The Art Of Being Visual

At the beginning of our Balloon Kenya adventure the group completed an intensive, two-week training course in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. During this period we encountered an array of exercises, theorists and entrepreneurs, not forgetting some trusty business models too. The latter provides the inspiration behind the following words.

Before coming to Kenya, if I had to pick one of my personal skills that would influence my teaching style, it would definitely have to be my creativity. My love for images stems from my younger years. I have a deep fondness of Dr Seuss books, particularly his use of images to bring to life the written word, making reading more experiential and fulfilling. In school I distinctly remember a teacher stating that there are two types of learners; those that learn by reading and those that learn by doing. From my teaching experience so far, I argue that all can fit into an all-encompassing category; those that learn by visualising and drawing.

In my first two weeks of teaching I have incorporated two key models into my lesson plans.

Firstly, the three circles can be used to discuss the ideal business problem; desirability, feasibility and viability. In an easier format – ‘do customers want your product or service?’ ‘Do you have the resources to deliver your product or service’? And ‘will your idea make money?’ The visual here does not stem from simplifying vocabulary, but from presentation. I created three circles on different coloured card, recording one question on each. I then proceeded to colour in a pie shaped segment at the corner of each circle so to portray the completion of an idea when all segments are put together.

This technique has proven effective when discussing the workability of an idea and facilitating class discussion. Consider that a group may not have the resources for an idea; this segment can then be removed, signalling that the idea should be reconsidered or for another idea to be chosen.

Secondly, the Business Model Canvas, or BMC as we like to call it, is formed of nine segments, crossing four core areas. The ‘who’ of your business – the customer; the ‘what’– your business idea; the ‘how’ – the use of resources for you business; and then ‘money’ – your cost and revenue. Rather than using complex titles including ‘value proposition’ or ‘consumer channels’ to name just a few, I use a mix of simple questions and small images. For example, to signify your target market I draw a stickman, and for customer channels I draw a lorry to display how the idea will be delivered to your chosen target market. It is then easier when asking students to draw the model themselves, to give them prompts, e.g.: ‘ok, so in this segment it was a lorry, what does this mean?’ building upon word-image association.

Using these visual tools, the past two weeks of entrepreneurship lessons have taught me 5 key things.

1)     Often how the message is delivered is equally as important as the message itself.

2)     My weapons of choice – a piece of flip chart paper, marker pen and stick men – are all that are needed to portray a complex business model.

3)     It is more valuable having a teacher engage with you, perhaps through the use of interactive visuals, rather than a teacher simply talking at you.

4)     Being visual should not be underestimated. We may not all be budding Picasso’s (I for one, definitely am not), but drawing little stick men has never hurt anybody.

5)     If things are made too complex then everybody loses. The key to understanding is being succinct and simple. There you will find the gateway to understanding.

In conclusion, images have proven beneficial in my teaching for much more than simply lessening or overcoming the Swahili-English language barrier. As Steve, a Balloon Kenya fellow recently said, “our role here is not to teach business models and technical language, but instead to change the way in which both us and our students think.” I would argue that becoming more visual in thought, incorporating our ideas in the process, illustrates the true value in the ‘art of being visual’.