I’ve been in this field of facilitation and designed workshops, more or less, for over 22 years. I started “scribing” and “knowledge working” at Ernst and Young’s Chicago ASE (Accelerated Solutions Environment) in 1997/1998. As I watched this pandemic spread and my in-person work calendar get scrubbed clean, I thought about my journey up until now. In 2001, we had 9/11. That slowed down work significantly. During that time, we shifted to working “leaner” and being able to perform more than one role. In 2008, during the financial meltdown, we had to work even leaner, know how to use more of the mobile tools and processes, and work three or four roles, perhaps even eliminate a few roles and tasks. We were pushed to evaluate where the value really was and what processes/activities were now obsolete because they no longer had value.
Today, with COVID-19, we are again experiencing contraction work and demands to adapt to the new world work order. While we sit out the “old” way of working, we are learning how to integrate with the “new” set of tools to establish new working processes and ways of being. All of us feel the need to learn how to use the digital drawing apps, the virtual platforms, and other virtual collaboration tools that digital pioneers have quietly been using in the background as the rest of us carried on IRL. So, I wondered what I could share with you that could be of any use, since this is my third go-around. So here goes.
As a practitioner, I’ve always been driven to diversify my skills, options, learning, and experiences. I always learn something new from the people I work with. I force myself out of my learning comfort zone and try to learn. Sometimes I fail miserably, other times I get really good results.
Following that, I move into expansion, so putting all my capacity to work, to evolve my practice and business. I talk with my clients and ask them, What do you need in order to look good to your clients, your team, your bosses? How are you thinking about innovation and pushing the envelope when it comes to messaging/learning/communication/problem-solving? I am always pushing myself to bring them new mediums, ideas, and applications. It is a nice feeling to start a call with a client who says, “I’m excited to hear what cool things you’ve been up to!”
Open Your Aperture
You’re no one-trick pony: diversify your skills
Learn as many mediums as you can. Push yourself to learn all the permutations - whiteboard, foamcore, paper and marker, digital of the craft so you can easily pivot to your client’s needs and the market conditions. It also demonstrates business savvy and positions you as a consultant, when you can offer a multitude of visual solutions for various convening contexts.
For example, learning all the ways to integrate live visuals into virtual platforms prepares you for the inevitable wave of virtual systems and processes that our clients are going to start asking for on a regular basis.
Now is the time to start educating your client on how you offer remote, virtual services. Shifting from F2F (face-to-face) to virtual convenings has the potential to become a convening norm. Now is the time to start talking to your clients about this and be a partner in the learning process.
Once you’ve learned it, offer it: diversify your offerings
Learn through doing, and get better through doing, every time. Provide rates for the various skills you acquire: conference work, workshops, meetings, knowledge wall/environmental graphics, digital vs. analogue, in-studio illustration, animation/videos, podcasting, small group facilitation, training, agenda design, large scale facilitation, virtual facilitation, etc.
For example, offer virtual meeting graphic recording and visual facilitation approaches with MURAL and other collaboration tools.
Even if you never, ever want to facilitate, coach, or train, learn ALL the things
Learn and understand facilitation methodologies. You never know when you’ll have to step in to facilitate (that one time the facilitator got sick!), be asked for your observations on how to change the session when there is a particular knotty challenge, or help the facilitator get the group unstuck on the fly.
Quick, on-your-feet thinking as a visual practitioner is a very useful skill to have when at the front of the room. How might you build an internal, go-to list of useful pivot/shift exercises, ice breakers, and simple processes to help shift a conversation?
Be interested to be interesting: keep the perspective of the beginner’s mind
As I said in my first point, push yourself to learn new mediums. But don’t stop at the mediums used in the visual practice. Become fluent in metaphorical learning and thinking.
Use music to learn about other cultures and it's history and impact on the culture: souk, raï, afro jazz, kpop, opera, kelzmer, qawwali, classical, chanson française, bossa nova, roots/reggae, blue grass, MC/hip hop culture.
Be open to an afternoon spent lost going down the internet link rabbit hole.
Research a new artist every week: Google Arts & Culture (the app is a great way to waste time on your phone!)
Have random conversations with strangers so you can practice your knowledge. Plus, you never know what a random stranger can teach you in 3 minutes.
Quickly Apply Your Skills To Your Reality
You are more than “just a doodler”: you are a visual consultant or strategist
You aren’t just a person who draws cute pictures. You are a person who listens, synthesizes, translates, and organizes and connects conversations using words and icons. You are a listener, above all else, followed by the role of recorder, or reporter as Christopher Fuller prefers to call himself. As the outsider, you bring a unique perspective the group cannot see. You have valuable information and insights for your client, including how visuals can apply in any context.
Be like Austin Kleon: steal like an artist
Meaning take what you like but make it your own, don’t just lift and copy. Steal and then practice it until it has your unmistakable DNA stamped on it, as in when people look at it, they immediately ask, “Is that is your work?” Attribution is important too, always. “Yes, it is. I was inspired by Drew Dernavich.”
It’s all about relationships: growing your network
Relationships are what will make you successful. Client relationships built on trust can open the door to experimentation and great opportunities. However, it isn’t just your clients you should cultivate, but also your visual practitioner network. The more practitioners you build relationships with, the more options for collaboration you will have. Share work when the getting is good by contracting or referring to one another. When times get tough, talk with your group of colleagues on how to spread the work among you to help each other through. Joining the IFVP is a great place to grow your network of practitioners with access to IFVP-only learning opportunities and events.
Water your business: it is like a plant
It’s easy to overlook business development, marketing and branding. During downtimes, make an effort to make it a priority and work on it, even if only bit by bit. Should be easy if you have a coach.
Keep growing: get a coach and some coaching
Self and professional development are crucial to any successful career, visual practitioners included. Find a coach or coaching program and start doing the work. You will be better for it - not just as a professional but as a human being.
How do you know you found a good coach? Ask your friends for a few recommendaitons, do some research, and then reach out and ask for a 30 minute free consult. A coach is much like a massage therapist, a yoga teacher, a psychotherapist, you have to try out a few to find one you like, that understand what you are looking for, and will be a cheerleader and supporter in helping you solve your problems. Give it time. Sometimes you find them right away, other times it takes a few trys before find the coach right for you. Additionally, a good coach will also want to meet initially to see if they are interested in coaching you. A good coach screens their clients, as a good learner seeks out a good teacher.
The importance of financial pillows: save for the VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) times
Start by saving up one month’s expenses until you have at least 6 months of living expenses, then try saving up a year’s worth of living expenses. Don’t touch it. You never know when you will need it.
I am curious to know what other seasoned visual practitioners would add to this list. What did I miss? Add to the conversation by adding comments below!
May your marker be juicy, your stylus ready and your hand eversteady.