Using Visuals to Drive Organizational Change with Nora Herting

Reading Time: 11 Minutes

In this interview with Nora Herting, you’ll learn how to think visually and access your own creativity to enable effective storytelling, express complex thoughts, or to take an idea from conception to launch.

After the Interview:

About Nora Herting

A pioneer of visual strategy, Nora Herting is passionate about expanding peoples’ definition of creativity. She believes the best way to meet the demands of business today is to take a visual approach that blends strategic thinking and creative expression.

Nora founded a company, ImageThink, which has helped hundreds of organizations like NASA, Google, and LinkedIn use visuals as tools to help leaders communicate and collaborate around their plans.

As a sought-after speaker and thought leader, Nora leads a compelling conversation around the power of visual thinking as a catalyst for personal and organizational change.  er skill and impact with businesses, and her own entrepreneurial prowess founding ImageThink, has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fox Business, Entrepreneur and INC.


Deliberate leaders I am your host Allison Dunn, Executive Coach and Founder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. I’m super excited to introduce our guest today, she is a pioneer of visual strategy. Her name is Nora Herting, who is passionate about expanding people’s definitions of creativity, and believes the best way to meet the demands of business today is to take a visual approach that blends strategic thinking and creative expression for skills and impact with businesses from our own entrepreneurial prowess, sniffs founding image think, which has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, Fox, business entrepreneur, and Inc magazine as a sort of sought after speaker and thought leader nor leads a compelling conversation around the power of Visual Thinking as a catalyst for personal and organizational change. Nora has her first book a Draw Your Big Idea, which has inspired 1000s to think visually, and access their own creativity. Nora, thank you so much for joining us here today. Hi, great to be here. I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. So I’m hoping that you’d be willing to share your number one leadership tip with our deliberate leader listeners.


Sure, years ago, I was told and I was reminded that the best way to make sure a message resonates is that you have to tell it in multiple formats. So that can be you know, an all hands, it can be a one on one conversation, it can be a story, it can be a visual. And that was something that really stuck with me was just remembering that it needs to be repeated, it needs to be repeated differently to resonate differently with different people.


That is a very communication comes in many different forms. And so making sure you’re kind of having resonate with how someone learns best. So I love that. Um, what are visual effective ways to communicate? So you’re saying make sure you’re telling it in multiple forms of topic? Talk us through that?


How’s that look?


But look, it might get a visual for Yeah, yeah, sure. So that can look like many different things. You know, we do at image thinking, when we talk about and draw your big idea is using the power of visuals to underscore your communication. So we’re all we love metaphor. We love storytelling. We love narrative, right? That’s something that has united us, you know, to bigger purposes, to emotions to vision, and having a visual to help support that gets to that innate storytelling and that metaphor. So that could be a visual of your strategy. It could be a visual of your vision or your mission. It could be asking and challenging people to draw out what the current state or the current problem is. So there’s many different ways that you can use visuals to underscore communication. It kind of depends on you know, what you’re communicating the nature of it.



I think one of the things that I’ve recognized just, I’m going to speak for myself here at this moment, I don’t consider myself a creative person. So often whiteboarding, I get self-conscious about, you know, how I’m drawing things or the way you know that I’m being thoughtful about how I’m writing it out and have it look pretty, I guess, or legible. And what I find is, is the effort of doing that actually opens up people’s minds to the concepts that you’re teaching. So it’s so how, as a visual presenter, what things can we as leaders do to promote the creativity of the teams and unleashing that, so what tools do you suggest?


