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Big Pictures portray company strategies and are designed to help individuals and teams have conversations about what the strategy means for them. Some high profile examples like the “New Day on Retail Street” by Sears Roebuck or the “Big Conversation” by TUI Travel [add new link] demonstrate the impact they can have.

Despite this, organisations still seem shy of using pictures as a platform to engage people in strategic discussions. Concerns that “it would not work here” or that pictures trivialize the strategic intent get in the way. So here are seven reasons to help persuade colleagues why it makes sense to use Big Pictures to communicate strategy.

1. Pictures are more efficient

Pictures can communicate complex information quickly. The use of graphics increases comprehension, and recollection and retention. The rise in popularity of infographics is based on this and some have claimed (3M) that visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text. Communicating strategic concepts and the links between different themes in the strategy can be achieved more efficiently using visual metaphors. The Tube map conveys the efficiency of visuals: imagine trying to convey the content of this map using words!

 

2. Pictures are more memorable

Numerous experiments over the last 30 years have demonstrated the “picture superiority effect” – concepts that are learned by viewing pictures are more easily and frequently recalled than are concepts that are learned by viewing their written word form counterparts. Professor Allan Paivio found that people’s memory for images far exceeded their recollection for words. 10% could remember the word “circle” 3 days later while 65% of those shown an image of a circle remembered it after 3 days.

 

3. Pictures complement story telling

As pictures are used to tell more complex stories they adopt the properties of narratives. Typically a Big Picture will cover the history of the organisation, the drivers for change, key themes in the plans for change, and the vision for the future. This narrative sits behind most organisational strategies and recollection is increasingly helpful as people continue to link their roles with the bigger picture of the strategy. Consider the illustration of the nativity scene and the Ten Commandments. How many people can remember the Ten Commandments? How many can tell the nativity story? Big Pictures help convey a narrative around the strategy that is easier to relate to than a series of bullets. This engages more circuits in our brains, including those associated with emotions. So while a list of bullets tends to trigger a more critical reaction in which we critique and challenge the content, Big Pictures trigger a more curious reaction that brings people in to the conversation and encourages them to link their stories with the bigger company story.

 

4. Pictures invite participation, debate and dialogue

 

 

Unlike formal cascade approaches to the communication and discussion of strategy, the use of pictures to convey key themes, avoiding technical language and jargon can be much more accessible and more democratic. Using a picture to invite people to have a conversation about the strategy and how it relates to the team involved encourages more people to talk up and debate where they see themselves in the picture and the implications of the strategy for their role.

 

 

5. Pictures affect emotion and decision-making

 

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Pictures can be powerful at generating an emotional reaction. Scientists have shown that even simple exposure to the colour red can heighten our pulse and breathing rates.

When people lose parts of their brain associated with emotions they find it more difficult to make decisions even though their rational and analytical powers are unaffected. So imagery is important not only because it can convey ideas quickly and make them memorable, but also because it operates at an emotional level. This, alongside rational facts and evidence, can help us reflect and decide on courses of action or priorities that may be important.

 

6. Pictures work across borders

Using a picture as the platform for a conversation removes language and translation issues from conveying the core messages. Pictures cross borders so that we can have in-depth, creative and heated discussions about the strategy in our own languages but using a common visual platform that conveys one core story globally.

 

7. Picture development helps test and create alignment, and build buy-in

The process of developing the picture that captures the strategy is iterative and can help the leadership and the wider organisation engage in a co-creative process to define what will make us successful in the longer-term. Increasingly companies are looking to approaches that enable them to respond quickly to fast moving markets and competitive threats. Separating out the formulation of strategy from the execution is increasingly impossible. On the ground speed and agility is paramount and engaged employees who have a clear sense of the overall narrative and understand what it means for them will increasingly become the differentiator of success.

Graphics and visuals are increasingly used to communicate. We see it in the success of picture-sharing sites like Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr; the imagery in newspapers; the ubiquitous infographic and even a study of science textbooks over 50 years has identified a major shift from text to pictures.

The technology may be new, but it is only reflecting how we like to communicate. Our brains like pictures as we can probably all remember from our early reading efforts – this reflects the way our brains work. We’ve been using pictures for 30,000 plus years while text has only been around for 4,000 years. Pictures serve an important role in helping us convey, assimilate and use information.

Have you used visuals or Big Pictures to communicate strategy? What success have you had with the approach?

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