Values as Visuals
June 29, 2010
(Thaler Pekar, a consultant specializing in persuasive communication, helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that rally critical support. You can find other posts by Thaler here, here, and here.)
Last year, I participated in a wonderful workshop at the Golden Fleece conference titled "How Pictures Can Promote, Provoke and Prolong Communication." The workshop promised I would "leave with practical methods, simple exercises, and exciting tools for helping yourself and others to find the stories in their lives."
It was designed around Dialoogle® -- a blended word combining "dialog" and "Google" and meaning "a search for a dialogue." I was enthralled! The high-quality cards, each featuring an exquisite photograph, were scattered throughout the room, and participants were directed to choose three cards and "tell the story of three turning points in your professional life." The results were profound, yet seemingly effortless. We worked in small groups, and all the members of my group, including me, instinctively shared one story about their past, one about their current professional life, and one about their vision of the future.
Madelyn Blair, Ph.D, who facilitated the workshop with Pernille Stockfleth, a partner with Dialoogle, blogged shortly afterward, "If I ever thought that it was hard to help people find their stories, I realize now that this small tool acts like a match to a fire. You better stand back and let the stories burst into the room."
I purchased a set of the cards, and immediately upon returning home, shared them with my husband, Tom, who works as an audio engineer on documentary films. I asked him to choose an image that represented why he does what he does professionally, and to tell me why he chose that card. Tom chose the image of a man operating an old but working bellows camera and shared an earnest and heartfelt explanation of his work. He talked about the allure of "human interaction with a machine" and how the camera is a "practical, working device -- and is really beautiful." He then explained his desire to combine his attraction to visual imagery, his desire to work with his hands, and his respect for contributing something practical and tangible to the world. Tom is not someone prone to self-reflective conversation, and both he and I were surprised at the depth of the emotion behind the explanation of his choice.
Allison Sole of 21/64 explained to me the motivation behind the original deck: "We developed this tool to make more effective grantmakers." And she elaborated on the motivation behind the iPhone app: "Nowadays, families are far flung and they can start to generate these conversations with one member in California, choosing and sending an image to their grandparent in New York."
Indeed, Picture Your Legacy is brilliant at sparking conversation that might otherwise be cloaked or skim the surface of something that is quite deep. The instructions ask participants to "choose the images that speak to you and represent how you aspire to fund, operate, invest or be in the world." Participants are then prompted to narrow their choice to one image. If the exercise is happening in a facilitated session and there’s time, Sole said participants might be asked, "What does the second image say that the first one didn't?" As she explains:
This exercise hits people on an emotional, visceral level. We recently facilitated the exercise with a client, and it got deep real fast: He chose the picture of a cemetery, and it turns out he had a son who died. He also chose the picture of an athletic coach with a player. The gentleman realized that there are things he needs to do in his life, precisely because of the loss of his son’s life.
Our work is centered on family dynamics, so we want to tap into core emotional elements: legacy, values, mission. There is something different about this tool. It gets at emotion and intuition through pictures.
On its Web site, the folks at Dialoogle claim that "Apart from being great fun, dialoogling makes conversations flow more freely, enhancing the value and outcome for all participants. Dialoogle is an ideal tool for teachers and psychologists, business leaders and coaches, HR and management consultants -- for anybody striving to improve the quality of a conversation in any context."
Allison Sole admits that Picture Your legacy is an attempt to start with images and move to language. "Ultimately, we want people to craft some sort of language related to their philanthropy." And that's exactly what has happened: Sole's colleague, Sharna Goldseker, facilitated the Picture Your Legacy exercise with members of a family foundation who used language from that discussion to create a vision statement.
Madelyn Blair, who facilitates many groups seeking to push through roadblocks and enact change, says she uses Dialoogle "every chance" she gets:
Information comes at us so quickly these days, and we expect people's thinking processes to be fast, keeping up with the information onslaught. In fact, our thinking processes are not that fast. Often, we don't give people the time to reflect. Dialoogle cards are a way to stimulate deep thought and pattern making, the things we need to be creative and effective thinkers. The process of looking for the card is in itself a process of reflection (without even knowing that you are doing it). By the time you choose your card, you have done deep thinking.
Julie A. Morton, Ph.D., a communications strategist and executive coach at Conscious Legacy Coaching, often uses Picture Your Legacy. Morton works to remedy "miscommunications between the family and the family business relationships. I deal with all the baggage that families carry with them from the time members were six or seven and then dump on the board room table." She had been using cards with written values on them for years, and has found that combining those word cards with images yields quicker and more meaningful results for her clients. "People get tripped up on words," Morton told me. "The images are an entry way into conversation, especially with people who are not good with words. For instance, I may ask family members who are in conflict to choose an image that answers the question, 'How do you want to feel about a family member? Or, What conversations have you not had?'"
Picture Your Legacy was designed expressly for fostering inter-generational conversations, and Morton often uses the cards with multi-generational families: "Two generations may have been at odds, believing they were talking about different things. Once they picked their cards and discussed them they often discover that they were talking about the same underlying ideas; family members were just using different words to describe it."
I've taken part in exercises where participants were asked to illustrate meaning by creating collages out of images found in magazines, and I've always found those exercises to be confining -- in part, because I'm acutely aware of the agenda behind the images (imposed either by an editorial staff and/or an advertiser). And though I suspect the images in Dialoogle and Picture Your Legacy also have been carefully curated, I'm much more than willing to grant those applications the benefit of the doubt. I believe Blair when she says, "Dialoogle has no agenda other than to stimulate you." And I agree with Sole when she says, "People respond to visual stimulation in a way they wouldn't respond to trying to have a conversation. You're sort of clearing the deck."
Give them a try yourself. I think you’ll be pleased with your discoveries and the results.
-- Thaler Pekar