A culture of enabling

Visualization is more than colourful images - an interview with Holger Scholz and Guido Neuland
By Winfried Kretschmer

The EuViz 2014 conference will bring visualization practitioners from around the world to Berlin this summer. In this interview, the two organizers talk about the conference, about the visualizer’s role and about current trends in the field of visualization - and why it's about more than just colourful pictures.


Four years ago they were in the U.S. for the first time and after two further conferences, the decision was taken to bring the event to Germany. Holger Scholz and Guido Neuland have organized the European Conference for Visual Thinkers, Practitioners, Graphic Recorders and Facilitators in Berlin this summer.
Holger Scholz, Certified Professional Facilitator, is the CEO of Kommunikationslotsen Scholz & Vesper GmbH & Co. KG. Guido Neuland is the marketing and sales director of Neuland GmbH & Co. KG.

You have brought EuViz to Germany. What is the goal? 

Guido: The idea of bringing the conference from the U.S. to Europe came quite out of the blue. There are very high expectations. Now it’s all about creating the perfect conference. Additionally, we want to make visualization more widely known in Germany and Europe and to lay the foundation for a broader discussion of the topic. Although it has already caused a furore in some areas of the media, it is still unknown in many circles. Finally for me personally, it’s about spending three exciting days with friends and many interesting people from all over the world.

Who’s coming, for example? 

Guido: There are many "big shots" from the scene and promising newcomers - indeed they are coming from around the world. Many naturally come from the U.S. and Canada - which is unsurprising, the method has its roots there. We are especially pleased that David Sibbet will be here. It was he who laid the foundation for what today is called Graphic Facilitation at the end of the 1970s in the Bay Area of San Francisco. But there are also people coming to Berlin for EuViz from South America, Africa, Israel, Japan, China, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and from many parts of Europe.

The width of the field is already shown in the title - Visual Thinkers to Facilitators. What are the different branches which will be represented at the conference? 

Holger: Firstly, of course, there will be many visualizers at EuViz. If one understands that visualization is a skill that can benefit all people and professional groups, then a much more nuanced picture emerges: consultants, project managers, change makers, facilitators and managers are increasingly working and thinking visually - this is the real revolution. People from areas such as the Agile community, Scrum Masters, Design Thinkers, experts in Kanban and Business Model Generation all meet at EuViz. There are also those who visualize and think visually with the help of mental models, for example in leadership and management. So David Sibbet, founder of the visual guild in the USA, will speak in open forums with interested parties about these mental models, to name only a few examples.

So there are also dialogue- and participation-formats? 

Holger: We offer more than just workshops in which experts explain a technique or area of knowledge. The tracks determine a large part of the program. Here all participants are experts and jointly explore a topic. For example in the Education track, the question is "Where and how does visualization currently take place in training and education, in schools and in the training area and what patterns can be seen? What opportunities for the future are already emerging?" Similarly, there are parallel tracks on the topics of Business, Entrepreneurship, Mental Models and Methodologies.

Visualization has become a powerful trend - is the dominance of PowerPoint at an end? 

Holger: A tool or an application such as PowerPoint is neither good nor bad. It depends on how it is used. What happens with tools, procedures and methods is always a fruit of what develops in the "root zone", i.e. the result of cultural developments. Here we are currently seeing a burgeoning culture of success and enablement. We call this facilitation.
This is the connection with visualization. Internationally, it is called "Visual Facilitation". It is an expression of societal shifts we can experience and channel. It is a shift away from exclusive rights and the artificial preservation of the power of individuals towards a natural hierarchy, transparency, immediacy and collaboration on a peer-to-peer basis. Visualization is a philosophy and a tool that stands for just that.
Firstly: Everyone can understand it - immediately.
Secondly: Anyone can learn and apply it - even simultaneously in a meeting as part of a visual dialogue or exchange.
Thirdly, everyone gets it in the here and now - as it were in real time. There are no documents to be exchanged, trimmed, clicked away or changed.
I understand visualizations to be a variety of new forms of leadership and cooperation.

PowerPoint, however, stands for a different culture ... 

Guido: It seems to be currently very much in vogue to bash PowerPoint. I can’t really go along with this. PowerPoint is a tool like any other. Presumably it was also used incorrectly in many cases - precisely because it is so easy to use. Properly applied, it can probably generate quite a positive response.
The decisive question is whether something which is already prepared is "rolled out" or whether the participants are involved in the process. People who do not feel involved turn off quickly regardless of whether the presenter is using PowerPoint or prepared flipchart posters.
Even in the classical moderation it was essentially a matter of turning "affected people into involved people". This is still true today - except that today the density of information is many times greater than it was in the early days of this participatory method. Properly used, visualization helps to stem the flood of information. Only those who can mentally follow a speaker will stay tuned - and that is why the "slowing down" resulting from real-time visualizations can be extremely helpful. The picture is created on the board at the same time as in the minds of the participants. This "analogue component" is part of the reason for the success of this method in our digital world.

