Guest blog: Sack your business adviser!

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Dr Jeremy Richards, MBA Director at Falmouth University, says you should sack your business adviser and hire an Illustrator.

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Illustrators are a fascinating breed. They see the world differently to those of us less well versed in visual creativity. Where we may see a table with a half a dozen empty meeting chairs around it, an Illustrator might see the chairs as mouths open at 90° waiting to engulf their victims and digest them into the bowels of business meeting bureaucracy. “Maybe we could just remain standing and crack this meeting in 10 minutes” suggests the Illustrator.  Illustrators are trained to use metaphors as a way of reimagining and deconstructing what their eyes take in.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking Illustrators are just cartoonists. But consider how the great insights of humanity such as Einstein’s thought experiments on special and general relativity could have been communicated without the use of illustrations; how cosmologists got their message across before the Hubble telescope was launched, or how palaeontologists overcome the fact that there are no photographic archives of dinosaurs. If you want to communicate something that’s very big, very small, existed a long time ago, will or might exist in the future or is a concept that only exists in your imagination, then you need an Illustrator.

Another common misconception is that Illustrators just illustrate physical things. Not so. Their art is often used to explore and communicate less solid concepts such as relationships and systems: How an animal fits within its food chain, for example.

Okay fine; so Illustrators are clever people, see the world differently, are good at drawing and don’t like meetings. What’s this got to do with the world of business I hear you ask?  Well, the ability to deconstruct a problem and spot an opportunity is at the very heart of any business that wants to steal a march on its competitors. As Dan Roam, author of ‘Unfolding the Napkin’ and Fine Artist – turned -business -guru, often espouses:  if you draw a problem, the solution is often staring back at you out of the page.

Only a couple of flaws in your argument, I hear you say. I can’t draw and I can’t afford to hire an Illustrator.  Well let’s deal with the first bit. We need to redefine what we mean by a ‘good drawing’. If you want to produce a representation of what’s in front of you, get out your phone and take a picture. That’s not the point of illustration. Grab a piece of paper and a pencil and spend a few minutes drawing how you feel you fit within your business.  You can represent yourself in the diagram by a   ‘stick person’ and just add one small extra feature that indicates it’s you.  I’m what is sometimes referred to as follically challenged, so two short dark lines on either the side of the head and, hey presto, its me.  So a ‘good drawing’ is one that gets the message across. Furthermore, research shows that the physical act of drawing fires different neurons in the brain so it awakens parts of the brain that you may not engage in the normal course of your business thinking.

You can also start to practice thinking like an Illustrator. Look around you and try describing objects and processes you observe as metaphors. What do these metaphors tell you about the business you operate, the way your customers interact with you?  Turn you mental description into a quick sketch and see what the page tells you.

It takes practice, and the time spent learning to think and communicate like an Illustrator may just turn out to be the best return on investment your business has ever witnessed. Alternatively, next time you are thinking about engaging the services of a business advisor, be that a management consultant, accountant or a good mate, you might like to consider engaging the services of an Illustrator instead, particularly if you want your business to stand out from the crowd.