Visual Communication : Different ways of recording our thoughts

I recently attended an Open Space event discussing Paradigms of Mental Health. Open Space Technology is a very liberating, loose framework within which to convene dialogue. I like it a lot, it’s a great opportunity to hear many voices, I use it often in my work and when I’m aware of other events where the technology is to be applied, I’m keen to get along and participate. So far this year I’ve been involved in Open Space events discussing:

  • The Future of Learning Technologies
  • The Arts in my local borough
  • Mental Health

I usually note take when I’m at these events, and for some reason, Open Space tends to bring out the artist in me.

The conversation at the learning technologies event focused less on the technology itself, far more on behaviours. Here’s the sketch note I made whilst at the event.

During the arts session, there were lots of opportunities to talk, so I proposed a session called ‘Would You Like to Paint?’ where instead of having a conversation, we just made art together. Here’s some of our work.

At the mental health conversation, I was introduced to Monica Biagioli, a senior lecturer at London College of Communication. Monica showed me a new device, called The Zine. We were given a piece of paper, folded with a few cuts in it, and invited to record thoughts and ideas as we conversed. The way the paper is cut means you can refold it into many shapes, which in turn means the things you originally noted adjacent to one another, can be repositioned. Here are some photos showing side one and two of my zine, and a folded version.

I love how, as you move from conversation to conversation, taking notes as you go, the notes can be refolded and repositioned, taking the dialogue in new and unexpected directions. Very zen.

Almost two months after attending the mental health open space event, the zine is still in clear view on my desk. Bearing in mind my desk doubles up as a mini art studio, the continued presence of the zine is no mean feat! I think it is an excellent tool for recording, and remixing ideas. Thank you Monica, for this great, and simple idea.

A version of this post first appeared on HRExaminer in May 2018.

Update. I recently met Monica Biagioli again, and she has kindly provided additional information relating to the Zine project. I’m delighted to share this with you here.

Zine Method credits

Monica Biagioli, Allan Owens and Anne Pässilä started their collaboration around the Zine Method in a participatory innovation process in social enterprise where the focus was to capture citizens’ perspectives and ideas as well as to create a space for sharing multiple perspectives into a development process.  After that we have systematically applied the Zine Method  in various contexts: IFKAD, Bari, Italy, 2015; GNOSIS, London, UK, 2016; IFKAD, Dresden,Germany, 2016; PhD students at University of Chester, UK; MA students at University of Chester and University of the Arts London, UK, 2017 onwards; ArtsEqual LUT research as artful inquiry, Lahti, Finland; Zamek Cieszyn, Cieszyn, Poland, 2018; RSA NHS R&D Mental health care session, Liverpool, UK, 2018; University of Central Lancashire, 2018; Realising Potential Ltd application in leadership coaching and as facilitation in business, 2018 onwards; ACAT Conference 2018, application of method by conference participants during the conference.

By Zine Method we mean the design response of the ‘zine’ as a means for self-reflection and to improve communication. Zines (small (maga)zines) have roots in the do-it-yourself movement. The idea and use of the zine has emerged over time, from the early leaflets and pamphlets produced by independent publishers in the late 18th century, to the amateur press movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, to the subculture of fandom that emerged in the 1930s in science fiction, to spread later to the punk and riot grrrl movements, up to current times.

Zines are applied as a method of collecting and analysing data within a framework of qualitative analysis to retain more of the shape of the complete experience (Dewey) and allow for emotional responses to emerge within the zine format. Zines can be solely for private consumption (self-reflection) and can therefore act as containers to process difficult emotions, such as the ones that emerge in conflict situations.

– A way to progress understanding iteratively by applying the format to map the negotiation ahead:
use it as metaphor; brainstorm ideas; and apply it as a communication tool; One of our collaborators pointed out that when applying zines to organising collective voicing “It is more about collective reflection and meaning making rather than problem solving”
– A way to reflect subjectively on own role in the process:
each zine can focus on different points of views and contributions to the negotiation; it can serve as a self-reflection tool to check “what is going on with yourself”
– A contained way to address complexity and ambiguity:
each zine can map and record uncertainties within a conflict negotiation process and the role emotion plays in that; help find relationships out of random placements; and connect elements previously disconnected to make sense of a situation

Zine Method report for Beyond Text (includes the zine template):

