Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Main Content

Visualizing Solutions

By Jennifer Riel (MBA ’06) and Stefanie Schram (MBA ’10)

Visualization literally forces us to ‘fill in the blanks’ as gaps in the model become clear. Jennifer Riel and Stefanie Schram talk Design Thinking.

Part of our ongoing work with MBA students and executives through Rotman DesignWorks entails enabling individuals to explore and improve on their ideas for innovative products, services and systems. One of the most powerful tools we use on a regular basis is visualization, which endeavours to get ideas out of peoples’ heads and into the world. 

Visualization is not just about drawing; rather, it is a wide-ranging ability to externalize your thinking. Regardless of the form it takes, visualization has distinct benefits for the value-creation journey:

It clarifies your thinking. Our mental models make perfect sense to us, so we don’t often push the boundaries and challenge the key connections that make weak ideas fail and extend good ideas into great ones. Visualization literally forces us to ‘fill in the blanks’. As gaps in the image or model become clear, it is necessary to work through just how the parts fit together to create a complete model.

With a model visualized in front of you, you will be in a better position to ask: what is the core of this idea? What aspects don’t make sense? What really matters here?

With a model visualized in front of you, you will be in a better position to ask: what is the core of this idea? What aspects don’t make sense? What really matters here?Tweet: With a model visualized in front of you, you will be in a better position to ask: what is the core of this idea? What aspects don’t make sense? What really matters here? Read more: https://ctt.ec/q2lD8+ @RotmanExecutive

Visualization can help a team clarify just what each person ‘sees’ and means, and how they see the idea unfolding. Thanks to ever-evolving technology, a wide variety of visualization techniques exists, but in our work, we focus on getting people to embrace four types.

1. SKETCHING

Perhaps the most popular and straightforward form of visualization, a sketch is a two-dimensional rendering on paper or a screen of the essence of your idea. It can be a simple picture or a complex system diagram. Particularly for physical objects, sketches can quickly and powerfully convey the essence of the idea.

We regularly advise our students to turn off the voice in their head that says, ‘You can’t draw!’ You don’t have to be artistic to draw an idea in a shareable way. For the purposes of innovation, the intention is simply to be more concrete and tangible about your idea. 

You don’t have to be artistic to draw an idea in a shareable way. For the purposes of innovation, the intention is simply to be more concrete and tangible about your idea.Tweet: You don’t have to be artistic to draw an idea in a shareable way. For the purposes of innovation, the intention is simply to be more concrete and tangible about your idea. Read more: https://ctt.ec/0oJQH+ @RotmanExecutive

2. 3D-MODELING

A 3D model is not a ‘working model’ — an engineered, finished-looking and polished mini-version of a final product. Instead, it is a low-resolution prototype of an idea, detailed enough that it forces you to consider more variables than a two-dimensional sketch. The rough prototype helps teams tangibly and concretely explore ideas, using cheap, everyday materials that can be found around the office to create a shared understanding of the idea. Such models enable real time feedback that can inform and improve the next iteration of an idea.

3. STORYBOARDS

A storyboard is a series of sketches that run in sequence and describe a situation or experience over time. Long used by animation houses such as Walt Disney and Pixar, they can be used in any industry to visually depict all the elements of an idea in a ‘story’ format that contains a temporal dimension. Like a comic strip, it lets us see what happens first, what happens next and what happens later, and this added dimension of time helps us to think through a full, holistic experience.

4. ROLE PLAY

Like a storyboard, a role-play adds a time dimension to visualization, bringing in a physical, real-world component. In the realm of innovation, role-play lets us see and experience a model in real time, often leveraging sketches and 3D models to bring the full experience to life. A role-play is a great way to engage other people in your idea, whether they are watching and providing feedback, or actively participating and co-creating the visualization alongside you.

In closing

Embracing visualization requires a shift in mindset, from seeing your job as ‘getting buy-in for your idea’, to ‘getting critical feedback on the idea from others’. As we have seen over and over again at DesignWorks, feedback — ideally from both internal players and customers — can help guide idea development and advance it to previously-unpredictable places.

Regardless of the approach you choose, visualization is a tool from the design thinker’s toolkit that will help to ‘fill in the blanks’ and make your ideas more concrete. That’s because once we put pen to paper or prepare to act out a scene, we are forced to make important choices about what our idea is — and what it isn’t. As we have found in our work, this greatly increases the chances of innovative ideas progressing towards creating meaningful value.

Download article

 


Jennifer Riel (MBA ’06) is Associate Director of the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking at the Rotman School of Management. Stefanie Schram (MBA ‘10) is a Senior Associate at Rotman DesignWorks, which teaches tools and techniques from the realm of design to MBA students and executives. She also teaches Design Thinking: Connecting Innovation and Strategy, an intensive three-day program at Rotman Executive Programs. This article was excerpted from the Winter 2015 issue of Rotman Management. To subscribe: www.rotmanmagazine.ca.

See more articles like this.

Questions? We’re here to help

Speak to our expert Learning Advisor about choosing the right program for you or your organization.

Tel: 416.978.8815


Related Program

Design Thinking

Design Thinking: Connecting Innovation and Strategy

A three-day program with field research

Dates:
TBD

Location: Rotman School of Management, Toronto, Ontario

Participant profile: Senior managers who need to drive innovation in their organization

Fee: $5,950 CAD + HST

See more articles like this
© Rotman School of ManagementAASCB