10 Reasons Drawing Improves Your Leadership

Draw to Win

Draw to Win

Want to make your idea clearer to others?

Looking for a way to have your message stand out?


“Open your eyes and look within.” -Bob Marley


Dan Roam just wrote a new book, Draw to Win: A Crash Course on How to Lead, Sell, and Innovate With Your Visual Mind, and it challenged me to communicate in new ways. I’ve always been visually oriented, but drawing is not always on my top “go to” list of tools.

I’ve learned that it should be.

Drawing is not something only for kids. It’s a powerful communication tool if used properly. I recently asked Dan about his life’s work.


“Business without pictures is boring.” -Dan Roam


Don’t Resist the Visual

In business, some would reject images and drawings as childish. You say that it’s the most natural thing in the world and dismiss this. Why do some people feel that way and resist the visual?

If you’ve ever witnessed a board meeting, suffered through a bullet-point presentation, or tried to read a business-school article, you know first-hand that “serious” businesspeople hate pictures. Pictures are childish, simplistic, and patronizing.

But if you consider that most meetings are torture, that most people sleep through PowerPoints, and secretly admit you’d rather watch Game of Thrones than read “The Harvard Business Review,” you also know this hatred of pictures is insane. The sad fact is that business without pictures is boring – and boring doesn’t get the job done.

There are many reasons this anti-picture mentality persists: In school drawing is considered just a stepping-stone to reading. Most of us had a parent or teacher who told us sometime that our drawings were terrible, and there are few resources for creating or critiquing business-oriented pictures, etc. But I think the most profound reason pictures are poo-pooed in business is historical.

Think about it like this: A century and a half ago, we inherited our educational system from the British – and most of it was developed during the industrial revolution. England (and America, who still looked across the Atlantic for guidance on most social issues) suddenly found itself needing to shift its workforce from fields into factories. Faced with millions of former farmers who had to learn overnight how to pull the right levers in the right order, our modern educational system was born, and the essence was this: If you could talk well, you went to university, banking, and law. If you couldn’t talk well, you went to the factory. The die was cast, and to this day the greatest definer of “intelligence” – despite increasing data and cognitive studies pointing out the power of pictures – remains your ability to talk. That’s great if you’re a natural Shakespeare, but miserable if you’re more Michelangelo.


“The best CEOs I know are teachers, and at the core of what they teach is strategy.” -Michael Porter


How to Start Drawing

In your work, many will tell you what I’m thinking right now, “But, Dan….I can’t draw!” What do you say to the many who resist?

It’s important to realize that drawing isn’t an artistic process; drawing is a thinking process. By virtue of being human, you are from birth an extraordinary visual-thinker. More of your brain is dedicated to processing vision that to any other thing that you do, with nearly half your neurons keeping you alive by seeing the world around you.

Kids love to draw. Drawing is the first way that all of us model and record our thoughts, and as kids we’re really good at it – until the “That’s a terrible dog; dogs don’t look like that!” judgement sets in, and drawing is beaten out of us.

Don’t get me wrong: I love words; words and spoken language are a miracle – but words work best when supported by pictures. Words and pictures amplify and complement each other – in exactly the same way our brains work when making sense of the world.

Copyright Dan Roam, Used by Permission Copyright Dan Roam, Used by Permission

Once you realize that, drawing becomes easy to reintroduce: You start by drawing a few simple shapes – a circle, a square, and a line to connect them – and before long your visual mind wakes back up and you’re on a roll.

(In fact, when I do training at major organizations and corporations, it takes most people about three minutes to start drawing again.)


“Business has only two functions-marketing and innovation.” -Milan Kundera


Transform Your Leadership By Drawing

What are some of the benefits you’ve seen when someone learns to make drawing part of their regular practice? Any stories of how this transformed someone’s leadership you can share?


