy, the level of detail and exactness and the ability to be scalable are essential, hence its origins in small measure. This also reflects a model's role as "a structural design" and "a pattern to be made." It is is a representation in the framework upon which something is built. The ultimate goal is implementation.
Second, a model is a visualization tool that relies upon quantitative and qualitative information. It describes through numbers, physical forms and relationships. This balance can provide a full spectrum of understanding. Furthermore, it describes "something that cannot be directly observed." This is the key to understanding its business value. It shows things that cannot be seen otherwise. Combining ideas and numbers, a model is a strategic tool that describes past, present and future states. Aren't these the essential points of view of any good process improvement or strategic plan?
Switching to the process of modeling we find the actions of planning, shaping, producing and constructing. These are all actions involved in creation and production and dovetail with business operations, strategy, implementation, and innovation.
Of particular interest is the meaning 'to make into an organization." All businesses are organizations and the creation of new businesses is entrepreneurship, suggesting a role for model making in this process. Recently, The Business Model Canvas has been a popular format for understanding business models. As a canvas, the metaphor from painting suggests a two-dimensional representation. Although a very effective means of organizing information, what would happen if a third dimension were introduced into the process?
Finally, to model also means "to display by wearing, using or posing..." This reveals the performative aspect of a model and the potential benefits of active engagement through role play. In modeling services or processes, both of which involve actors and actions spread over time, role play is a powerful tool for understanding how time-based events unfold. Yes - EVERYONE is worried that they will look ridiculous - but a great deal can be learned from the subconscious and natural reactions to a situation. The greatest rewards result from taking risks. Most find that the minor social risks are worth the rewards of an efficient means to a deeper contextual understanding of a subject.
One of the most important lessons to learn about utilizing drawing and modeling is that they are often exploratory tools and may not reveal anything on the first try. Their effectiveness is through the heuristic learning process of iterative drawing and building. Mastery of the process itself also takes time. Each time one draws or builds a model, one learns more about the situation being studied and more about the potential effectiveness of the process itself. Turning to our second resource, people, we can learn more about this. The 19th century impressionist painter Camille Pissarro described the discipline and repetition required to master the process of drawing. For him, constantly drawing reveals the true character of a situation. Through drawing he was able to extract the essence from the subject. Can drawing and modeling provide the same for you?
Tomorrow, I am heading to Cleveland to lead 25 executives through a course on drawing and modeling at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University. Drawing Ideas and Modeling Change: Visual Thinking for Managers will be an in-depth introduction to the subject. In a future post, I will share the outcomes of this experience as well as more about how to apply drawing and modeling in a management context.