It's Tom Wujec's job to analyze how humans share and absorb information. A designer and fellow at Autodesk, which makes design software for engineers, Wujec works to create technologies and strategies that help companies address their challenges in creative ways. One of his most revolutionary approaches? To solve a company's "most wicked problems," Wujec urges employees to first draw out how to make toast.
The exercise demonstrates that even a seemingly simple task like toasting a piece of bread involves multiple steps, or nodes, that are connected in specific ways, called links. And though it may seem that complex organizational challenges (such as poor customer service, or a struggle to embrace digital transformation) have little in common with making toast, they too can be broken down into bare-boned nodes and links that are easier to understand and tackle when they're visualized.
According to Wujec, visualization is a critical component of problem solving—and he has seen it work for his clients. Watch his TED Talk below and read on for three key takeaways from his presentation.
"Combinations of links and nodes make our private mental models visible."
The reason that drawing out tasks and challenges is so effective, Wujec says, is because it illustrates not only the processes themselves, but also how we think about them. Humans have unique internal experiences that shape their understandings of how complex processes work—these differences can lead to friction, which is why expressing them in a visual way can be beneficial.
Organizational leaders may, for example, assume that they're providing training in an effective way, whereas employees may feel that management's approach to training is outdated and not engaging. Drawings tend to make these discrepancies clear, which makes it easier to address them, Wujec says.
"Rapid iteration of expressing, reflecting and analyzing is the only way in which we get clarity."
It's natural human behavior to iterate and improve processes—as a result, when people work together under the right circumstances, he explains, group models are much better than individual models. Want to boost diversity at work? Encourage employees to draw out how they would execute a more inclusive hiring process, and watch a promising solution emerge.
When multiple individuals get their interpretation of a problem or process down on paper for others to see, they automatically start choosing the best, clearest elements of each version to forge the path forward, Wujec says.
"There's a visual revolution taking place."
Wujec has made it his mission to encourage organizations to address their "wicked problems" by drawing them out. After all, the earliest humans communicated through drawings and visual representations, and it's an innately human behavior to visualize challenges.
Though it can feel childish to start drawing at work, it's quite the opposite, Wujec maintains. Design thinking makes complex ideas visible, tangible, and consequential, he says, and it's also fun and easy to implement. Rodale, a publishing company that Wujec worked with, went from a D to an A customer rating, thanks to their ability to visualize their faults. It's a proven process, he says, and it can work for any company—including yours.
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