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Capturing the future state of an entire enterprise, or developing a business plan, is full of challenges and frustrations. Everything from customer profiles to the products offered to the sales method needs to be explained — and then qualified and quantified. Needless to say, this is no small feat.
In a recent presentation at BIF-9, Steve Blank, the author of “The Four Steps to the Epiphany" and “The Startup Owner’s Manual," said, “No business plan survives first contact with customers, and the only people who use five-year plans are VCs and Soviet-era countries." This may be true, but it’s not the business plan that’s really the problem; rather, it’s the way we’re approaching it.
A business plan should be a living, breathing, working document that allows for revisions as needed. Currently, despite their potential, business plans are both literally and figuratively missing the big picture, causing them to be rigid and irrelevant, rather than dynamic and applicable. The solution to this? Look no further than the doodle.
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Four Reasons to Doodle
There’s an old adage that says, “A picture is worth a thousand words." Although originally relating to journalism and publicity, the meaning behind this saying extends much further than news media. In fact, when it comes to a business plan, a picture has the ability to replace what takes pages to explain in words.
Simplicity isn’t the only benefit of a visualized business plan — far from it. Below are four reasons why you should draw, doodle, sketch, or illustrate that next business plan.
1. Pattern Recognition: Research shows that visuals aid in pattern recognition and the ability to extract meaning from complex information. This is beneficial to both the person drawing the business plan and those who will read it. Without visualization, leaders —even entire organizations — end up drowning in a sea of text and numbers, rather than grasping the big picture.
2. A Tentative Framework: Drawing and doodling provide flexibility to a business framework, allowing it be changed over time. This is because drawings have a degree of impermanence that invites team members to challenge and improve upon the idea or framework, rather than shy away due to the perceived ownership or permanence that text implies.
3. A Different way of Thinking: One of the most powerful aspects of using visuals to explore new ideas is that these visuals engage a different way of thinking that unifies the mechanical with the mental. This combination can give way to improved pattern recognition and allow for more inspiring, innovative ideas.
4. Identification of Problems: Drawing out the complexities of a business model can help bring a business framework to life, and, in effect, will reveal any missing components or gaps in the system. Basically, the visualization of a business process takes tacit assumptions and turns them into an actionable model, allowing you and your colleagues to easily identify potential problems, enhancements, or necessary changes.
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“Let’s Go Back to the Drawing Board…"
Keep in mind that the above benefits are not limited to a business plan. Visuals can be applied across many functions of an enterprise to increase comprehension and innovation. For example, visuals can aid in process improvement projects, product and service design, revamping back-office infrastructure, or relocation planning. Visualization can make complex series of interactions much simpler and easier to manage.
When drawing processes in an organization, it’s important to start simple. There is no need to aspire to draw like Michelangelo — stick to stick figures. Encourage team members to draw out ideas and concepts discussed in meetings, setting the expectation that stick figures and word webs are a desired outcome of the meeting. Take it a step further by creating opportunities to share drawings and visuals across the organization. Explain the goal of these visuals is to identify and solve problems and understand opportunities.
I’ll admit the idea of applying what you learned in grade school art class may sound a little “elementary." However, for a task as complex as creating an entire business plan, the simplicity of drawing out an idea is essential not only to you, but also to your colleagues — the ones trying to grasp your idea.
Remember: “Let’s go back to the drawing board" is a saying for a reason. Make sure you give your team the skills to making doodling a business-focused activity.
About the Author: Andrew (Drew) C. Marshall is the Principal of Primed Associates, an innovation consultancy. He lives in central New Jersey and works with clients across the U.S. and around the world. He is a co-host of a weekly innovation-focused Twitter chat, #innochat; the founder, host, and producer of Ignite Princeton; and a contributor to the Innovation Excellence blog. He is also providing support for the implementation of the Design Thinking for Scholars model with the Network of Leadership Scholars (a network within the Academy of Management).
- Visual Pattern Recognition - http://www.perceptualedge.com/articles/Whitepapers/Visual_Pattern_Rec.pdf