What Clients Have Experienced
There is a potency to tapping into the wealth of knowledge within your organization and bringing it to the surface. Using hand drawings to answer critical questions, your organization more richly explores the real dynamics of your culture, including whether you're asking the right questions or solving the right problems.
The quality of discussion changes dramatically when a metaphor sparks new insights. Here are a few examples of how organically understanding existing metaphors changes the discussion. Once discussions change, possibilities and outcomes shift in new and exciting directions.
Battleship or Apples?
A marketing agency wanted to explore a vision for its future. The executive group was highly divided on direction and tension between members was high. During a retreat, the group was asked to envision the future by drawing their answers. Two drawings in particular captured the divergent points of view.
The Chief Operating Officer drew a large battleship making its way down a very narrow canal. At the end, the ship would need to make a 90 degree right turn into another narrow canal in order to reach open water (the vision). The Chief Financial Officer drew an apple tree abundant with fruit, but was concerned about the apples that had fallen to the ground (talent that left the agency or who had been fired in a realignment). The battleship metaphor can be summed as "business is war" where the ends justify the means (destroying everything in its way to get to the desired outcome). The tree metaphor represented a nurturing environment where growth was organic and sustainable and people were valued.
The drawings literally allowed the group to see each other's perspectives and deepest thoughts in a non-confrontational way. By the end of the retreat, the group was energized and conceived a radical plan to spark exciting, inclusive ways to revitalize its present conditions.
A Real Circus
The president of a small manufacturing company was running it into the ground and would not listen to the employees, each of whom help an important aspect of the company's real situation. He insisted his financial projections for revenue and expenses were sound, even though revenue was under budget and spending was as planned. The employees insisted spending and sales needed to be reconsidered to get the company's financial situation back on track.
In a short session to better understand everyone's position, the group was asked to draw the company's current conditions. One drawing summed up the entire culture: a circus. While a circus has many acts and activities, none is reliant on the others. In everyday language, the term "circus" usually means chaotic. For this company, the discussion of the circus drawing demonstrated what was happening on a daily basis and provided a safe, cooperative environment for solving the critical issues. The president was persuaded to rethink the direction of the company, with the input of all members. A new possibility for franchising the product was conceived, giving way to a brand new revenue stream.
Running Out of Gas
A food conglomerate purchased a brand far outside its comfort zone. The product portfolio was almost exclusively comprised of unhealthy food items. The new company was on the leading edge of fostering healthy lifestyles. For myriad reasons, the brand managers were showing increasing discontent, many wanting to work on the healthy brand.
In two hours, 50 brand managers drew how they perceived current conditions, discussed the drawings in small groups and as a whole. The group found consensus in one drawing of a race car track with two cars nearing the finish line. One would would cross the line (the new brand) and the other was running out of gas (the existing brands). The cars came to be called "belly fuel" and "belly fill." Two phrases simply and elegantly captured the tension of two brand cultures trying to merge and why the merger had been fraught with difficulty.
How We Give
A family foundation was preparing to turn the annual decision of how money was distributed to other charitable organizations to the next generation. One of the founders came in with the question: "Do we give a little to many or a lot to a few?" A conversation ensued for a short time around the question and then the group members were asked to envision the foundations vision with a drawing.
The resulting conversation became a rich dialogue about the values and beliefs the foundation had or would like to add. In the end, the issue was not about how much was given to various nonprofits, but centered on the kinds of nonprofits that would be considered. The new generation left the meeting with a heightened sense of their own vision, which was vastly different than the original "a little or a lot" conversation. The new vision was infused with the groups values and beliefs about how they could make a difference for nonprofits that aligned with the foundations new calling.
Inspired by Nature
A development company was wrestling with the design of a new building in a high profile resort community. The founders had built a successful property in another resort and was anxious for another success. The initial executive group was a mix of strong opinions on the new design.
Asked to draw their own versions of the experience guests would have in the new property led to a very different conversation with design possibilities not previously considered. Ultimately, the group agreed that the property interior and exterior must be influenced by the surrounding natural landscape. They discussed what this meant for the overall design, the furnishings (down to lighting), and a guest's first experience entering the property. They left with a solid plan unlike any that had been discussed before the meeting.
Friend, Faceless or Angels?
When asked to draw a response to "Why should clients hire us?" the marketing group for a professional services firm found themselves all over the place once the drawings were posted. The intended outcome for the meeting was to dig deeper to find a meaningful marketing strategy. Members drew the firm as a shy friend to its largest client, as a faceless building, as an identity crisis (angels or bulldogs), as a pyramid, and a bridge over troubled waters.
While diverse in showing aspects of the firm's culture, the unifying theme had little to do with the clients and, instead, with the cultural conflicts within that led to clashes about how the marketing budget should be spent. Trying to appease as many shareholders as possible, the marketing budget was fragmented to the point of merely treading water. The drawings displayed the deep-seated cultural issues within the firm that needed resolution in order to transform--a very different dialogue than where the limited marketing dollars should be spent. The real issue was never about how to spend the marketing money, rather the critical challenge was to first heal the culture from which a unified strategy could emerge.
The possibilities for using the Imaginal Wisdom approach are limited only to your own imagination.