Developing Your Visual Awareness

In order for us to become proficient visual thinkers it’s absolutely paramount that we learn to recognize the patterns that surround us on a daily basis. Within these patterns lie the answers to all our problems and the dilemmas we face while thinking visually. However, to recognize these patterns we must first and foremost train our visual thinking muscle to become better aware of our surrounding environment and circumstances.

Training your visual thinking muscle can take some time. However, the effort you put in will allow you to expand your understanding of your problems and circumstances to such an extent that you will be better able to spot critical patterns that will shape how you think and work through your problems visually.

It’s All About the Eyes

Because we are discussing the subject of visual thinking, I will focus on developing your visual awareness. However, it’s also important to recognize that awareness can be honed through all your sensory organs. In fact, when your awareness comes through more than one sensory organ, you have more information to work with that can help you gain deeper insights into your problems or circumstances.

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Not All Visuals Are Created Equal

While attempting to express our thoughts and ideas in a visual way, it’s important to consider that not all visuals are created equal. What I mean by this is that there are certain visuals (techniques) that will best represent specific types of information, and then there are other visuals that are most appropriate for visualizing other types of information. Getting these visuals mixed-up or using them inappropriately can often complicate your message to such an extent that your visuals end up hindering the communication process.

When a Chart is Not Enough

Several years ago I came across a very interesting article written by Dave Gray, who is the founder of Dachis Group (formerly known as XPlane). Dave wrote a short article titled: When a Chart is Not Enough.

Within this article Dave mentions that visuals are great to use if you want to communicate large volumes of information in a simple and effective way. Charts and graphs are especially useful for presenting statistics and making comparisons. They help make the information more engaging and appealing to the senses. However, Dave mentions that when describing something new and different, that charts and graphs are often not enough to get your message across.

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Visual Thinking: The Path to Genius?

Over the course of human history great minds of every age have made a mark on this world — transforming how we think, live and behave. However, what was it that separated them from everyone else? Did it come down to a set of indispensable qualities that they possessed? Or was it a set of habits and behaviors that they cultivated on a daily basis? Or maybe it simply came down to their levels of intelligence?

The answer could very well come down to a combination of factors. However, I would like to argue that they all had one common element in mind: their ability to think creatively and visually about the circumstances confronting their lives.

The Link Between Genius and Intelligence

Albert Einstein, Leonardo daVinci, Charles Darwin, Galileo Galilei, Sigmund Freud and Mozart are all considered geniuses in their own right. They accomplished incredible things that most people only dream about and struggle to even comprehend.

What was it that separated these geniuses from everyone else? It certainly wasn’t intelligence.

Academics throughout history have tried to measure the supposed link between intelligence and genius. And as yet, no link has ever been found. In fact, Richard Feynman, an American Physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics, had a respectable IQ of only 122. This paled in comparison to the highest IQ ever measured of 228 on Marilyn vos Savant who is an American magazine columnist, author, lecturer and playwright.

It was of course once thought that high levels of intelligence predicted one’s capacity for creative thought. However, today, this is not the case. In fact, an individual can be considered to be far more creative than intelligent, and vice-versa.

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Getting the Stuff Out of Your Head!

Have you ever experienced overwhelm? You know, it’s that feeling when you have too much to do, with too little time on your hands, and you simply don’t know where or how to begin. Yes, I’m sure we’ve all been there at one time or another.

Just for a moment, I want you to think back to a time when you felt absolutely overwhelmed, and ask yourself:

  • What was it about that situation that overwhelmed me?
  • How did I deal with the circumstances at the time?
  • Did I successfully manage to overcome my feelings of overwhelm or not?

What you will often find, is that you managed to overcome your feelings of overwhelm because you did one or more of the following things:

How about a time when you were dealing with a difficult problem? How did you overcome it? What techniques did you use?

No matter what technique you might have used to deal with your problem or to eliminate the feelings of overwhelm, would I be wrong to assume that you were most effective when you took things out of your head and clarified them visually on paper, on a whiteboard, or on the computer?

If the answer is YES, then that is in essence where the power of visual thinking lies.

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Visual Thinking Perspectives

When it comes to visual thinking or any other type of communication medium, it’s easy to take for granted the importance that perspectives have on our interpretation of the information we are trying to convey. Each perspective interprets the situation from a slightly different angle, and this therefore leads to a variety of conclusions and understandings.

Before we explore how perspectives can be applied to visual thinking and problem solving, let’s first take a trip into the past down memory lane.

English 101

Back at school when we first came across the idea of perspectives, we learned that if a person is speaking or writing in the first person, that he or she is talking about himself or herself.

  • I like to dance.
  • I enjoy dancing.
  • I have fun dancing.

This type of perspective is often used in formal writing.

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