Zine construction by Monica Biagioli; application developed collaboratively by Monica Biagioli, Allan Owens and Anne Pässilä. Source: Biagioli, Monica (2018) The Zine Method. Project Report. RECAP Research Centre; and Biagioli, M., Pässilä, A. and Owens, A. (forthcoming) Zine method as a form of qualitative analysis. In Jeff Adams & Allan Owens (eds.) Beyond Text. Intellect LTD, UK

Monica Biagioli, Professor Allan Owens, and Dr Anne Pässilä
June 2018

Want Something? Ask For It

When I watched and listened to Brene Brown updating us on her work and research into vulnerability last year, she said something in her closing remarks that stuck with me:

I ask for what I need. This feels inherently vulnerable, and do it.’

I know where she is coming from. Maybe it’s a typically reserved Brit thing – but I’m often rubbish at asking for something – simply and clearly. Are you?

I frequently see people frustrated at work by an unwillingness to ask for what they need. Complaining about shortages of resources, unhappy that Doug won’t do as he’s damn well told, stuff like that. And often – when you push back, it transpires that the complaint is voiced before any direct request to fix the shortage, and the unhappiness has manifested itself before Doug’s been asked for whatever it is he won’t do.

When I see these frustrations being played, out, I will say, ‘have you asked Doug?’ And usually the reply (accompanied by some beautiful staring at your shoes action) comes, ‘weeeeellll, no – not exactly.’ We’ve all been there, it’s often easier to blame someone and/or something than it is to take action.

This notion of asking for what we need stuck with me so firmly, I included it in Stop Doing Dumb Things.

Want Something? Ask for it

It’s a card that really challenges me – and often they are the ones I like the best.

I’m in Manchester this morning enjoying the fine weather and getting ready to travel home after running an Art for Work’s Sake workshop yesterday afternoon, and enjoying some lovely company at an HR tweet up last night.

Previously when I’ve run open courses, I’ve put together the offer, stuck it on Eventbrite and waved it about on social media. A few people always generously share the news – and often, not much more happens. It was Meg Peppin who suggested that this time – I approach things much more specifically. So this time, in addition to what I usually do, I contacted people who have been to previous workshops and people I thought might be interested. I didn’t mass mail folks, I wrote little personal notes, lots of them. In the notes I asked if people wanted to come along and would they please help spread the word. The response was significant, generous and lovely. People shared the news widely and encouragingly, and many wrote back to me with all kinds of support. Thank you to everyone who came and took part yesterday, and to the many people whose support helped to make yesterday a lot of useful fun, thank you too.

On reflection – I clearly grafted a lot harder to make this session work than I’ve done previously, that’s important learning too. And having a clear message, with a clear request makes a huge difference.

So the next time you hear colleagues moaning that Doug hasn’t done whatever it is he’s supposed to have done, test them out with ‘Want Something? Ask for it.’ And if I can be of use to you – well you know what to do…

Happy Friday – have a great weekend.

The Value of Communication

I love hearing from Steve Browne. We follow each other on Twitter and Facebook, I’m on his HR Net list and I also get his occasional HR Round Table updates. All these different connections allow dialogue at different levels. Earlier this week I received the latest HR Round Table from Steve, which is all about communication. As always Steve encouraged me to share what I read with you, so I’d like to do just that. At first I began to edit Steve’s notes until I realised they have a flow to them, and the more I tried to edit, the clunkier the flow became. So – I stopped editing in favour of sharing the whole piece. I really enjoyed reading this and I hope there’s something in here for you too.

The Value of Communication 

The group discussed three things:

1)    What are the common obstacles and excuses regarding communication in companies?

2)    How do we value/elevate communication throughout our organisations?

3)    Why should we do this?

What are the common obstacles and excuses regarding communication in companies?

  • We’re too busy

This answer came so fast that it nearly bowled Steve over.  The “too busy” mantra is honestly like a plague.  You can’t quantify it and people can make themselves busy doing just about anything.  Busyness is a crutch that needs to be eliminated !!

  • Poor timing

Timing is a critical factor to effective communication.  Some people blurt things out just to make sure they’re heard.  They don’t consider the art of timing something so that it actually gets through to others and sticks.  Make sure to take note of this.  Timing is something that has to be practiced to be effective as well.

