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Three Ways to Create a Clear and Understandable Strategy

Using Visual Metaphors to Enhance Strategic Clarity

Imagine that you want to build a house, so you hire an architect. After a series of conversations with you, she does a preliminary sketch.

“I’m thinking of a long structure, built into the hillside, facing the northeast,” she says as you look at her drawing.

You like some of her ideas, but not all. So she tears off a piece of tracing paper and starts incorporating your thoughts into her sketch. “Yes, yes,” you exclaim, “That’s much better.”

The process continues for months, and her drawings become increasingly precise and detailed. Ultimately, you have an exact vision of the structure your contractor will build over the next year.

Is it easier to run a company than build a house?

Very few businesses duplicate this highly effective visual process when developing, refining, and implementing a strategy. Instead, they largely rely on words.

The problem with words is that they can be much more abstract than a picture. Words quickly morph once I say them to you and you repeat them to someone else, and they are subject to interpretation.

For these reasons and more, I increasingly work with executives to help them visualize their strategy and put it in pictures as it is being developed, refined, and implemented. In doing so, we follow three very basic but highly effective principles:

Simple. Creating a picture to describe a process or concept is a wonderful way to see whether (or not) you understand a process or concept. The more complicated your image, the lower your comprehension. Simplicity and understanding go hand in glove. A talented science teacher can give a quick overview of quantum mechanics in less than one minute; a less gifted instructor might never approach an understandable overview of that subject.

An effective visualization is relevant to your intended audience and uses styles and references they can easily understand. It simplifies rather than over-complicates.

Easy. The heavy lifting in creating a visualization is coming up with visual metaphors that are easy to grasp instantly. One of the best I’ve seen recently is an image of the Earth as an ice cream cone melting quickly. (The Earth is warming too quickly...)

If you can also add a human element or story to your images, so much the better. One recently created image used the mountain climbing metaphor and showed the four stages necessary to summit a towering peak.

The more you create images that are easy and fun to explore, the higher the levels of comprehension and retention you can create.

Fast. A well-designed car dashboard allows a driver to glance quickly and get the information s/he needs. The same is true of strategy visualization; its role is to speed comprehension rather than slow it down.

Bad visualizations skip this step by crowding too much information into a small space. Talented designers, on the other hand, think long and hard about ways to convey more information in less time.


One last point: as with the architect I described in my opening, a complicated strategic process requires a series of illustrations created and shared over a long time. You don’t just create one image.

Strategy visualizations can and should be an ongoing part of your planning process. As long as you are creating, refining, and implementing a strategy… you should create, refine, and share images that communicate that strategy.

Relationship Economics, Curve Benders, and Co-Create by David Nour

David Nour is the author of 12 books translated into eight languages, including best-sellers Relationship Economics®, Co-Create, and Curve Benders. He regularly speaks at corporate meetings, industry association conferences, and academic forums on the intentional, quantifiable, and strategic value of business relationships.
Learn more at NourGroup.com/About.

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