Copyright Dan Roam, Used by Permission Copyright Dan Roam, Used by Permission

The first discovery of someone who starts drawing again is clarity. We think that the verbal voices in our head make beautiful sense – right up to the moment we try to describe our ideas to someone else and we find ourselves spinning and our audience drifting away. Pictures fix that, in a couple ways.

First, when you draw out your idea, you don’t have to remember anything: the full logic of your idea is there before you, all in one place, all immediately scannable, and none of it hidden. (And if you can’t draw out at least a few pieces of your idea, I think it’s important to ask yourself how well you really know it.)

Second, drawing exposes holes in your thinking that you typically don’t notice when just talking. It’s really easy to lie to yourself with words but a lot harder with a picture.

I’ve seen this sudden discovery of clarity hundreds of times in consulting and training sessions. My favorite example was when Ted, the Director of Strategy at one of the world’s largest professional services companies, had an epiphany during a visual-thinking class. I was taking the group through my “Six-by-six” visual storytelling exercise when Ted suddenly jumped up, and waving one of his pictures, ran out of the room.

He returned thirty minutes later, saying, “I just sold the job! I took a photo of my sketch and emailed it to my client, then called and walked them through it. I finally saw the way through – and they finally saw it, too.”


“In sales, it’s not what you say; it’s how they perceive what you say.” -Jeffrey Gitomer


As a student of innovation, I was fascinated by your five essential visual innovation prompts. Would you share one of those with us and how this has had an impact on organizational thinking?

Why You May Need A Wicked Strategy

3D Circular maze


What do you do if you face a problem so complex that it can only be described as wicked?

Is it possible to confound competitors?


How Companies Conquer Complexity and Confound Competitors

John Camilius, author of Wicked Strategies: How Companies Conquer Complexity and Confound Competitors outlines a number of ways that managers can handle the most difficult problems. Camilius is the Donald R. Beall Professor of Strategic Management at the University of Pittsburgh.


“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” -Winston Churchill


For those who don’t know your work, what is a wicked problem?

In the early seventies, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, two professors of design and urban planning, recognized that there are certain problems that are not amenable to resolution by traditional, accepted problem-solving techniques. They evocatively labeled these problems as “wicked” and identified ten distinguishing characteristics. Ten characteristics are difficult to remember, and over the years, I have whittled them down to just five.  If a problem displays these five criteria, you can be pretty sure you are facing a wicked problem.Wicked Strategies John C. Camillus

The first characteristic is deceptively simple and requires some thought:  Is the problem one that is substantially without precedent, something that you have not encountered before?

Second, are there multiple significant stakeholders with conflicting values and priorities? You need to go beyond the traditional big three stakeholders—employees, customers and shareholders.  Non-government organizations, multiple layers of government, creditors, communities in which you are located, political parties in power and out of power are all becoming more significant and demanding.

Third, are there several causes and are they interactive and tangled?  For instance, the future of social media is driven by a complex brew of technology advancements in hardware and apps, changing demographics, evolving social and cultural mores, government regulations, privacy expectations, geopolitical developments, educational practices, disposable income, and economic and social mobility.


“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.” -Irwin Corey


Fourth, there is no sure way of knowing you have the right answer. Another way of phrasing this is that there is no stopping rule—you can continue searching indefinitely for a “better” answer.

Fifth, the understanding of what the “problem” is changes depending on the “solution” being considered.  In other words, the problem and the solution are interactive. For instance, entry into a country that does not permit foreign multi-brand retailers might be accomplished by creating a cash-and-carry model for small retailers or by being a minority partner with a local retailer or by entering an entirely new business employing a distinctive competency such as logistics. Each of these responses to the wicked problem of accessing the huge purchasing power of emerging economies’ populations creates a wholly different set of issues.

A note of warning may be in order. In the public policy arena, the wickedness of problems is hard to overlook. Problems such as immigration policy, violence against women, religious fundamentalism, and public education are overtly wicked. In the business world, however, the thing about wicked problems is that though they can show up anywhere, they are likely to be perceived as “tame” problems.

