Business

One Simple Question You Can Use to Train Your Brain to Apply Systems Thinking to Any Challenge

I’m on a learning-about-systems-thinking-kick. Why? Because the challenges and questions I’m seeing across sectors with the clients I partner with are more complex, more dynamic, and require solutions that address root causes.

And I want you to have the skills to recognize systems at play and know how to look for creative solutions that lift your team to the next level.

My last post covered the basics of systems thinking and a few everyday places to observe systems in action.

Okay, so it’s easy to see how stocks and flows apply to a bathtub, or feedback loops are seen in bank account interest.  

But what about starting from scratch? Where to begin?

Here’s a gem from Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows. Ask yourself:

If A causes B, is it also possible that B causes A?

Alright Karina, bring it back down. What does that actually look like?

If perceived lack of control causes low employee engagement, is it also possible that low employee engagement causes perceived lack of control?

Or…If not having a shared vision causes a siloed organization, is it also possible that a siloed organization causes not having a shared vision?

And if you want to get even more cerebral, she also challenges readers to “Try to think of a human decision that occurs without a feedback loop.”

learn-to-draw-silos-conversketch-graphic-recording

 Do you have a persistent challenge your organization keeps coming back to? If you think some visual strategizing could illuminate a new solution…

Once again, thank you from my heart and soul for your support, great senses of humor, brilliant minds, collaboration and what you're each doing to make the world a better place.

Cheers,

karina-branson-signature

Where in the World is ConverSketch?

In the Studio:  Filming a new  illustrated video  for the National Park Service Climate Change Response Program, creating digital illustrations, and prepping for a lot of travel next week.

In the Studio: Filming a new illustrated video for the National Park Service Climate Change Response Program, creating digital illustrations, and prepping for a lot of travel next week.

It's been a month since we've been back from rafting the Grand Canyon and I'm stoked to share this shot taken by my husband - that's me in the light blue rowing through a rapid called Upset! Click on the photo to see a larger version! Photo: Spencer Branson

Three Ways You Already Use Systems Thinking

Hey folks!

Systems thinking is one of my favorite tools to use with clients because it pairs really well with graphic facilitation, and it almost always leads to new insights and solutions.

And, systems thinking can be a complex, nebulous, and overwhelming.

For me, this boils down to two factors:

-          The world isn’t as simple as we’d like, so truly seeking to make change or find the root cause of things takes some digging

-          I was over-complicating the theory in my head

Thinking in systems, while not necessarily simple, is natural for us. We navigate them every day! Here are three ways you’re probably already using systems thinking.

Bathtubs. This everyday example illustrates the concept of stocks (elements of the system) and flows (how stocks change). When you turn on the water, you know the bathtub will take some time to fill up. And, when you pull the drain plug, you know it takes time to completely empty. So, with this simple example, you can see how stocks act as delays or buffers in the system (the tub isn’t instantly full or empty). If the tub is half full and you pull the plug and turn the water on at the same rate it’s leaving, you can see how the stock of water will be maintained at the same level (this is called dynamic equilibrium).

Caffeine. If you drink coffee or caffeinated tea, if you feel your energy level dropping, you might make yourself a cuppa to pick yourself back up to the desired level of energy. Your stock here is energy, and the caffeine is a flow. The energy delivery isn’t instantaneous; there’s a gap. This gap is what drives your decision on when and how much caffeine to drink. This illustrates a balancing feedback loop: energy available leads to a discrepancy (gap), which leads to drinking coffee, which leads back to energy available.

Your Savings Account. This next example shows us about reinforcing feedback loops. When you put money in a savings account (high five!), there is also an interest rate. The more money you put into the account, the more interest is accumulated, which puts more money in your account. You get the idea.

ConverSKETCH_learn-to-draw_Systems Loops.jpg

These are three examples of how systems behave, but of course there’s a whole lot more that goes into applying systems thinking to finding solutions or changing a system. Next time I’ll be sharing two key questions guaranteed to fire up your Systems Thinking Brain!

Intrigued and want to learn more? One of the all-time best books on this subject is Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows.

