The Service Design Tools website tallies 40+ visual methods and ethnographic tools which exist for brainstorming, ideation, co-creation, and prototyping. These tools are actually archetypes ripe for modifying. How you rework its DNA depends on the industry you come from. Any derived insight becomes highly volatile.
This happened with the business model canvas where the ripple effects of cloud computing had to be explored and analyzed. The original BMC was OK, but we took into consideration the myriad functions of the nonprofit. Rather than tracing the ripples to one epicenter, we saw multiple ones.
Why use visualization methods to dissect problems? While I doubt they’ll lead directly to innovation, they’re great starting points for creative thinking, and there are many reasons why you’ll appreciate it better the next retreat or meeting you have:
Rather than linear and logical processes to attack an issue, you teleport the issue into a different temporal space.
Depending on what framework you use, you can visualize the proximity of which an issue exists, and thus catch ideas or seize embedded problems which may not have been forseeable before. Don’t just think through a problem, think around it as well.
2. Pictures as a Common Language
Visualization, even just simple whiteboard doodles and stickies, can solidify ethereal ideas. Complexity dissolves into simplicity.
You know what they say: Not everyone hears the same thing and that pictures can mean a thousand words. Pictures, images, or charts can be the common language which can unify all stakeholders into rapid collaboration.
Finally, since visualization helps you see things that you couldn’t before, you can quickly test your “what if’s” and various hypotheses. It’s all laid out.
A Caveat: What Tools Can’t Fix
But the nonprofit sector too should leverage these new ways of thinking and co-creation.
Guidestar CEO Bob Ottenhoff had candidly addressed the “glacial pace” at which nonprofit sector delivers social impact. He mentions the need to adapt and apply more creative ways of thinking and doing, like Agile Dev or Eric Ries’s Build-Measure-Learn. I’m with him on that:
Too much nonprofit sector management today is stuck in rigid techniques, standardized work tasks and an overemphasis on strategic planning
However, you can’t just throw some flotation device out into the sea like a buoy and expect a timely rescue from a sinking ship. The killjoy here is that visual methods are just tools, and these creative ways of thinking — including design thinking, social design, service design, or whatever new “x” is out there — are merely beacons. They can lead you extremely close to the sources of inner strife, or even toxicity, for why reinvigoration can’t even begin.
Yet sometimes the root causes are much more severe: fear, politics, or the ennui that stems from being hardwired to committee-ization and strategic planning. And those are actually Steve Blank’s mutinous words.
Who really wants to change and innovate for the better, and who wants to keep things the way they are?
Further reading and playing for genetic magicians:
- Pinterest on Vivid Thinking
- Pinterest: All Skylance
- Designing a Better Nonprofit Business Model, Part 1
- Designing a Better Nonprofit Business Model, Part 2
- Quipol: Do you like SWOTS?
- The Glacial Pace of the Nonprofit Sector
- Quora on Design Thinking
- Service Design Tools: The Mindmap
- Innovation Obsession Disorder