How I discovered visual thinking

Since childhood, I have always had a habit of drawing to understand new ideas. My teachers looked on this as everything from a mild distraction to downright disruptive. Sometimes they forbid me from drawing in class. But for me it was so core to me, so essential to my learning process, that I did it whenever I could.

I learned though that my drawings were often wrong. I discovered this one day when I showed one of my drawings to my teacher after class and asked if I had understood it correctly. She told me my drawing was wrong, and that I had misunderstood. But at that point something magic happened: she picked up my pencil and started to correct my drawing, and I started to understand.

I learned a few things that day. First, learning works best when it is not a one-way thing. One person doesn’t just pour knowledge into another person’s head, like you might pour tea into a teacup. It’s a dialogue. Second, I learned that I could teach people how to teach me. As a visual learner, I realized that I could create a kind of visual dialogue between myself and my teachers; that by making a rough sketch of an idea, I could create a picture that functioned as a kind of learning space, where knowledge, learning and insights could be co-created with other people.

I vowed to make this co-creation a regular part of my learning process, and in doing so I soon learned that I was wrong far more often than I had ever realized. In fact, I was almost always wrong. But the learning method that I had discovered was so powerful that it became the foundation of my life and work. And when I was ready to start a company, it became the foundation of that too.

That’s my origin story: How I came to do what I do today. What’s your origin story?

Dave Gray is the Founder of XPLANE and author of Selling to the VP of NO, The Connected Company and Gamestorming.

Visual thinking reading list.

Learn more about visual thinking here.

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