Graphic Recording, Visual Facilitation, Scribing, Visual Thinking - are these different terms for the same thing, or are different approaches hidden behind the terminology?  

Guido: In some respects even the experts in the United States still debate this point. There are no standard terms, even when, from the customer’s perspective, the point of view of visualization as a service would be desirable. The main point is the differentiation between Graphic Recording and Graphic Facilitation - where the boundaries are very much blurred. Brandy Agerbeck for example referred to what she does as Graphic Facilitation, because she integrates facilitative elements into her work. For example, negative comments such as "That has never worked" are turned into something positive and noted as: "What do we need to do to make it work in the future?"

Can we look at this in a little more detail? 

Guido: OK, let's take a look at the terms:
"Graphic" and "Visual": Clearly, they refer to the image, the pictorial implementation.
"Recording" means exactly what it says. It means that it is created in real time and cannot be prepared. A real recorder does not interfere in the process - and that's where there is a link with Graphic Facilitation.
"Facilitation" literally means "making easier". The point is to make it easier for the group to reach a specific destination or to come to a certain area of knowledge. In Graphic Facilitation, the group facilitator actively participates in the process by using prepared pictorial "Templates" which serve the group as a starting point for their "visual journey" through the process. Of course, these images can also be created completely spontaneously.
"Scribing" means simultaneous recording in sketch form. A "Scribe" in the true sense of the word is a scribbler, a copyist. Thus, the word does not imply the visual, so it requires the addition of "Visual" or "Graphic".
"Thinking": Obviously this refers to thinking about visual imagery and pictorial understanding, I see what you mean, the title of David Sibbet’s book, makes this point... Visual Thinking is more global than the other terms - it is a prerequisite that these methods work.
There are still way more terms around the subject as a whole- such as Visual Harvesting, Visual Note-Taking, Visual Sketch-Noting, Info Doodling ...

What unites the various branches? 

Guido: The image is the unifying element - or even the concept of "Visual Thinking". If that did not work, it would be nothing but smoke and mirrors. The differentiating factor is in my view the question of usefulness assessed in terms of a temporal framework. Is it used by an individual or a group? Is it used immediately or in the aftermath in the form of a protocol?
For example, Visual Sketch-Noting is a real alternative to conventional notes. It can be used by those who take notes during a conference - they can then also share them with others, for example by e-mail or Internet. If you like, Visual Sketch-Noting is a bit like Graphic Recording in miniature. Both methods work in their purest form, they are not one process - at least that's the assumption.
Participatory visual methods such as Graphic Facilitation, by contrast, are viewed in real time by all parties and live on input from the group.

Visualization has won a great deal of attention in recent years. Has the method developed? Are there any new developments? 

Holger: Yes, the trend is towards strategically thought out and structured "visual products" and "visual processes" that are meaningfully integrated into a larger context. In the early years people would have been content to record a meeting or a conference visually. In this way many of the well-known "hidden objects" emerged, these are also quite impressive and are certainly useful to share as a protocol.
In future, however, the procedural and advisory competence of the people who use visualization or who work with it will play a crucial role. We ask our customers: "What is the goal? What is it about? Who needs to be involved?" Visualization is not only an "end product" that needs to be distributed or published, but an important tool to complement the process of consulting and monitoring. There is still a great need for explanation. There are learning platforms such as EuViz for this purpose.

What will the future look like? What trends will shape development? 

Holger: Visualization has what it takes to become the new world language. The trend is, in my view, that all people will develop visualization as a personal skill and use it every day - not as an art or even as an objet d’art, but as a language.
In particular live visualization and simultaneous speaking, listening and drawing will become increasingly important. Here, listening, understanding and coming-to-the-point will come to life and be a real experience for all present - a shared process. Imparting knowledge and being smarter together is a socially-enjoyable moment and has a very special quality.
Different people and professional groups - leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs, teachers, knowledge workers, etc. - can use this for themselves. This language is already being developed in society, across subjects and sectors. This will only continue. Perhaps this will even help us understand ourselves better. 

Guido: Experts believe that visualization will be the management skill of the future. The point is to translate visions and goals into images that employees or teams can recognize and understand immediately. The trend is for managers to work with a marker in their hand. The time when management sat at a big conference table and handed out thick stacks of strategy papers is clearly over. The marker is very easy to use and is also a very important tool for team leaders and managers of the future.

The interview was conducted via e-mail.

changeX 22.05.2014. Alle Rechte vorbehalten, all rights reserved.


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