Picture Your Business Strategy—Business Fuel Podcast #53

10 min read • Oct 29, 2013 • Ty Kiisel


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Taking strategy from the board room and making it accessible for the organization is critical to get employee buy-in and understanding. Because the way we process information started with images, taking an illustrative approach helps employees understand, embrace, and successfully execute on the same vision and strategy.

In today’s Business Fuel podcast, Chris shares stories of some of the companies she’s worked with and how they’ve used pictures to get everyone on the team on the same page. She also shares a simple approach to do the same within our organizations.

If you’d like to take your strategic planning to the next level, you don’t want to miss this week’s podcast.

Readable Transcript

Information you need, the podcasts you trust, this is the PatrickWiscombe.com podcast network.  Bringing you interviews with top business professionals and business financing tips to fuel your American dream.  This is The Business Fuel Podcast heard exclusively on Lendio.com.  And now, here are your hosts, Ty Kiisel and Patrick Wiscombe.

Sponsorship:  This podcast is sponsored by Lendio.com.  The online source you need to find the right business financing to grow your company.  Check them out for free at Lendio.com to get your business growing right now.

Patrick Wiscombe:  This is The Business Fuel Podcast.   Good morning, I’m Patrick Wiscombe.  Thank you for tuning us in and taking us along wherever and however you’re accessing the podcast.  Coming up today, we’re going to be speaking with Chris Chopyak, who is the author of, Picture Your Business Strategy.  We’ll bring her on in just a minute.  But first let’s say hello to Ty Kiisel, producer and co-host of the podcast.  How are you?

Ty Kiisel:  I’m doing really good.  Yesterday, The Mountainwest Capital Network announced the top 100 fastest growing companies in Utah.  So that’s what this weeks article is about.  People around the country will be surprised by some of the names they didn’t realize came from Utah.  Derek Parra, the Olympic speed-skater, was the keynote speaker and his story is amazing.  He is just incredible.

Patrick Wiscombe:  Speaking of success, let’s bring in Chris Chopyak.  Tell us about your book, Picture Your Business Strategy.  What’s your background and why did you decide to write the book?

Chris Chopyak:  My background is like a lot of people these days, varied and diverse.  I was a pastry chef for a little while and then I went into teaching kids science in the outdoors.  It was during that transition that I met some people in corporate America who were very interested in how young people learn about science and doing it through an experiential, hands on platform.  It was under their mentorship and encouragement that I went on to pursue an MBA, big left hand turn.  I realized that there had to be different ways of approaching strategy and approaching business execution.  About 15 years ago, some colleagues taught me how to draw in a business context.  Some people call it graphic recording, also called visual facilitation.  At Alchemy, my company, we call it strategic realization.  We work with businesses to create a picture; literally 8 foot big, color, words, images that help people see the business challenges they are trying to overcome.  People wonder if it’s really worth it.  My book is a resounding, stand up and cheer, yes!

Ty Kiisel:  So we process information differently if we see a picture than the words?

Chris:  Yes.  All humans think in images before we think in language.  Language is a higher cognitive function.  If we go back to the books that were read to us as children, there is an image of a ball with the word below it.  We associate first with the image, then we attach a word to it.  We all have the capacity for visual language and we all have mental muscle memory that helps us remember images before we remember a bunch of words.  So in the complex world of business, it can be a valuable resource to help people stay focused on their goal and achieve that goal.

Ty:  In southern Utah, there are pictographs left by Native Americans.  They represent particular thoughts.  Does that exist today?  And is it universal or is it organizational specific?

Chris:  The right answer to that would be both.  When humans come together, we tell stories.   We think those pictographs are representations of stories that got told back then.  In business, we have some images that can be universal.  When we see a light bulb, especially in the Western world, that can represent an idea.  We see a heart and we think passion or something we are attached to.  Those images might be universal, but they take on their own meaning in the context of business.

Ty:  So is this a visual language you have to create as an organization to make sure everyone understands the image you’re producing?

Chris:  Depending on the industry you’re in, you can create a visual language.   In the Western world, we know we can use a check to know we got things done.   It doesn’t take long to create 5 or 6 images as a team to represent different things.  It helps stimulate both sides of the brain.  The linear left hand side of the brain gets structure and organization.  But the right hand, chaotic and creative, also feeds into the ideas.  That’s the whole idea behind the book; using both sides of my brain to accelerate my commitment, accelerate the clarity of my vision, and help me go after what I want to accomplish and achieve it.

Ty:  I’ve heard this before, but you’re looking at it as an illustration of a company’s strategy.  Are you seeing companies illustrate this and then display it so that it’s accessible for everyone?

Chris:  Absolutely.  I’m in the middle of a project here in Denver with a global company.  The manager described it as, “I can produce 60 pages from a meeting and nobody will go back and read it.  Or we can create 3 maps from our 3 days that visualize the content.  You can go back to your team and talk to them about what we did.”  That is where we see the highest return on investment.  When investors and vendors come into your company, they start asking questions.  Tell me more about this.  And in one easy image, you can engage someone who is a stakeholder in your business in the day to day operations.  Anyone in the company can do it.  It doesn’t exclude people.  The images create an invitation to participate versus a “direct and control.”

