When information gathering, within a business it is often the case that the most senior people in an organisation are the most adept at simplifying. Paring a raft of detailed and rich information down to a few short bullet points or a statement. Time is money and it’s important to get the pertinent information across succinctly and in the least amount of time.
If what you need is depth, brevity is the enemy. You want the colour and the peripheral details, they will help you understand the boundaries of the subject matter. One approach which can deliver results is to ask people to picture the answer. Not verbally, not in any kind of semantic sense but give them a piece of paper and some pencils or a sharpie and ask them to draw 'what good looks like'?
What you are doing is taking performant professionals and momentarily putting them out of their comfort zone. People who can simplify and communicate at an exceptionally high level have to move from using linguistics to using shapes, You put them in a place they may not have been for many years, they possibly have not drawn anything since they were at school. The stakeholders you are working with have to think in new ways. They have to imagine how they can communicate something in an unusual medium, and they will be clear that what they draw will have connotations. Watch as a new care will arise. You will see the eyes pop up to the top right of the sockets and the top of the pencil will get pointed towards, and chewed in the corner of the mouth.
The exercise is a discussion starter within a workshop. It works very well if you are running a remote workshop as it gives each attendee something tangible to hold up and talk to on camera. Give the group time to think, explore and discuss and you will see wonderful things happen. Annotations will appear that you would never have seen before on bullet points. People will start to explain why their drawing includes a clenched fist, a wry smile or a hand over the eyes. You will get important contextual points coming out in the drawings.
Now this is taking nothing away from simplification. Simplification is a wonderful thing and I agree fully with people who argue for it. This technique is a way of simplifying, remember a picture tells a thousand words, And this should be used when you need that depth, when you need some of the background colour and detail. You need the context and you need the subplot. You need the whole novel on a page!
Anybody that has played Pictionary will understand what is going on here. And if you find you're working in an organisation that has an after-hours Pictionary league, I have one further piece of advice. In workplaces or teams where drawing is prized (a studio or a design organisation) ask them to make models. I have run this same technique before and asked the group to create sock puppets to act out what success looks like.
It is wonderful how inventive people can be when asked to move outside of their comfort zone.
Copyright JumpRock 2020