Wicked problems are certainly more common than most managers realize. Not recognizing that they were facing wicked problems, I believe, led to the dissolution of Westinghouse, the demise of Polaroid, and the decline of Kodak, RadioShack and Atari. Though wicked problems can occur anywhere, it is more likely than not that you will encounter wicked problems if you are a public company, operate globally, and are in a technology-driven business.


“Every threat to the status quo is an opportunity in disguise.” -Jay Samit


3 Megaforces Challenging Business

You talk about 3 megaforces that are challenging business. How do these trends help create wicked problems?

While there are a variety of forces and environmental factors that can create wicked problems, over the years I’ve identified three forces that are widely experienced which, in concert, are a major source of wicked problems. They are: the inevitability of globalization, the imperative of innovation, and the importance of shared value. The first two forces are well understood. Shared value, which has been brought to the attention of the managerial world by Michael Porter, is the notion that social benefit and economic value are synergistic. It also raises the issue of the appropriate sharing of value across diverse stakeholders.

The interactions of these three forces create strategic challenges that combine to create wicked problems. For instance, innovating to meet the needs of unserved, low-income customers across the world results—as the guru of disruptive innovation Clayton Christensen has affirmed—in disruptive technologies that can upend industries. Innovation also creates changes that differentially impact stakeholders, creating the likelihood of conflict between stakeholders as the organization transforms. The extreme complexity and uncertainty embodied in the global economy coupled with the conflicting priorities of multiple stakeholders creates unknowable futures. This roiling cauldron of disruptive technologies, conflicted stakeholders and unknowable futures is what spawns wicked problems.

I like to illustrate the interaction of these forces in a Venn diagram.


Three Mega-Forces and their Strategic Challenge

These three forces can interact to create wicked problems in any context. Of course, other environmental forces can also breed wicked problems, but I have chosen to focus on these three because they are so ubiquitous and powerful.

I believe there are business contexts or “industries” that will be breeding grounds for wicked problems. Health, software, information technology, fossil fuels, water, automobiles, and public transportation are prime examples. Technological innovation, drastically changing regulations, geopolitical developments, and changing notions of social responsibility make these industries particularly prone to encountering wicked problems that demand that firms develop and deploy wicked strategies. 


“The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” -William Ellery Channing


How to Deal With Uncertainty

Why Leaders Must Develop An Outward Mindset

The Outward Mindset

Develop the Outward Mindset

Your mindset is the key to your success, your happiness, and your ability to perform at exceptional levels. Your mindset is how you look at yourself and the world around you. An internal mindset is one blind to others, what they need, and how to create collective results.

Jim Ferrell, co-founder and Managing Partner of The Arbinger Institute is the author/co-author of multiple bestselling books, including Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace. His latest book, co-authored with Mitchell Warner, is The Outward Mindset.


It’s as eye opening and important as his earlier work.

I recently spoke with Jim about his research on perspective and personal effectiveness. The ideas in this new book can improve performance, spark collaboration, and accelerate innovation.


“The secret to teamwork is an outward mindset.” –Steve Young


How to Change Lives and Transform Organizations

Would you introduce the concept of “The Outward Mindset”?

With an outward mindset, we see others as people like ourselves, whose goals, objectives, needs, and challenges matter to us. With an inward mindset, on the other hand, we see others as objects whose primary value to us depends on the extent to which we think they can help us with our own goals and objectives.

Our new book, The Outward Mindset, is about the key differences between these two mindsets and how to move to an outward mindset. The real-life stories in the book illustrate the dramatic difference in influence and results that individuals, teams, and organizations see as they shift to more of an outward-mindset orientation. The book details both how to personally make this shift and how to help others—individuals and whole organizations—to make it.