Intrigued and want to apply some visual systems thinking to a challenge in your organization?

Once again, thank you from my heart and soul for your support, great senses of humor, brilliant minds, collaboration and what you're each doing to make the world a better place.

Cheers,

Karina Signature_100.png



Where in the World is ConverSketch?

University of Illinois:  Graphically facilitating a strategic planning retreat for Technology Services. Here’s a snapshot of the agenda I designed and facilitated visually for the group. If you’re curious about tech and higher ed, definitely check out the work happening with  ShapingEDU!

University of Illinois: Graphically facilitating a strategic planning retreat for Technology Services. Here’s a snapshot of the agenda I designed and facilitated visually for the group. If you’re curious about tech and higher ed, definitely check out the work happening with ShapingEDU!

Temecula, California:  Capturing the big ideas about the future of the vision industry from today’s emerging leaders, facilitated by Sanitas Advisors. The energy was palpable and the community built in just one day was very cool to witness!

Temecula, California: Capturing the big ideas about the future of the vision industry from today’s emerging leaders, facilitated by Sanitas Advisors. The energy was palpable and the community built in just one day was very cool to witness!

Digital, Paper, or Foam Board, Oh My! How to Decide Which Medium is Right for Your Event

Hey folks!

Have you ever organized an event for your organization? If you have, you know there’s a LOT more that goes into planning and pulling off a successful gathering than meets the eye.

If you’ve put weeks into organizing an event, you want it to go as perfectly as possible. So, naturally, you’ve hired a graphic recorder to visually capture notes in real-time. High five, you have got this on lock. Then, the graphic recorder throws this curveball at you:

“So, would you like me to work on paper or digitally?

As digital scribing has become more reliable and attainable, deciding whether to use paper, foam board, or projecting a tablet screen can feel complicated.

With all the other variables you’re managing, I’m here to help this decision to be an easy and fun one!

I often get the same question from clients: What are the pros and cons of each option? So, I’ve decided to pull inspiration from some other graphic facilitators, and create a tool to help you swiftly make a decision based on your needs.

conversketch-digital-paper-foamboard-comparison-for-graphic-recording

Once again, thank you from my heart and soul for your support, great senses of humor, brilliant minds, collaboration and what you're each doing to make the world a better place.

Cheers,

Karina Signature_100.png





Where in the World is ConverSketch?

Phoenix, Arizona:  Back at Arizona State University for the second ShapingEDU Unconference where Dreamers, Doers and Drivers got together to share ideas and strategies to better leverage technology for learning in higher education.

Phoenix, Arizona: Back at Arizona State University for the second ShapingEDU Unconference where Dreamers, Doers and Drivers got together to share ideas and strategies to better leverage technology for learning in higher education.



Houston, Texas:  With Houston Methodist Center for Neuroregeneration capturing presentations and discussions from a global group of neuroscientists and spinal researchers. We even witnessed  Mutton Bustin’  at the Houston Rodeo! Needless to say, my mind is blown after working with them (heh heh).

Houston, Texas: With Houston Methodist Center for Neuroregeneration capturing presentations and discussions from a global group of neuroscientists and spinal researchers. We even witnessed Mutton Bustin’ at the Houston Rodeo! Needless to say, my mind is blown after working with them (heh heh).

Out of the Studio: This new digitally illustrated video for local Northern Colorado business Streamside Solutions explains how their HVAC system software can save you energy, time and money…fast!

Washington, DC:   This week I’m back in DC working with the Environmental Defense Fund on the last in a series of systems thinking workshops on sustainable agriculture and pollinator habitat.

Washington, DC: This week I’m back in DC working with the Environmental Defense Fund on the last in a series of systems thinking workshops on sustainable agriculture and pollinator habitat.

And Nearly…In the Grand Canyon!  As a reminder, my next big adventure has been in the books for the past year – from  March 24-April 15  I will be rafting the Grand Canyon! Fortunately, I’ll be completely disconnected from phone and email during that time rolling on a river. Unfortunately, I won’t be available to partner with any clients during that time, but will look forward to opportunities to collaborate when I return. If you do have an event during this window, I can connect you with some highly qualified colleagues who can take care of you and your group!

