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Quality and self-compassion! The call of duty for visual practice in Australia

With all the amazing meetups and conferences happening in our field worldwide, it was high time that Australia had another conference for everyone to get together to connect and celebrate what we’ve achieved so far. IFVP member Matthew Magain (CEO of Sketch Group and Graphic Gear), Marcel van Hove (of Visual Friends), Michelle Walker (of visual consultancy Curious Minds Co.) and John Hibble (of The Facilitation Starter) answered the call, and did a superb job putting on VizConf, a one-day conference last Saturday. Thanks also to MYOB for hosting us, and to Brainmates for fun at the pub afterwards.

Lots of charts for everyone to look at
There were tons of charts generated from the different talks and discussions to check out. More pics of charts below!

Michelle Walker, who was actually the mastermind behind the IFVPx conference at the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, back in 2012, also did a stellar job of MC-ing the whole day, as well as facilitating the 'open conference' style of crowd-sourcing topics for us all to host and attend throughout the day. Here are my main takeaways.

Now is the time to focus on quality

In a lot of emerging fields (e.g. in the past UX design, agile, service design and app development, and currently AI, AR/VR, lean business transformation), there tends to be a maturity curve. What often starts out as very niche gains traction, and loads of other people get on board. This is a good thing! The narrative is all about describing high-level benefits, and encouraging anyone and everyone to get into it. I’ve definitely seen this happen with sketchnoting, from around 2009 to 2012.

The next spot in the curve is often about bringing ROI to the narrative: how do we convince the boss? How are businesses and communities better off with The New Thing (whatever The New Thing happens to be)?

Other phases come along too (like systemisation), but sooner or later, we have to bring the subject of quality to the narrative. What sets the professional apart from the noobie? What is good, useful and effective? What drives the discipline and craft of whatever it is forward for the good of all? How does a practitioner judge their work? How do they know how to go from good to great?

This is why I’m so glad that Jessamy Gee raised this issue of quality in her opening keynote. It’s good and healthy to give and receive feedback; in this way, we can sharpen each other in really positive ways, lift the quality of our work, lift the positive profile of business visualisation, and the benefits it can provide our clients.

Jessamy Gee at VizConf conference
Jessamy Gee at VizConf conference, with Justin Cheong scribing behind her

There’s a true art and science to giving decent feedback; it has to be elicited well, provided well, and taken on in a collaborative mutually beneficial way. Jessamy gave 4 simple and highly practical points:

  1. Start with the positives
  2. Identify specific problems
  3. Explain why the problems are actually problems
  4. Offer suggestions

Quality is a bar, but not a stick to beat yourself up with

In a perfect complementary point to this, Sunni Brown (renowned co-author of Gamestorming, author of The Doodle Revolution, and all-round amazing human) talked about the need for self-compassion in her closing keynote.

Let’s face it: sketching for money is tough. Getting known is tough. Dealing with tricky clients and stakeholders who don’t fully understand the value of what we’re trying to do is tough. And amongst all this, facing up to our own expectations is tough, too.

It’s too easy to let our inner critics suck all our energy, and it’s all too common to feel impostor syndrome, constantly comparing ourselves to others who we think are better than us.

But self-compassion is the antidote. Self-compassion takes courage, discipline, and is a worthy skill to cultivate if you’re going to make it in just about any creative or entrepreneurial activity. This is definitely true for emergent disciplines where there is no Canon of Rules to follow, or a Degree in Visualisation to mark yourself against.

Sunni Brown laying it all out at VizConf
Sunni Brown laying it all out at VizConf, with David Blumenstein scribing behind her

Sunni did an incredible job of not only explaining self-compassion, but breaking it down in practical ways. As we grow, we need (metaphorically) good soil to sink our roots into, light from others, rain for nourishment, and the winds of change to either move with or to resist and strengthen. We can’t pour the sludge of self-criticism on ourselves, and hope to grow. Sunni also lead the whole room in meditative exercises (plus a quick sketching exercise!) to help us all connect ourselves more closely with where each of us was in our individual journeys, being at peace with that, celebrating that, and being stronger for it.


New connections!

It was awesome, of course, to finally meet people I’d only known as avatars on social media, to get to know them better, and also to meet people who I would never have crossed paths with otherwise. Highlights for me were catching up with Justin Cheong (who has made graphic recording and visual explanations his full time gig), Andrew On Yi LaiDevon Bunce, and Rebecca Jackson, as well as meeting some new faces, like cartoonist and national treasure Phil Judd, and Nick Coster.

Big thanks to Justin Cheong for volunteering on the spot to scribe for Jessamy Gee

A stand-out was meeting the ridiculously-talented service designer and cartoonist David Blumenstein.We started out with David saying DOWN WITH METAPHOR! and me saying YES TO METAPHOR! and ended up doing a part-sparring / part-war-stories conversation about ways of how to -- and how not to! --  use metaphors in graphic facilitation and business communication with clients. It was hugely intriguing for everyone, and the session ended being an amazing insightful group discussion.

But more on that in a separate post...

This is really a thing!

The room was packed with graphic recorder and facilitator talent, but what surprised me was the number of agile coaches amongst us, too. There is a huge appetite for using visualisation to explore problems, explain concepts and help teams be more effective (which of course is what my book Presto Sketching is all about – plug plug!), and agile coaches are right there at the coal-face of teams getting tricky work done.

VizConf was clearly the right place for them. There were so many people who had a bit of an idea about graphic recording and graphic facilitation, but the penny hadn’t fully dropped for them how effective these techniques can be, until today. Several times I heard people say things like “Ah, now I get it!” and “This is really a thing!

Some more photos!