“Too many leaders assume that the role of leadership is to control.” –Jim Ferrell


Shift to the Outward Mindset

You share some powerful stories of shifting to an outward mindset. Are there “typical” difficulties and struggles in making this shift, especially if you found someone who was way off the scale on the inward side?

The biggest challenge is people linking their own mindset change to a change in others. When people have an inward mindset, they characteristically blame their struggles—and even their own mindsets—on others. They believe that they have to have an inward mindset in order to defend themselves against all the people around them who have an inward mindset. We demonstrate in the book how this belief is mistaken. We show that the most important move—both in organizations and in life generally— is for people to shift to an outward-mindset approach even when others around them persist in inwardness. This is a very powerful move, and the willingness to do it is one of the most important elements of transformational leadership.

As for someone being way off the scale on the inward side, most people are a mix of the two mindsets. Someone who is tyrannically inward in one part of their life, for example, may be quite different in other contexts. This means that people often are much closer to a change to an outward mindset than many people around them may believe.


“How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it.” –GK Chesterton


The Incredible Results of an Outward Mindset

What results do you see after the shift has occurred?

Wow, it’s hard to know where to begin. At its most basic level, a change to an outward mindset transforms the health and vitality of relationships. It’s easy to see why this would be the case. When we are connected to others in an others-inclusive way—where we see others as people who matter like we ourselves matter—we tend to do much better with others (and they with us!) than when we are self-focused and see others as objects or tools to be used for our own purposes.

As a result of this transformational effect on relationships, one of the interesting things we often find in our work with organizations is that even the non-work relationships of the people we work with dramatically improve. I can’t tell you the number of times people have told us that our work has saved their marriages or healed the rifts in their relationships with their parents, siblings, or children.

For the same basic reason, a shift to an outward mindset in the workplace dramatically improves the abilities of teams, departments, and whole organizations to work productively together. These improvements show up in organizational climate, engagement surveys, customer satisfaction scores, and in the bottom line results of organizations.

Jim Ferrell

How does the outward mindset manifest itself in individual and team goals?

Although people generally aren’t aware of this, most organizational systems, incentives, and goals are inherently inward in nature. They invite people to focus on themselves and their own activities and levels of performance rather on the impact of their activities on others.

As a result, the move to an outward mindset often dramatically changes the objectives and metrics that people and organizations pursue and utilize. You can imagine, for example, how a person’s view of his own job responsibilities would change if he knew that he was responsible not only for certain outputs but also for the impact of those outputs (and the way he went about delivering them) on others.

When individuals and organizations get serious about moving to more of an outward-mindset approach, they start paying attention to and measuring their impact, not just their activities or outputs.


“All action results from thought, so it is thoughts that matter.” -Sai Baba

What To Do When Your Team Gets Stuck

When Teams Get Stuck

Why Teams Get Stuck

Jeff DeGraff is known as the Dean of Innovation. He’s a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and he has worked with some of the biggest global corporations ranging from Apple to GE to Coca-Cola.

I have personally called Jeff to help brainstorm issues and help jumpstart creativity. One of the many things I learned from Jeff was that innovation does not happen in the solitude of a eureka moment. It happens more often in teams.

So, what happens when a team gets stuck? I asked the Dean of Innovation to share his thoughts on why teams get stuck and what to do about it.


“Innovation is created as a result of constructive conflict.” -Jeff DeGraff


3 Common Reasons Teams Get Stuck

Organizations and teams alike get stuck for a wide variety of reasons, but there are three that are most common: 1). They have chosen the wrong people to lead the way 2). They spend too long in the planning cycle, and 3). They miss the key handoffs and get out of sequence.

Let’s take a look at how to resolve these issues:


1.They have chosen the wrong people to lead the way. 

Innovation project teams are like baseball teams. You need lots of different players to play different positions at different times. Start by tinkering with your lineup. Move folks around. Trade for better players and don’t be afraid to cut some players. Innovation teams are often led by command and control project leaders who have spent their careers eliminating variation; not creating it. Make the tough decision to move them along. Watch the movie Moneyball a few times, and you will get the point.

How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity

Building Diverse Teams

The Power of Diversity

I’m a passionate believer in diverse teams. Throughout my life and career, I have seen the benefits from multiple perspectives examining a problem together. If everyone thinks exactly the same way, with the same background, you end up with a narrow solution. A lack of diversity increases the likelihood of strategic blind spots.


“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” –J.F.K.


That’s why I read with great interest David Livermore’s new book, Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity. David Livermore has written ten books on global leadership and cultural intelligence. He is president of the Cultural Intelligence Center and a visiting scholar at Nanyang Business School in Singapore.


“A lack of diversity increases the likelihood of strategic blind spots.” -Skip Prichard


The Goal of Diversity is Not Enough

In your book, you argue that diversity, as a goal, is not good enough. Would you elaborate on this?

I applaud any effort to hire a more diverse workforce. But if that’s all you do, you set everyone up for failure. “Different” perspectives, values, and strategies for getting work done easily lead to misunderstanding, frustration, and gridlock. Diversity needs to be managed with a culturally intelligent strategy for how to effectively use the diverse perspectives to drive innovation and improve employee engagement.


“The more diverse the team, the less likely participants will offer their input and perspectives.” –David Livermore


The Link Between Innovation and Diversity

You say that diversity by itself does not ensure innovation, but it does when combined with high CQ. What is CQ? What’s the link between innovation and diversity? 

Driven by DifferenceCQ, or cultural intelligence, is the capability to work effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. It’s measured using a CQ Assessment, which predicts how effectively one will work in situations characterized by cultural diversity.

Our research finds that diverse teams comprised of individuals with low CQ underperform homogenous teams with low CQ. However, diverse teams comprised of individuals with high CQ outperform homogenous teams on several measurements including innovation.

Therefore, CQ becomes the moderating link between diversity and innovation. With higher levels of cultural intelligence, team members can effectively retain and use the differences among them that enhance creativity while minimizing the differences that create interference.


“Distraction is one of the biggest roadblocks to innovation.” –David Livermore


Prevent Diversity Fatigue

What’s diversity fatigue and how do companies prevent it?

Diversity fatigue is how I refer to the growing weariness felt by many staff when they hear they have to go through diversity training. Even individuals from underrepresented groups often place little hope or interest in diversity initiatives in the workplace. Research recently cited in the Harvard Business Review found that diversity programs did little to convince ethnic minorities that companies would treat them any more fairly than companies without the programs.


“The culturally intelligent are aware of how cultural differences influence the way team members approach a task.” –David Livermore


There are a variety of factors that contribute to diversity fatigue, several of which I explore more fully at the beginning of Driven by Difference. But the key to addressing this is for companies to take a more strategic approach to diversity. They need to address diversity the way they address other business opportunities and challenges—assess the situation, create a strategy, and form metrics for measuring accountability. If profits are slipping, companies don’t plan a “Profits Slipping Awareness Day” and then hope the awareness translates into better returns. It’s all hands on deck with everyone accountable. And then managers and teams need to be equipped with the skills to effectively use their differences to drive innovation.


“Smart, empowered teams are the best way to come up with successful products.” –David Livermore


In one chapter, you talk about focus and how the more personalities and cultures you have working together, the easier it is to lose focus. What’s the best way to experience the benefits of diverse thinking while also keeping focus?

It comes from clearly defining the goal (a key to retaining focus) while asking your diverse colleagues how they understand the goal. The goal may seem straightforward, such as reducing costs or improving efficiencies. However, the assumptions about how to most effectively reduce cost may be strongly influenced by one’s cultural values and assumptions. Focus comes from not quickly moving beyond the seemingly basic task of clarifying expectations and instead, using a diversity of expectations to more successfully achieve more innovative outcomes.


“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” –Malcolm Forbes


How to Build Trust With Diverse Colleagues