Sure, so there’s a few things first, I’m glad you brought up and you’re sharing, like feeling pressure to make it look pretty, as you say, and that’s, you know, a natural tendency and a barrier that that people run into all the time. So thank you for sharing that. What I first message is around kind of our own neuroscience, which is we have a large part of our brain is wired for visual processing, so not just the excipient But multiple regions of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, which is like our highest cognitive thinking, so your audience is already wired to make meaning out of your visuals, you know, we can take very simple things as humans and read a lot of meaning into it. If you think about an emoji, right like that can completely change a text message or soften a message to a co worker, you know, and it’s basically a little circle with a smiley face. So one of the first things I address is just to try to empower people to really understand that even your sloppy stick person is going to be effective, because it’s not so much about the artistry as a leader and being a deliberate leader, but it’s about are you communicating? And is that resonating? And the bar for that is actually really, really low? So to answer your second question, which is what are some ways that you can do this to engender creativity and kind of even illustrate this, we’ll do exercises with leader to show the power of this is one fun exercise that I like to do in a lot of my workshops and keynotes is to ask your team to do a visual bio. So ask them something really basic about themselves? Like you could actually start with? How would you illustrate your name if you couldn’t use any words? Or how would you illustrate your role on the team in a picture? Because a it opens up like you were saying a different way of thinking. It also actually a lot of times communicates a lot more nuance than an answer. Because if you see how someone is like, Oh, my role is like here is chaos. And here I am, you know, putting it in order here, I’m herding cats, or you can start to see how they think about their own role and how their mind works. Like, are they making a metaphor? Or are they drawing something literally. And then lastly, you’ll start to see in this exercise that people’s very rudimentary drawings, get a lot of cross. And you’ll remember those right? Because you were remember visual, three times more than we remembered, just, you know, just spoken word, for the most part. So that’s, that’s one fun way to just test this out. And it’s usually you get a lot of laughter because the other great thing is a lot of people feel vulnerable, like you just said alley at the whiteboard. But that can be a great place to start when you’re thinking about communicating with a team, or team building or trying to build, you know, a sense of camaraderie is actually making everyone do something that is a little foreign to them, is a great, great equalizer.


That sounds like an absolute blast, ever an exercise? And I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to steal it with my team and have them sure what they think their role is here. That’s so fun.


Absolutely. Let me know how it goes. I love doing I share some pictures from it’s clearly you have a background as an artist, right? I mean, my gathering that correctly. I do actually have a master’s in photography.


Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah. And how was that shaped how you approach business?


Well, it’s, it’s interesting, because I started out, you know, imagining that I was going to be an academic and taught at a university, fine art, and left pretty quickly, because I realized it was a failure of imagination. But what I didn’t realize was that the a lot of skills that we have, as artists are things that that are have, you know, leadership is really curious about, you know, things like how to communicate visually, ways to think holistically around things, ideas around iteration, and testing a lot of design thinking principles are things that partners do, kind of innately in their own work. So one of the great joys for me is bringing, bringing some of these skill sets that we have as artists, and having bringing them into the business world so that they can have big impact on business problems.


Can you give me a verbal example not a visual example of how companies that you’ve worked with has used visuals to improve their communication and the type of impact that it had?


Sure. So let me ask you, what do you think is like a common leadership challenge that the audience here might run into? A common Leadership Challenge would be around committee Kidding, they’re efficient. Okay, great. So that is a, that’s when we help with all the time. So we just worked with an organization, it was a nonprofit organization for global health. And they got a new president, she apparently they haven’t had a five strategic plan for many years. And she wanted to create a five year strategic plan, but she also had a much bigger vision of the mission for the organization. So in two days, we helped orchestrate, you know, a full workshop to go through this, but with our approach, we’re using visuals kind of along the entire process. So we had everyone sort of look at the mission start to articulate what, what does the world need? What would it look like if we expanded this mission, and we literally had them visualize what that impact would be? So we illustrated that, you know, kind of in one part of the drawing, this is the new North Star, this is our mission, this is what we think we want to do. And this is the benefit for, you know, for ourselves, for our team, for our constituents for the world if we deliver that, right. And then because this was also strategic planning, we moved over kind of to the other side of the illustration, and we said, okay, where are we now, right now, relative to this new mission that we have, you know, what resources do we have? What partners do we have? What mindset Do we have, we put that into the drawing, and then in the middle, right, we have this big empty space, that’s where the strategy comes in. And as, as we work through that strategy, we were able to visualize core streams or roads, if you would, that the organization is going to go down to reach this vision, including milestones, etc. So at the end of it, everyone saw their contribution being illustrated. They were able to speak around this as it happened as an anchor. And now the organization has this as a talking piece to take to the board to take to their partners, and to socialize it.


Okay, excellent. Thank you for sharing, like how, how to actually accomplish that in some way? are you drawing it like literally in a visual picture? Is that your talent that you bring to the session?


