Using Visuals to Drive Organizational Change with Nora Herting

Reading Time: 9 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. Her skill and impact with businesses, and her own entrepreneurial prowess founding ImageThink, has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, Fox Business, Entrepreneur, and Inc. Magazine.

Who Is Nora Herting?

Allison Dunn: Hey, 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. She is passionate about expanding people’s definitions 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’s first book, Draw Your Big Idea, has inspired thousands to think visually and access their own creativity.

Nora, thank you so much for joining us today.

Nora Herting: Hi, it’s great to be here.

Nora’s #1 Leadership Tip

Allison: I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. So I’m hoping that you’d be willing to share your #1 leadership tip with our listeners.

Nora: Sure. Years ago I was told, and I was reminded, that…

The best way to make sure a message resonates is to tell it in multiple formats.

That can be an all-hands. It can be a 1-on-1 conversation. It can be a story. It can be a visual.

And that was something that really stuck with me:

A message needs to be repeated. It needs to be repeated differently to resonate differently with different people.

How to Communicate a Message in Different Forms

Allison: Communication comes in many different forms. So it’s important to make sure you’re having a message that resonates with how someone learns best. I love that.

What are visually effective ways to communicate? So you’re saying, make sure you’re telling a message in multiple forms? How does that look?

Nora: That can look like many different things. At ImageThink, and in Draw Your Big Idea, we talk about using the power of visuals to underscore your communication.

We love metaphor. We love storytelling. We love narrative. Right? They unite us to bigger purposes, to emotions, to vision. A visual gets to that innate storytelling.

A visual could be…

  • a visual of your strategy
  • a visual of your vision or your mission
  • asking and challenging people to draw out the current state or the current problem

There are many different ways that you can use visuals to underscore communication. It depends on the nature of what you’re communicating.

Allison: I don’t consider myself a creative person. So often whiteboarding, I get self-conscious about how I’m drawing things or how I’m writing it out… having it look pretty or legible. What I find is, the effort of whiteboarding opens people’s minds to the concepts that you’re teaching.

Unleash the Creativity of Your Teams

As visual presenters, what things can we do to promote and unleash the creativity of our teams? What tools do you suggest?

Nora: There’s a few things. First, I’m glad you brought up and you’re shared, feeling pressure to make it look “pretty”, as you say. That’s a natural tendency and a barrier that people run into all the time. So thank you for sharing that.

We have a large part of our brain wired for visual processing – not just the occipital lobe, but multiple regions of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for our highest cognitive thinking.

Your audience is already wired to make meaning out of your visuals.

We can take very simple things as humans and read a lot of meaning into it. If you think about an emoji – that can completely change a text message or soften a message to a coworker, and it’s just a little circle with a smiley face.

Even your sloppy stick person is going to be effective. It’s not so much about your artistry as a deliberate leader. It’s about what you’re communicating and whether that’s resonating. The bar for that is actually really low.

To engender creativity, we’ll do exercises with leaders to show the power of this.

One fun exercise that I like to do in a lot of my workshops and keynotes is to ask each team member to draw a visual bio. You could actually start by asking, how would you illustrate your name if you couldn’t use any words? Or how would you illustrate your role on the team?

It opens up, like you were saying, a different way of thinking. It also often communicates more nuance than a verbal answer. Someone might illustrate, “here is chaos, and here I am putting it in order,” or “here I am herding cats”.

You can start to see how they think about their role and how their mind works. Are they making a metaphor? Are they drawing something literally?

Lastly, you’ll start to see in this exercise that people’s very rudimentary drawings register. We remember visuals three times more than we remember spoken words, for the most part.

So visual bios are one fun way to test out visual communication. Usually you get a lot of laughter.

People feel vulnerable at the whiteboard. That can be a great place to start when you’re communicating with a team, or team-building, or trying to build a sense of camaraderie.

Making everyone do something a little foreign to them is a great equalizer.

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

Nora: Absolutely. Let me know how it goes. I love doing that.

How an Artist’s Background Can Help in Business

Allison: Clearly you have a background as an artist.

Nora: I do. I have a Masters in photography.

Allison: How has that shaped your approach to business?

Nora: I started out imagining that I was going to be an academic and teach fine art at a university. I left pretty quickly because I realized it was a failure of imagination.

What I didn’t realize was that the a lot of skills that we have, as artists are things that that leadership is curious about – how to communicate visually, ways to think holistically, ideas around iteration and testing.

Artists innately use design thinking principles in their own work.

One of the great joys for me is bringing some of these artistic skill sets into the business world so they can make an impact on business problems.