And Nearly…In the Grand Canyon! As a reminder, my next big adventure has been in the books for the past year – from March 24-April 15 I will be rafting the Grand Canyon! Fortunately, I’ll be completely disconnected from phone and email during that time rolling on a river. Unfortunately, I won’t be available to partner with any clients during that time, but will look forward to opportunities to collaborate when I return. If you do have an event during this window, I can connect you with some highly qualified colleagues who can take care of you and your group!

Want to Elevate Engagement in Your Virtual Meetings? Try Adding Graphic Recording!

Hello!

Have you ever been on a video conference call or webinar and noticed people look like they’re doing something else, rather than paying attention to the call? Maybe you’ve been there yourself…there’s an important email you wanted to start drafting…

Whether you’re in a virtual meeting, or one face-to-face, getting distracted by technology can be far too easy.

But what if technology could be leveraged to increase engagement instead?

One of the most powerful benefits of graphic recording is that participants see their ideas unfolding visually as they watch, allowing them to see patterns and systems, and feel like their ideas are being heard by the group.

With video conference platforms that allow screen sharing and a tablet, all of a sudden graphic recording has become more attainable, even if you have people calling in from all over the world!

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of capturing the ongoing series of discussions for ShapingEDU: “A community of dreamers, doers, and drivers shaping the future of learning in the digital age.” The live capture has been used by a global audience as they’re discussing or listening to panelists in an expertly-facilitated discussion and are shared, tweeted, and used to boost engagement around the webinars during and after each one.

learn-to-draw-a-tablet-conversketch

Once again, thank you from my heart and soul for your support, great senses of humor, brilliant minds, collaboration and what you're each doing to make the world a better place.

Cheers,

Karina Signature_100.png

Psst….Have a video call in the calendar?

Where in the World is ConverSketch?

IMPORTANT NOTE:   You all know me by now, and know that I like a good adventure. The next one has been in the books for the past year – please keep in mind that from  March 24-April 15 I will be rafting the Grand Canyon!  Fortunately, I’ll be completely disconnected from phone and email during that time rolling on a river. Unfortunately, I won’t be available to partner with any clients during that time, but will look forward to opportunities to collaborate when I return.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You all know me by now, and know that I like a good adventure. The next one has been in the books for the past year – please keep in mind that from March 24-April 15 I will be rafting the Grand Canyon! Fortunately, I’ll be completely disconnected from phone and email during that time rolling on a river. Unfortunately, I won’t be available to partner with any clients during that time, but will look forward to opportunities to collaborate when I return.

On my way to Houston: I’m headed to a Neuroregeneration Symposium for a few days to capture cutting edge research on spinal repair.

In the Studio:  Wrapping up a digitally illustrated video for a local business, and a strategic illustration on Early Childhood Education career paths for a local non-profit.

In the Studio: Wrapping up a digitally illustrated video for a local business, and a strategic illustration on Early Childhood Education career paths for a local non-profit.

Fire It Up

Hey folks!

We’re back from co-leading an absolutely stellar service learning trip in Kenya with a rockstar group of students from Colorado State University.

Between the significant time change, over 30 hours of travel, having been trusted with the safety and wellbeing of 12 college students, and having no internet or phone access for nearly 18 days, last week felt a little slow and fuzzy.

Which, in Karina-Speak, means a little frustrating.

Getting back, I was simultaneously fired up to immediately leap into projects and emails that had been put off during the trip, and at the same time I wanted to maintain the blissful state of disconnection and presence that being in Kenya facilitated.

Coming back to winter in Colorado, near our wood stove has been a favorite spot. So, naturally, I’ve been thinking about fire. For me, this month has been an exercise in understanding that all fires –whether they’re in a stove or the heart behind what you share with the world – need the right tending, fuel, and time to burn bright and clean.

Many of us feel the tension between creating space for ourselves and wanting to exceed our clients’ or teammates’ expectations. How do you keep your fire burning?

conversketch-learn-to-draw-fire

Once again, thank you from my heart and soul for your support, great senses of humor, brilliant minds, collaboration and what you're each doing to make the world a better place.

