Try the 9 Box Visual Challenge!

 Try the 9 Box Visual Challenge!

Business Models Inc. continues to inspire Chicago with their Visual Thinking approach driven by rigorous Business Design Skills. The 9 Box Visual Challenge has become a standard “warm up” process for Business Models Inc. consultants within the Chicago team, most of whom would have said before joining “but I can’t draw!”. My response = “Oh yes you can!” So pick up your pen and don’t be shy!

EVERYONE can draw

If you ever have the pleasure of meeting a Business Models Inc. consultant somewhere in the world then you may spot some very distinct behavior. Some may call it odd. Others may call it fascinating. The typical signs would be; their eyes start to twitch when sitting too long behind a desk; they fall over when there is too much “blah blah blah” talk in the room; they feel dizzy when no whiteboard or flipchart exists within a 3 foot radius of them; they jump up and down like spoiled children when the whiteboard erasers don’t work or when duped into using a dried up marker pen; and they love introducing people to the basics of visual thinking and visual communication as they firmly believe that EVERYONE can draw. Really? Well think about this:

  • STEP 1: picture in your mind walking up to an imaginary whiteboard with a BLACK whiteboard pen (not a flipchart one!) and write the word “visualization”.
  • STEP 2: to the right “visualization” write the word “art”.
  • STEP 3: place in-between the 2 words the “=” symbol.
  • STEP 4: take your imaginary RED whiteboard marker (that has not dried up!) and make a bold X on top of the “ = “ sign.

What do you see? We very often mistake “visualization” for really cool drawings or artwork. Now don’t get me wrong, we work with some really amazing visual facilitators/recorders and what they produce can be simply stunning, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Somehow as adults we have “unlearned” a skill we developed way before we could write, which is visual communication. Simple doodling: stick people, shapes, arrows, clouds, the sun, mountains, cars, and I could go on. Most of us will have drawn these shapes as kids without even giving it a second thought.

So what!?

There have been lots of studies over the years trying to put some mathematical metrics around the power of the visual processor that has been cleverly designed into our brains. Spend 5 minutes hunting around the internet and you will find lots of thoughts, stats and fairly well rounded thinking that all point towards our ability to process visuals easier, faster and in a way that can be retained for longer than reading words. 3M completed a study in 1986 that suggested the statistic is that we process visual data 60,000 times faster than words. Medical studies have proven that 40% of the nerve fibres connected to our brains are linked to the retina. The reality is that we can step back in time when looking at cave drawings, some dating as far back of 41,000 years ago, and see that we’ve been “visualizing” for a while!!

Visual Business

Also, this common language seems to have zero geographical boundaries. The challenge that Business Models Inc. makes is; if we have such a powerful natural skill why do we not use it as much within our business worlds? Could really complex discussions be helped by better visual communication? Can we improve decision making by more rapidly avoiding misunderstanding and creating clarity for all? What is the $$$ value of avoiding the “blah blah blah” in our businesses? We find ourselves with a rather compelling argument.

The 9 Box Challenge

Now we all can (re)start at the very basic level, which can still be very powerful. Thanks to the power of today’s technology, I regularly FaceTime my kids when I traveling. A very standard war cry from them is, “Dad, can we do the 9 Box Challenge?”. It’s so much fun for them and I love seeing how their beautiful uncontaminated minds work. So it’s pretty simple; they draw a big square and dissect it into 9 equally sized squares. The challenge is to draw something in each box based on what I ask them to draw. They have approx. 15 seconds to complete each box. In each of the top 6 squares I ask them to draw an object one by one, e.g. a carrot, a tree, a car, a house, which is cool to watch. The even cooler part is the bottom 3 boxes, where I ask them to draw 3 emotions or skills or things, e.g. draw leadership, draw sadness, draw happiness, draw process. I’ve done this dozens of times and it still amazes me what they generate. Try it yourself!

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 Marc McLaughlin



Responsible for our USA office in Chicago.