Ty:  I like the idea of bringing that imagery back into the weekly or monthly meetings.  It reminds everybody where they fit into the strategy.  This seems to be a good way to coalesce those ideas and keep them fresh.  Are you seeing that happening?

Chris:   We see the greatest level of success in using pictures, is where they’re doing exactly what you’re saying Ty.  The old way of going off site to build that affinity within the team is expensive.  So when you bring the strategy into the office and use it day to day, not only is everybody on board, their level of commitment to the company increases and they get stuff done.  When people are confused or they can’t see the outcome, not only does the company suffer, but people suffer.  They’re not aligned.  They’re not clear what their purpose is.  And how you use your people will distinguish between a good company and a great company.

Ty:  I’m going to bring up the elephant in the room right now.  What if nobody knows how to draw?

Patrick:  Stick figures!

Chris:  That’s exactly it.  People say they can’t draw.  That’s a belief we carry from when the creativity was kind of beat out of us in Elementary and Middle School.  There are two things that are hard to overcome.  It is the combination of desperation and courage.  How desperate am I to change things up in my business, and do I have the courage to try something new?  I have a client in Washington DC and his drawings are good.  They convey the point.  An image only has to look about 30% of what it’s representing.  He has people on his team who are really good artists that he didn’t know about until they took one of our classes.  When he feels intimidated, he gets them to sit down and draw with him.  It’s not about the quality of the art.  It’s about the quality of the listening combined with the imagery that gets it right for the company.  My company, Alchemy, uses some wonderful artists.  You can see some of the images at the Alchemy.com website.  There is something about the frailty of a crude image, exactly what you said Patrick, stick figures.  When you draw 3 stick figures and put a circle around it, that’s our team.  Everybody says, “Yea, that’s us.”

Ty:  Part of the value of this is not in the finished image, it’s the fact that you’re willing to stand up in front of the group and do it.

Chris:  Yes and invite them to do it with you.  It is a lonely role as the leader.  People expect you to tell them what to do.  Say you’re having a hard time meeting your quarterly goal.  There’s something in the fact that if you draw it on a flip chart and say that this is how I see it, it becomes everybody’s problem.   There’s something about detaching yourself from the problem and putting it on the wall away from you.  Then we can point at it as something separate and not as Ty’s problem or Chris’s problem.   It creates a whole new dynamic within a team.  When we draw together, we make connections that we don’t see with our linear brain.   We favor our left brain in the business world.  If we can step out of that and go to a visual image, it can go a long way to creating new solutions.

Ty:  I have to admit I never thought about drawing a problem to disassociate so we can look at it from a new angle.  I really like that.  But is there something different about us in the workplace today than there was maybe 30 or 40 years ago?  Because 30 years ago, if I would have proposed something like this to the boss, I would have been laughed out of his office.

Chris:  Yes.  I think there are still places where that happens today.  Let’s face it, the systems we’ve created in business don’t really propel us forward.  The world has become more complex.  Back in the Industrial Age, we could set direction and command people to do it.  With the globalization of the marketplace, people don’t speak the same language, they don’t live in the same time zone, yet they still need to hit that 26% profitability, so how do you do it?  If you don’t do it with pictures, you spend a lot of time on jets trying to “tell and sell.”   Versus engage, explore, and then let people go.  Say, “Ok, you draw it.  You tell me how you will deliver ROI’s so I can support it.”   I really do believe the visual helps create a platform for doing that.

Patrick:  You must go through a lot of paper and pens.

Chris:  I always exceed my allotment.  But here’s the secret, when people see you doing this, they come and pirate them.  They want a little bit of that mojo for themselves.  It’s ok, I factor it into the budget.  That is a small price to pay for inspiration.

Ty:  When is the best time to implement something like this?  What are the first steps?

Chris:  In my experience there are two continuum that happen in business, and one of them is strategy to execution.  The other I call clarity to complexity.   The best time to use this kind of approach is anytime.  At Alchemy, we’ve discovered that when you’re just getting people on board, the use of images is like an accelerant.  We’ve provided templates for people to use as an impotace for their own business.

Ty:  Before we wrap up, what’s the one piece of advice that you would give someone who wants to implement this in their business?

Chris:  Trust the process.  It is like learning a new language.  You will get there.  It’s going to be hard, but if you experiment and practice, you will see tremendous rewards.

Ty:  Where can people find your book?  And if people want to reach out to you and consult with them, how do they do that?

Chris:  The book is on Amazon.  You can get a link to it from PictureYourStrategy.com.  You can also find a link to the book at www.link2Alchemy.com.  If people want to contact me directly, I suggest you go through the Alchemy website.  We’ll get your information and I’d be happy to call you.

Ty:  This was an awesome conversation.  Thank you Chris.  You’ve shared some really great ideas.

Chris:  Thank you guys.

Patrick:  We’ll go ahead and wrap this weeks edition of The Business Fuel Podcast.  So for Chris Chopyak, Ty Kiisel, I’m Patrick Wiscombe.  Remember you can pick up the podcast on Lendio.com/blog.  You can also pick it up on iTunes, just do a search for Lendio.  Thanks for listening.  We’ll talk to you next week.

Bringing you interviews with top business professionals and business financing tips to help fuel your American dream.  This has been the Business Fuel podcast, with your hosts, Ty Kiisel and Patrick Wiscombe, heard exclusively on Lendio.com



Ty Kiisel

Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon.