Q: How do you communicate your vision without overwhelming your staff? And what happens when folks are not on board?
A: When I think about ways to meaningfully project a company’s story, a pair of mantras from mutual fund wizard Peter Lynch comes to mind:
“Never buy anything that you can’t illustrate on the back of a napkin.”
"Never invest in any idea you can’t illustrate with a crayon.”
There’s an awesome deference to simplicity and the power of visual storytelling reflected in these words. The clear suggestion is that the most powerful way to communicate your vision to anyone is to do it with simple, concrete images. And that holds true whether you’re trying to get your own team to embrace your vision, or trying to get your customers to.
The language of change
When you’re looking to inspire people to think or do something differently, you’re essentially undertaking a change-management project. And, with any kind of effort like that, you’re going to encounter resistance. That’s because people have a powerful tendency to favor what they’re doing today – a status quo bias. This is why you need to speak the language of change management – not just the language of sales – when trying to communicate and “sell” your company vision to your employees and customers.
A visual story can help you do that
According to John Kotter and Dan Cohen, authors of The Heart of Change, the conventional wisdom holds that change follows an “analyze – think – change” sequence. But in reality, almost all successful change management efforts follow a “see – feel – change” trajectory. A visual story can magnify the persuasive power of that sequence to make your vision crystal-clear to your team.
But what if your team isn’t as willing to embrace your company vision as you might be? Here’s a way to structure your own change-management story, so that it aligns to the “see – feel – change” sequence outlined above:
Deliver your own insight: A provocative insight, told visually, is the ideal way to introduce uncertainty and relax someone’s emotional aversion to change. The best insights will expose an uncertainty or an inconsistency in someone’s current pattern of thinking. The basic idea here is to tell them something they don’t know about a problem they didn’t know they have. What needs have they not considered or overlooked? What issues do they not understand that might compel them to rethink the current situation and be more open to the new idea you’re proposing?
Make their status quo unsafe: Show your team why their current mode of thinking is unsafe or unsustainable – and why they can’t achieve their corporate and personal goals from where they are now.
Propose a ‘new safe’: Link the "unsafe” with a “new safe” by showing them a contrasting new path (the one you’ve devised) which resolves the risks you’ve associated with their current situation.
Provide proof: Validate your value proposition by telling a contrasting story about another instance in which you helped them find a “new safe” through your ideas or concepts (or, in the case with prospective customers, your solutions).
The three C’s of visual storytelling
In any story structured like the one above, the visual element is the engine that generates your momentum and persuasiveness. One reason behind that is because the part of the brain that makes decisions – sometimes called the “old brain” or “lizard brain” – doesn’t have the capacity for language (the “new brain,” the logical region that validates and justifies our decisions, handles that part).
The old brain has some pretty specific needs. First of all, it craves simplicity and shuns abstraction. And, unlike the analytically driven new brain, the old brain is attuned to less rational things, such as images and emotions. So, to really appeal to the decision-making part of the brain, where stubborn, emotional resistance is rooted, keep these “three C’s” of visual storytelling in mind:
Context: Visually depict the emerging issues and industry trends that, if not addressed, could pose problems. By showing this contextual uncertainty around your team’s current way of thinking, you help them see and feel the threat – and you make them more open to the possibility of persuasion.
Contrast : Visually establish a clear contrast between the pain of the status quo and the value of doing something new. This “to and from” approach allows your team, customers and prospects to visualize where they are now, and discover where they can be if they open themselves to change.
Concrete: Using too many abstract visuals will add unnecessary clutter to message, sapping its “old brain” emotional appeal. Instead, use numbers, stick figures, basic shapes and arrows to give potentially complex concepts a veneer of simplicity.
So, in sum, if you want to spur positive changes in your team and your customers, it’s time to start communicating visually. That means creating memorable, visually compelling stories that can get told and re-told throughout your organization.