How to Use Visuals to Improve Communication

Allison: Can you share an example of how a company you’ve worked with has used visuals to improve their communication?

Nora: Sure. So let me ask you, what do you think is a common leadership challenge that your audience might run into?

Allison: A common leadership challenge would be communicating your vision.

Nora: That’s one we help with all the time. We just worked with a nonprofit focused on global health. They got a new president. They haven’t had a five-year strategic plan for many years, so she wanted to create a five-year strategic plan. But she also had a much bigger vision of the mission for the organization.

In two days, we helped orchestrate a full workshop to go through this. With our approach, we’re using visuals along the entire process.

We had everyone look at the mission and start to articulate: What does the world need? What would it look like if we expanded this mission? We literally had them visualize what that impact would be.

We illustrated that in one part of the drawing – our new North Star, our mission, what we think we want to do. Then we drew its benefits for ourselves, for our team, for our constituents, for the world, if we deliver on that mission.

Then, because this was also strategic planning, we moved over to the other side of the illustration. We said, okay, where are we right now, relative to this new mission? What resources do we have? What partners do we have? What mindset do we have? We put that into the drawing.

Then, in the middle, we have this big empty space. That’s where the strategy comes in.

As we worked through that strategy, we were able to visualize core streams or roads that the organization is going to go down to reach this vision. Those include milestones, etc.

At the end of this exercise, everyone saw their contribution 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.

Allison: Okay, excellent. Thank you for sharing how to accomplish that. Are you drawing, literally in a visual picture? Is that your talent that you bring to the session?

Nora: At this point, we have a team of 12 people. We have a training program, and we have other talented folds doing a lot of our client work these days.

Examples of Visual Leadership

Allison: Awesome. So I know that utilizing visuals to communicate is key. So let’s talk about visual leadership. What are some examples of the work you’ve done with NASA, Google or LinkedIn?

Nora: A lot of those examples are around empowering leaders to envision a whole cycle of experience.

  • Where do we stand today?
  • Where are we going with our strategy?
  • What are the opportunities that might exist?

We get people to start mapping out all of that blue sky vision.

Next, we’re getting the group to align around what they want the future to look like. That could be a mission and a vision. That could be a sales strategy. That could be working with HR. That could be the vision of how we want employees to feel in the organization and their professional path.

Again, working through making that picture of the future, that goal, so that leaders can use that to articulate as they consensus build.

After that, I’m using visuals to help with that more tactical process mapping… defining milestones and where each person fits within that puzzle.

Visuals can be used throughout all of these stages, from helping people align to drawing an action plan so people can see where their role is and how they fit into it.

Allison: How powerful that must be.

Nora: Yeah, it’s amazing. And you get to work in a lot of humor and stories and metaphor. With each organization having its own personality, a lot of fun visuals come out. So we encourage people to make it personal for a group’s culture.

Templates to Help You Communicate Visually

Allison: I’m super curious to learn more about your book, Draw Your Big Idea. Tell us tell us about that.

Nora: I always thought I wanted to write a book. I’m not sure if this one qualifies so I might have to write a second one. The book is 108 visual illustrations and activities to move anyone through the processes of ideating and brainstorming all the way to strategic planning. You can use it as a workbook and fill it out.

I also encourage people to use it as inspiration for their teams. Similar to that example I gave about mapping out a strategic vision, there are a number of visual exercises that will help you.

If you’re feeling shy about your ability to draw, we have templates so you can start populating the templates, stimulating creative thinking, and using metaphors to work through your thoughts.

Allison: If you have content that people can start to work through immediately, that’s a book! I love books that show concepts visually. So that’s like an A+ book in my mind.

Nora: Yeah. So when you get it, make sure to get a good set of pens or markers too so you can start working in it.

Allison: Fantastic. Nora’s book is available on Amazon and anywhere Chronicle Books are sold. I appreciate you sharing these concepts here today. What is the best way for people to follow you?

Nora: You can follow me on LinkedIn. I’m the one and only Nora Herting. Or you can visit us at ImageThink.net – there are lots of resources, videos, tips, and a blog series to help you work visually as a leader.

Get Our Free Gift – Access to Business Book Summaries

Allison: If you found today’s episode valuable, write us a review on one of your favorite listening channels. If you take a screenshot and post it on LinkedIn, mentioning Allison Dunn and Nora Herting, we will give you a 1-year membership to the world’s #1 business book summary service for leaders. It’s our gift to help you stay on top of the latest business ideas.

Nora, thank you so much for being here with us today. I look forward to getting your book.

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