Cheers, Karina

Where in the World is ConverSketch?

Taking a nap…I mean in the Studio…working on several illustration pieces on paper and digitally.

Taking a nap…I mean in the Studio…working on several illustration pieces on paper and digitally.

Mapping Out Complexity  – with a local business with complexity and a big vision. I guided the founder through a two-hour session mapping out all the moving parts, how they are connected, gaps, next steps, and big picture vision. This can be shared with the whole team for transparent communication on the why, what and how of the business in the next year.

Mapping Out Complexity – with a local business with complexity and a big vision. I guided the founder through a two-hour session mapping out all the moving parts, how they are connected, gaps, next steps, and big picture vision. This can be shared with the whole team for transparent communication on the why, what and how of the business in the next year.

Authenticity? Let’s be Real.

Buzzwords. They can make us roll our eyes, especially if it feels like the context they’re brought up in isn’t genuine.

Earlier this week I was graphic recording for a company that’s had to do some soul searching this year, and as a result, is focusing on infusing integrity into the day-to-day culture. During a brainstorming session on culture and values, someone said “…unscripted feels more authentic.”  

Although it was made almost in passing in the conversation, it really resonated with the group after the formal conversation ended as they were revisiting the content on my recording.

For leaders or team members who feel stuck when seeking to have authentic conversations with their teams at work, I recommend taking a chance on “going unscripted”.

Now, this may not mean just winging it every time -- there’s certainly wisdom in practicing what you want to say (authentic ≠ excuse to be callous and blunt). Rather, think about how you can use the power of speaking from your heart to connect with and inspire others around you.

Feeling the authentic vibes and want more? Read on my friend!

Once again, thank you from my heart and soul for your support, great senses of humor, brilliant minds, collaboration and what you're each doing to make the world a better place.

Cheers, Karina

Where in the World is ConverSketch?

Washington, DC  with the Environmental Defense Fund. We are in the middle of a series of systems thinking workshops to help two teams re-frame how they’re approaching their work around agriculture and pollinator habitat.

Washington, DC with the Environmental Defense Fund. We are in the middle of a series of systems thinking workshops to help two teams re-frame how they’re approaching their work around agriculture and pollinator habitat.

Stamford, Connecticut  for the kickoff of an Ethics Week focusing on integrity in action. This is part of a synthesis of survey themes from employees that I created ahead of time for the client. Major kudos to the team there for their creativity and for facilitating the conversation that inspired this email!

Stamford, Connecticut for the kickoff of an Ethics Week focusing on integrity in action. This is part of a synthesis of survey themes from employees that I created ahead of time for the client. Major kudos to the team there for their creativity and for facilitating the conversation that inspired this email!

Here's What Your Design Thinking Process is Missing

Have you ever been invited to participate in or heard about a Design Sprint? Design thinking, design sprints, agile, human-centered design thinking, all of these terms have been popping into my world more often.

As tools used to innovate and spark creativity, if you’re using design thinking but haven’t partnered with a graphic recorder, you’re missing out on huge potential to support your team through visual thinking.

But wait, aren’t design thinking and visual thinking pretty much the same thing? Well, no. But I love this excellent post and illustration from Xplane to see the difference, and where some opportunities exist to infuse visual thinking into design thinking:

xplane-visual-thinking-design-thinking

Have you used any of these tools or strategies? How did it go? What other visual thinking tools are in the top drawer of your toolbox?

Once again, thank you from my heart and soul for your support, great senses of humor, brilliant minds, collaboration and what you're each doing to make the world a better place.

Cheers, Karina

Where in the World is ConverSketch?

Albuquerque, New Mexico:  Returning to support the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force for their Hospitals and Clinics Summit. These practitioners work hard every day to help educate and support new mothers so they can make the healthiest decisions for themselves and their babies.

Albuquerque, New Mexico: Returning to support the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force for their Hospitals and Clinics Summit. These practitioners work hard every day to help educate and support new mothers so they can make the healthiest decisions for themselves and their babies.