So at this point, now, you know, we have a team of 12 people. So we have a trading program, we have other folks that are very, very talented, doing a lot of the work that we do for clients these days. But yes,


Awesome. So I know that you utilizing visual to communicate is key. So let’s talk about visual leadership, which I feel is like a slightly different angle to just communicating visually. What are some of the examples of the work that you’ve done? Let’s say with I believe, NASA, or Google or LinkedIn?


Yeah, yeah. So um, so a lot of those examples are get around empowering the leaders to, to work through what we call whole cycle of experience. Right? So that might be the visioning or the scanning of a session, right? What is where do we stand today? Where are we going with our strategy? What are the opportunities that might get exists and get people to start visualizing those and mapping out all that kind of that blue sky blue sky vision, and yeah, and then next, sort of getting the group to start to align around what they want the vision of the future to look like so similar to what we were discussing. And that could take on many different things that could be a mission and a vision. That could be a sales strategy. That could be, you know, working with HR, that could be the vision of where we want the employee, how we want employees to feel in our organization and the path, their professional path. And then, kind of, again, working through making that picture of the future, that goal so that leaders can use that to articulate as they consensus build. And then after that, I’m using visuals to help with that more tactical process mapping, you know, milestones where does each person kind of fit within that puzzle. So it’s really can be the visuals can be used throughout kind of all of these stages, from helping align and communicate that vision alley all the way to kind of what does that action plan look like that people are building and so people can see literally where their role is and how they fit into it. How powerful that must be? Yeah, it’s amazing. And you get to also work in a lot of humor and stories and metaphor into these things with each organization having their own personality. A lot of sort of fun visuals come out with different organizations. So we also encourage that you’re really making it personal


I am. I’m super curious to learn a little bit more about your book, Draw Your Big idea. Tell us tell us about that.


To draw your big idea is, I always thought I wanted to write a book. And I’m not sure if this one qualifies, I have to write a second one, because it’s about 108, visual illustrations and activities, to move anyone through a process of kind of ideating and brainstorming all the way to strategic planning. So you could literally use it as a workbook and fill it out, although lots of people are shy about that they like to draw it out at you know, elsewhere. But I also encourage people to use it as inspiration to take it do further teams. So that example I was giving about, like mapping out a strategic vision, there’s a number of different visual exercises in there, that will help you do that. So you don’t have to if you’re feeling shy about your ability to draw, we have templates for you basically, to start populating and like, as you said, stimulating creative thinking and different metaphors to work through it.


That’s fantastic. And I don’t want you to doubt it for a moment, if you actually have something that people can like start to work in immediately. That’s a book by writing another book. I feel like sometimes we drew the book.




I love it, as I’m intrigued by that. I love books that show concepts visually. And so if that that achieved that that’s like an A plus book in my mind.


Yeah. Awesome. Yeah, great. So when you get if you get it, make sure you want to get a good set of pens or markers too, so that you can start working at it.


Fantastic. Well, I will make sure that we include is the book of ice and the book is available on Amazon. And that’s where we should send them to get it.


Yes, absolutely. Get it on Amazon or anywhere Chronicle Books is.


Fantastic. Oh, nor I super appreciate you sharing these concepts here today. What is the best way for people to follow you?


So you can follow me on LinkedIn, Nora Herting on LinkedIn, I think I’m the one and only Nora Herting. Or you can visit us at image thing. dotnet lots of resources there. Visual resources. If you’re interested in figuring out other tips or ways that you can work visually as a leader. We have a lot of videos, tips, and a great blog series on subject as well. So you can find us there.


Oh, that’s fantastic. Thank you so much. I have a quick offer for our listeners if you’ll bear with me for a moment. And listeners if you found today’s episode, valuable, we would very much appreciate for you to write us a review on one of your favorite listening channels. And if you take a screenshot of that and post it on LinkedIn mentioned myself, Allison Dunn, and Nora Herting we will personally give you a one year membership to the world’s number one business book summary service for leaders. It’s our gift to you for to help you stay on top of the latest ideas, decide on which books you actually want to spend time reading and buy and buy and read what you want to read next to engage your teams. Nora, thank you so much for being here with us today. I look forward to getting your book.


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