Many business analysts spend enormous amounts of time and energy to develop their hard skills – they learn new techniques and approaches, try out new tools, attend training sessions, meetups, webinars, and courses. However, they often forget about the other part of BA skillset – the soft one.
The Guide to Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®) dedicates a separate chapter to describe the underlying competencies of a BA, with many of these competencies being soft skills. In this blog, we will focus on creative, conceptual, and visual thinking (part of Analytical Thinking and Problem Solving Underlying Competency), as well as facilitation (part of Interaction Skills Underlying Competence), and show you a fun way to boost these skills.
According to IBM study, creativity is ranked as a top leadership quality for CEOs, followed by integrity, global thinking and openness. Curious to see if you are among the creative and open-minded ones? Let’s do a short quiz – look at the following statements to see if any of them resonate with you:
- Doodling during a meeting or a lecture? What a shame!!!
- Graphic facilitation? It just a new way for ‘facilitators’ to earn money
- If you can’t draw, sketch-noting/graphic recording is not for you
- Graphic recording of the meeting? Better write meeting notes, you, lazy bone!
- Active (and effective) listening is all about paraphrasing and clarifying, and regularly inserting ‘hmms’ and ‘mms’ and ‘uh huhs’
- Graphicacy? What is it? You must be dyslexic!
If you totally disagree with all of the statements above, congratulations – you are a creative, innovative and open-minded person! If you agree with at least one of them, the article below is right for you – invest 5 minutes of your time to learn how to add a twist of innovation and fun to your daily activities like meetings, studying and brainstorming, and to your business in general!
You’ve probably heard that most of us are visual learners (according to different studies, from 65 to over 80% of people learn and remember through vision) – little wonder, as the visual cortex is the largest system in the human brain, and almost 50% of our brain is involved in visual processing. The findings of cognitive psychology and neuroscience proving that we are ‘visually wired’ and that we think in images are hard to beat. Why not leverage the natural power of our brain to improve the way we work, learn, and communicate?
At the very beginning of this article, we mentioned the word ‘graphicacy’ – the ability to think and communicate in visual terms. Traditional literacy and numeracy are no longer the only basic ‘survival’ skills in modern society – a ‘visually mediated society’, as Paul Martin Lester puts it.
Many of us spend endless hours attending meetings, which are usually perceived as useless, boring and ineffective. More often than not, we keep ourselves from drowsing away by covering our notepads, diaries, or any pieces of paper at hand with doodles – according to Sunni Brown, the author of The Doodle Revolution, this is a natural way to stay focused and engage our minds in thinking. A designer Milton Glazer is convinced that ‘when you draw an object, you mind becomes deeply, intensely attentive. And it’s that act of attention that allows you to really grasp something, to become fully conscious of it’.
If you are a meeting facilitator, a trainer, or a presenter, you can engage your audience by means of graphic recording, also known as visual facilitation. This technique (which is hardly anything new – it has been around since 1970s!) involves visualizing of what is being discussed. Translating words and ideas into pictures in real time increases participants’ attention and retention, and helps them see the big picture, which makes visual facilitation an ideal tool for brainstorming, mindmapping, storytelling, and strategizing, to name a few. Graphic facilitation is, in fact, the utter form of active listening – you can’t capture an idea if you don’t really listen and emotionally connect with your audience!
Create the environment for innovation
If drawing is so beneficial for boosting creativity and thinking, why not use it for creating an environment that fosters innovation? According to Rob Ashkenas, conditions for innovation include energy, creative friction, just enough structure, and experimentation. Visuals fit in perfectly well here, as they break down complexity, capture different perspectives, build trust and understanding (especially across cultures), expose gaps and opportunities, and help us think strategically.
Just do it!
As a true business analyst, you’ve probably asked yourself ‘why?’ (Why should I use graphic facilitation? Why doodle at the meetings?) at least 5 times; let’s hope you found the answers, and you are ready to grab a pen, a pencil, or a marker, and start sketching out your way to productive meetings, engaged stakeholders, and creative solutions!
The next question is - how to get started? Well, the simple way is ‘just do it’ If you prefer a more structured approach, start with Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook, which is full of easy-to-follow instructions, practical techniques, and hints how to overcome the fear of drawing. There are a lot of websites and blogs dedicated to the topic, and many online shops selling the sketching stuff (some offering advice on how to draw and how to choose the right tools, for example JetPens). The tech savvy ones who are not ready to swap their phone to pens or pencils may choose from a variety of apps – some of these (like
Procreate, ArtRage, or Sketchbook) are good enough to turn you into a digital Da Vinci or Michelangelo!
Tools and techniques are very important; however, the truly essential thing is to let go of the fear of the blank page. Have fun, and happy drawing everyone!