Painting in the Studio:  Not only am I working on filming another  Drawing Connections video  for the National Park Service, I’ve had some time in the past couple of weeks to do some painting for fun. This one of the Nokhu Crags went to the  Samburu Youth Education Fund  Harambe to raise money for education and leadership development for young people in Kenya.  Here’s a post  about why I care so much!   Please  contact me  for inquiries on commissions.

Painting in the Studio: Not only am I working on filming another Drawing Connections video for the National Park Service, I’ve had some time in the past couple of weeks to do some painting for fun. This one of the Nokhu Crags went to the Samburu Youth Education Fund Harambe to raise money for education and leadership development for young people in Kenya. Here’s a post about why I care so much!

Please contact me for inquiries on commissions.

How the Best Leaders Make Solid Decisions

In my last newsletter, I shared one characteristic that contributes to strong leadership. And while I think that listening is a key trait to great leaders, I’d like to dig a little deeper into a particular aspect of this idea: HOW and to WHOM they are listening.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin hits the nail on the head:

“Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.”

What strikes me about this quote is how someone in a position of power could cultivate an environment that supports healthy disagreement. That last bit about “without fear of retaliation” speaks of a person who assumes good intentions even if the words are oppositional, who takes time to consider options, and who values critical thinking over a “yes-man”.

Additionally, there is power in WHO is delivering the message. If we receive a critical message, if we know it’s coming from a place of wanting us to do better, it’s easier to hear.

If you want to read more about the power of perspectives in effective, collaborative teams, check out my post here.

If you’d like to co-design a process that creates space for different voices and perspectives to think critically, to learn more about how graphic facilitation can support your team.

Once again, thank you from my heart and soul for your support, great senses of humor, brilliant minds, collaboration and what you're each doing to make the world a better place.

Cheers, Karina

Where in the World is ConverSketch?

Cortez Colorado  for Southwest Rural Philanthropy Days where over 300 nonprofit and funding participants brainstormed how to build a stronger community of giving in rural southwest Colorado.

Cortez Colorado for Southwest Rural Philanthropy Days where over 300 nonprofit and funding participants brainstormed how to build a stronger community of giving in rural southwest Colorado.



New York City  for the second of three workshops focused on modeling storm water and sea level rise in the City. Teams from five academic institutions are creating models of different storm scenarios so the City can develop informed emergency response strategies and priorities based on data.

New York City for the second of three workshops focused on modeling storm water and sea level rise in the City. Teams from five academic institutions are creating models of different storm scenarios so the City can develop informed emergency response strategies and priorities based on data.



Las Vegas  for a showcase and brainstorm session on innovation in the field of optometry exploring ideas like how to better leverage technology to serve a broader population of people who need eye doctors.

Las Vegas for a showcase and brainstorm session on innovation in the field of optometry exploring ideas like how to better leverage technology to serve a broader population of people who need eye doctors.



Ohio State University to capture the latest thoughts and innovations in cyber security.

Here's What I've Noticed About Great Leaders Across Sectors

One thing I love about my job is getting a unique slice of trends and conversations across sectors. In the past two weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of graphic recording and facilitating with a county government, a national foundation, a private tech giant, and a non-profit conservation organization (yes, I slept for the entire long weekend afterwards).

Some of the conversations these groups had were difficult – that’s often the case when groups have the courage to move beyond the same old ideas they’ve always had. These conversations have potential to be transformative…or not.

What can make the difference?

I’ve noticed that when leaders approach the conversation in a defensive way, that shuts folks down. But if they come in with two ears wide open and a humble mind, the results can be remarkable!

Often people are frustrated or critical because they don’t feel heard, so when leaders and decision-makers put themselves in a space of listening, then thinking about solutions, tension and hostility shift to tenacity to find a path forward together.

If you want to read more about listening...I've written about how to improve here, storylistening here, and different levels of listening here.

Once again, thank you from my heart and soul for your support, great senses of humor, brilliant minds, collaboration and what you're each doing to make the world a better place.

Cheers, Karina

Where in the World is ConverSketch?