  • I only talk to people that “matter”

This is so self-centred it drips with ickiness !!  Steve shared a story that he loves to hear when vendors say, “I’d like to talk to the ‘decision maker’, “and Steve responds, “I just did.”   ALL people matter in an organisation.  If you try this kind of creepy approach, you need to be called on it because it’s unnecessary self-righteousness that has no place in a company’s culture.

  • People are intimidated

I love when Sr. Managers say that they don’t intimidate people.  You may think that, but people truly may be anxious to talk with others in the organisation if they work in different levels of the company.  Don’t blow this off or tell people that you’re accessible.  If you have to explain it – you aren’t.  Show that you are accessible through your behaviour and you’ll see communication channels open up more readily.

  • Technology

Now, don’t jump ahead on this.  The comment wasn’t for/against technology.  The fact is that you can communicate just as poorly using technology as you can in person.  Be aware of this and show people how to easily utilise technology forums vs. being critical and saying that people don’t “get it.”

  • Silos

Ah, the dreaded silo.  It permeates every organisation and is a true boulder when it comes to communication.  A silo may think communication is going great within its own confines, but it rarely gets outside of its own domain.

  • Insincerity

Wow !!  This was great to hear because too often throughout organisations you’ll hear catch phrase after catch phrase to make sure you’re saying what you’re supposed to say without communicating at all.  When people aren’t genuine, communication has no chance to be effective.

  • Cultural Differences

This is a reality and shouldn’t be an obstacle.  HR has to really push through on this to show the value of our differences as people instead of letting cultures, backgrounds, gender, etc. become a hindrance.  Note that this ISN’T a program !!  It’s how your company culture should be naturally !!

  • Too much noise

This item has much more credence than being too busy.  We are bombarded by constant stimuli and messaging from a myriad of sources all day.  This isn’t a work issue. It’s a life issue.  It’s hard to discern and cut through the noise to pay attention to messages that really need to be heard and acted upon.

How do we value/elevate communication throughout our organisations?

  • Tell people your processes

We need to quit thinking that people are just going to “get it” when it comes to communication throughout an organisation. Taking the time to explain how to communicate, who to get information to, and when to do it would make you more progressive than 99% of all companies out there.  Anytime we can give people clarity on how communication works in your company will only lead to stronger and more long lasting results.

  • Set the table

This is a true opportunity area for HR !!  Define how communication brings things together in your organisation and weave it through your culture.  Great communication should be the norm and not the exception.  However, the environment to do so needs to be intentionally established.  Attack the assumed culture in your company and make it open.

  • Go to people instead of having them come to you

Radical isn’t it?  Sitting and waiting for communication to appear never works.  It never has.  By being the person who initiates communication, you can get things moving.  This also addresses communication avoidance in your company.  Be the person who steps into the gap to make communication happen.  Quit waiting !!

  • Focus on relationships vs. drive by’s

When you truly foster relationships, communication becomes more clear because people get to know each other.  Too often, we shoot messages at each other just to get them out.  Yes, this takes time, but it’s time that is well worth the investment.

  • Leadership sets the tone

Here is one instance where Sr. Management leading the way is essential.  They can make communication valued by their actions and expectations.  In fact, if they choose not to do this, then poor communication is sure to be the model the company suffers through.  HR can lead in this as well by coaching Sr. Management on the value of making communication shine.  It’s a great way to be strategic !!

  • Don’t be dull

It’s amazing that this is so challenging for people.  Seriously, have YOU read what you write? We think that being engaging and entertaining in corporate communication is unnecessary and a waste of time.  The opposite is actually true.  Most communication in companies goes unheeded or unread. So, why follow the norm of the boring memo or the e-mail limited to 10 words or less?  This doesn’t mean to write novels to express yourself.  It means be creative.  Draw people in to get your message across.  It works !!

Why should we do this?

This should have been the first question.  You see, most companies follow the model of: What, How and Why (in that order).  We focus on the “what” and it is a vicious cul-de-sac of endless and useless communication.

We don’t focus on the “why” of communication, or many things in our companies honestly.  Steve referenced a TED talk by Simon Sinek here that shows you that companies who focus on their “why” are more successful in all they do.

The answer in this section needs to go back to your company because each culture and environment is different.  You need to step up, be intentional and take the steps to make communication valued in your company!!