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Visual Explorer™: Picturing action learning

June 05, 2009

Picturing action learning

My good colleague Tom Boydell at Inter~Logics writes:
Hullo Chuck ... It was interesting to hear of your postcard and playing card versions of Visual Explorer. We continue to use the original form extensively - some of the pictures are getting a bit worn; we bought a second set but it was stolen - shows how popular it is!

We use it for exploring almost any concept - not just leadership. Also quite often in an Action Learning setting when we ask people to describe where they have got to in their ongoing projects. As things have worked out we have used it more outside of the UK - especially in Jordan, Syria and Egypt - the latter many times on a large project with the Egyptian Post Office. We have also used it several times on a programme for a Danish multi-national - 15 different nationalities including N and S America, Europe, Asia, and Africa on each occasion.

So from all the above I think you can gather that we have found it to work really well in a wide variety of cultures.

All the best,

Tom Boydell
Director, Inter~Logics

The newsletter of SetMatch in the UK just published this short piece by Tom Boydell on the use of Visual Explorer in action learning programs.

Picture Post

I use this name Picture Post – which reminds me of a long-defunct weekly magazine that I enjoyed reading at school – as a general label for a number of ways of using collections of pictures. You can use calendars, postcards, posters or other reproductions – good excuse to go into art galleries! – although we use a specific set that I will say more about at the end of this piece.

We find that pictures can be used in many ways, including:

• As an introduction exercise; lay out a number of pictures and ask each participant to choose one that says something about them or their problem/challenge. Then ask each to explain to the others why they have chosen that picture (they can choose more than one if you think this would be better)

• As a different type of introduction, as participants to choose and talk about one or more pictures that somehow represent to them eg
o what they are hoping to achieve from the Action Learning programme
o what they think Action Learning involves; how it works
o their team, department, organisation
o perhaps the course they are on (for example if Action Learning is part of a broader programme)

• Make the pictures available as a resource to add to an account of progress on a challenge or problem – say on a flipchart (as in the example at [the top of this post], chosen because we have found that pictures like this can be used in any cultural context)

• Ask participants to select one or more pictures that say something to them about the progress of the Action Learning set or programme. This can be “static” – i.e. as they experience it now – or over a timeline – say the past four or five meetings. Choose different pictures to represent each meeting and then explain how they represent the “biography” or “life” of the group as each member has felt it.

• Choose pictures that represent some of the key stakeholders in your project – how you see them, what you perceive them as feeling or doing, how you relate to them.

• Perhaps not so much in an Action Learning set, but in another context - e.g. a workshop - choose up to say four pictures that represent how you see and feel about the workshop topic (eg leadership; finance; diversity; equal opportunities; engagement; etc etc etc!)

• If there quite a number of participants, they can make individual choices, divide into smaller groups, share their pictures, then as a group select some that they want to represent them as a group. It’s often good to ask them to select at least more than one more picture than there are people in the group – so if say 5 people, ask them to select 6 pictures. This allows for each to have one of their “own” but also forces them to choose a more “collective” one.

And so on. There’s no end really to how they might be used. You do need quite a number of pictures – with groups of up to about 25 we use a set of 224, and two such sets if a bigger group. As I said you can build up your own collection, but we use a set called Visual Explorer, published by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL ) at .

Action learning in Damascus, Syria (courtesy Tom Boydell)
Tom's books are found on Amazon and everywhere--great stuff, have a look! For example, A Manager's Guide to Leadership:

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