You can help people access hidden knowledge such as feelings, attitudes, and patterns that are difficult to express with words. When people are tired, their brains are full, and they have reached the limits of logical thinking, you can help them evoke ideas that lie outside logical, step-by-step understanding of what is possible. Stories about individual or group transformations can be told with five easy-to-draw symbols that have universal meanings. The playful spirit of drawing together signals that more is possible and many new answers are expected. Drawing Together cuts through the culture of overreliance on what people say and write that constrains the emergence of novelty. It also provides a new avenue of expression for some people whose ideas would otherwise not surface.
Reveal Insights and Paths Forward Through Nonverbal Expression
Five Structural Elements – Min Specs
1. Structuring Invitation
Invite participants to tell a story about a challenge they face, or a common challenge, using only five symbols and no words
2. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed
- An open wall with tapestry paper or easels with blank pages in flip charts
- Water-based markers; soft pastels if you are feeling colorful
3. How Participation Is Distributed
- Everyone is included since the five symbols are easy for everyone to draw
- All participants make their individual drawings simultaneously
4. How Groups Are Configured
- Individually to practice the drawing of the symbols
- Individually to make first and second drafts of their drawings
- Small groups of 1–4 others to interpret the drawings
- Whole group for debrief (using 1-2-4-All for large groups)
5. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation
- Introduce the idea of drawing together by drawing and describing the meaning of each symbol. 5 min.
- Circle = wholeness;
- Rectangle = support;
- Triangle = goal;
- Spiral = change;
- Star person [equidistant cross] = relationship
- Invite participants to practice drawing the five symbols: circle, rectangle, triangle, spiral, star person. 5 min.
- Invite participants to combine the symbols to create the first draft of a story, working individually and without words, about “the journey” of working on a challenge or an innovation. 10 min.
- Invite participants to create a second draft, in which they refine their story by dramatizing the size, placement, and color of the symbols. 10 min.
- Ask participants to invite another individual or their small group to interpret their drawings. Remind them that the person who has done the drawing does not speak. 5 min.
- Ask the whole group, “Together, what do the drawings reveal?” Use 1-2-4-All with larger groups. 5 min.
- Reveal insight or understanding not accessible with verbal or linear methods
- Tap all the sources of knowledge for innovation (explicit, tacit, latent/emergent)
- Signal that a quest or journey in search of new discoveries is under way
- Develop and deepen shared understanding of a vision or complex dynamics
- Create closer connections among group members
Tips and Traps
- Remind participants that the drawing is not the object by saying, “Refined drawing skills are not required—get over your need for perfection! Childlike drawing looks playful and captures the imagination of others!”
- Don’t help too much with drawing skills
- Help participants accept whatever emerges in the drawings (there are often surprises)
- Draw or present an example of a story that helps others make a leap of understanding
- Record the participants drawing with cameras and video recorders
- Return to the drawings when you reconvene as a group
- Remember that drawing can be powerfully therapeutic; be prepared for emotional responses
Riffs and Variations
- One person can visually map conversations during a meeting (add words if you must)
- Start small: use a single sheet of 8½ ” by 11” paper to get started
- Computer tablets can be used instead of paper for participants to learn how to tell a story with the five symbols on their tablets
- Use the Hero’s Journey as a template for the stories
- Use as a template a progression from status quo, through call to novelty, discovery, validation, early adoption, and spread
- For a refreshing change of pace in a long meeting when a creative burst is needed
- When there are strong differences in perspective and the group is in a rut
- For visual facilitation of a meeting or conference, where drawings are created as the conversation unfolds
- For revealing obscure or hidden relationships when working on a complex project (e.g., one doctoral student had a eureka moment via Drawing Together)
- For helping a vision statement come to life (particularly for visually oriented people)
- For individual work, to visualize tacit or latent approaches to a challenge
Attribution: Liberating Structure developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. Inspired by David Sibbet (The Grove) and Angeles Arrien (see Signs of Life).
Source Liberating Structures