From Adams County Children and Family Services in Denver, to the Buffet Early Childhood Foundation in Omaha, to Adobe in San Jose, to the Environmental Defense Fund in Fort Collins, August was buzzing! Here are a few highlights:

And speaking of buzzing…we also harvested honey from our beehive this weekend. Labor Day, indeed, but the rewards are sweet!

What Every Event Organizer Wants to Hear & How to Make it Happen

No matter what your job is, there’s a good chance you’ve had to organize some sort of meeting. And if you haven’t, you probably will. Whether it’s a regular small-team meeting or a massive annual conference, there’s often a lot more work put into organizing a well-run event.

So, first of all, for all you event organizers out there, I raise a glass to you and all the work behind-the-scenes or otherwise un-thanked you do!

Next, if you’re organizing a meeting/gathering/convening/conference/event/show, I want to give you something. Have you ever heard someone at an event you organized say something like…

“This was unforgettable!”

“This was the BEST conference I’ve ever attended!”

“I got SO MUCH out of that meeting!”

“I can’t WAIT to use what I learned with the rest of my team!”

...or even a simple “THANK YOU!”

These are just a few things you, as an organizer may be yearning to hear or overhear. Why? Those things mean your participants felt valued, saw something from a new perspective, that they were present and engaged, and that you’ve helped them do their jobs or live their lives better. And while there are heaps of ways you can create an event that is meaningful and participants love, I’ve got one sure-fire way to get people fired up (in a good way).

Bring in a graphic recorder.

Having someone visually scribing the content, listening for connections, or even for what’s not being said can catapult participants from looking at their phone screens under the table, to wondering how their ideas can be incorporated into the mural being created. Seeing visual summaries of conversations and discussions moves groups from “My idea” to “Our vision” and “Actions I can take”. It can give them tangible stepping stones to take what they learned and move forward, or help unravel a previously complex and mystifying topic.

So, the next time your team is starting to plan an important event, consider a graphic recorder, facilitator or scribe to support your participants, honor their time, and help them do the best thinking they can.

learn-to-draw-a-crowd-conversketch

Once again, thank you from my heart and soul for your support, great senses of humor, brilliant minds, collaboration and what you're each doing to make the world a better place.

Cheers, Karina

Want to hear “You’re the BEST organizer I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with!” from your clients? Let’s talk about blowing their minds!

Where in the World is ConverSketch?

Turning Dull Trainings into Delightful Drawings:  The US Forest Service has to deal with a lot of challenging situations; if you live in the Western US, you probably know about the prolific wildfires this year. But did you also know the USFS is responsible for hazardous waste spills and clean up? I’m working to help explain the complexity of Spill Response Coordinators and how they work with other agencies when things get leaky. Here's a chart from the initial brainstorming session I facilitated.

Turning Dull Trainings into Delightful Drawings: The US Forest Service has to deal with a lot of challenging situations; if you live in the Western US, you probably know about the prolific wildfires this year. But did you also know the USFS is responsible for hazardous waste spills and clean up? I’m working to help explain the complexity of Spill Response Coordinators and how they work with other agencies when things get leaky. Here's a chart from the initial brainstorming session I facilitated.

Digital Scribing for ShapingEDU : Last spring I attended the ASU UnConference for on the future of higher education, technology, and meaningful learning for students. I'm in awe of how the organizers have carried the incredible energy of the 100+ participants forward into monthly video calls with participants from around the world on topics from the in-person event. The engagement was astounding, and I got to do live digital scribing while screen-sharing!

Digital Scribing for ShapingEDU: Last spring I attended the ASU UnConference for on the future of higher education, technology, and meaningful learning for students. I'm in awe of how the organizers have carried the incredible energy of the 100+ participants forward into monthly video calls with participants from around the world on topics from the in-person event. The engagement was astounding, and I got to do live digital scribing while screen-sharing!

Editing Cave:  Working on the final video for the Wildfire Risk Management Science Team, who use advanced mapping tools to help managers and responders make safer and more effective decisions about when and where to mitigate a wildfire.

Editing Cave: Working on the final video for the Wildfire Risk Management Science Team, who use advanced mapping tools to help managers and responders make safer and more effective decisions about when and where to mitigate a wildfire.