The Power of Visualization

Last week in Baltimore, I participated in two continued-learning opportunities through the American College of HealthCare Executives (ACHE). I always look forward to learning opportunities like these—being in a classroom type setting, learning about what is new and what is coming in the field brings back fond memories of learning as a grad student.

In the first session, we used a tool that was familiar to me, called the Business Model Canvas. This canvas is one of a series of tools from Strategyzer. It is used to visually map out a business model, using a tool that focuses on delivering value to the customer (called the “Value Proposition”). This tool is useful for both new and existing businesses and can be utilized in strategic planning for any organization.


In addition to the Business Model Canvas, the seminar introduced a variety of other canvases, such as the Context Map Canvas, the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) visualization tool, and the Innovation matrix to name a few. Teams of people who had just met a few hours before were then tasked and able to work on the same page using the canvas frameworks.

It made me think about the power of visualization tools and how leaders can better utilize them. To be clear, I am not talking about PowerPoint presentations or those poster slides that Members of Congress use. I am referring to a tool that gives participants an opportunity to be an active part of crafting a narrative and creating something new.

I have noticed throughout my career that many executives under-utilize visualization tools, which is an opportunity lost. Visualization, done right, can build out a better framework for solving a problem, while simultaneously building understanding and trust. Without visualization, it is incredibly difficult to get multiple voices to properly understand and participate together in an activity.

For a while, I was hesitant to go up to the whiteboard and facilitate a discussion at work. I thought sometimes it was cliché to do so. But I was wrong. If you ever get the urge to go up and write something out, or draw something new, it will help the group as a whole facilitate their understanding. A leader’s ability to use visualization and facilitation to achieve team synergies is a must have.

I encourage you to never hesitate to use visual tools when leading a group. Check out the resources at Strategyzer to help you to determine how best to apply visualization beyond the Business Model Canvas. All it usually requires is a marker or two, a white board, sharpies and post-its. Happy visualizing!

KEY TAKEAWAY: Developing visuals help facilitate teamwork and team trust. Visualization and facilitation are must have skills for leaders looking to solve complex problems in a team environment.

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Book Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Dan Cowens, another Maryland EMBA Alumnus and CEO and Founder of Snag-a-slip, recommended The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Dan described it as essential reading for any entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur.

The book absolutely lived up to its billing. The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a combination memoir and practical advice from someone who has experienced tremendous successes (Netscape browser) and very real setbacks (Loudcloud surviving the tech bubble burst).

While I am not currently an entrepreneur currently, nor an aspiring one, I have taken on several professional roles of an “intrapreneur”, or someone that is starting up new functions within an existing company. When I took over as Executive Director of Operations for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, the entity was only 2 years old. It was floundering and required a speedy turnaround. Our leadership team had to stand up a viable infrastructure while not only keeping operations going, but improving them as well.

The hard thing about hard things

For our leadership team, the expression, “building the plane while flying it” was very real. In other words, we knew we had to improve short term results without sacrificing the longer-term sustainability of the organization.

My current role is also brand-new and intrapreneurial: Aligning, coordinating, and overseeing Adventist HealthCare’s system for delivering a world-class patient and family experience. As it stands now, the department is new and small from both an employee and revenue standpoint.

Horowitz gives expert advice rooted in many different experiences about how to produce short term results while building an organization for the long-haul. The book contains advice about how to lead through difficult times, how to build a sustainable organization, advanced leadership skills, and organizational growth.

The most practical part of the book is Chapter 6: “Concerning the Going Concern” as I believe these lessons carry across all businesses. In this chapter, he gets to the important information on how to develop people, develop culture, and develop foundational business practices.

My favorite part of this chapter involves his definition of “process”. Horowitz writes, “The purpose of process is communication” (p.190). From this definition, which is clear and compelling, he illustrates how to go about creating a viable process for a given function. The steps greatly simplify the purpose and work required to develop a process that accomplishes its intended result.

Horowitz’s lessons in The Hard Thing About Hard Things are important for all business people, but especially those who don’t mind (or enjoy) building something new and building it right.

KEY TAKEAWAY: All business leaders can learn from the lessons of entrepreneurs, particularly those looking to create change, either within an existing company or starting a brand new one. One important lesson is to create processes that align to communicating for an intended purpose.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is available for purchase on Amazon for $29.99 (does not include Prime discount)