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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Lynne Cazaly on Visual Agility and Thought Leadership

Lynne Cazaly on Visual Agility and Thought Leadership


1. Hi everyone, my name is Todd Charron, I’m an agile editor here at InfoQ and we are at the Agile 2014 Conference and today I am joined by Lynne Cazaly. Before we get started why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself.

Sure. I’m from Melbourne, Australia, g'day mate, that’s how we talk down there and I run my own business, my own practice, it’s just myself and a business manager and my background is in communications, so I’ve really come to agile as a communications specialist, I work with facilitation and visual thinking, so I don’t know a lot about the technical side of agile, but I work with a lot of agile people. So, I’ve been picking it up through osmosis over the last few years.


2. And as you can tell I have a very thick Canadian accent, so we can talk. Your session, The Girl With The Chisel Tip Marker, which is a very intriguing title which is why I knew I had to go there, tell us what is that session about?

The session was born a couple of years ago when I read Stieg Larsson and his trilogy of books, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, and I didn’t so much identify with the character, but I did identify with her ink fetish, and I don’t have many tats, but I do love markers. So I created this topic that goes with the chisel top marker and I distinguish from markers, the difference between a chisel tip, which has so much more going for it than a boring bullet tip, and I think bullet tip should be removed from the planet, so that session is really about how do you use a marker to great impact and great effect and it works so well in the agile space.


3. Before we get into the details of the session, because obviously there clearly must be a divide between the chisel tip people and the bullet tip people; so, really, what’s wrong with the bullet tip versus the chisel tip?

The bullet tip, when you draw on a page, you only get that one depth for thickness of line, so it’s like speaking in a monotone voice, this is what I am saying, everything is at the same volume, boring, boring, boring, nothing stands out, whereas the chisel tip’s got three points, you’ve got the high point, you’ve got the ski slope kind of point and then you’ve got the low point, and when you are in control of that marker you can now make things much more dynamic, so you’ve got a bullet tip at the top which makes bullet tips redundant, then you use that slope of the marker which can be really thick and fat and then the low point can be very light. So, now I’ve got the capacity to make something stand out off the page and other things sit back in the background and then highlight key points and visuals but in the normal speaking volume. So, it’s dynamic and you only need the one marker and you can have a great impact.

Todd: It’s interesting, because before I’ve used both types of markers and I actually used to avoid chisel tip markers because I didn’t know how to use them, I didn’t know what I was going to get when I put it on the board and it wasn’t until your session that I realized oh, it’s designed to be used in different ways, I just used it in whatever way it happened to be held, so sometimes it was randomly thin or thick, and a mess, but thank you for clarifying.

That’s alright, it can be a life changing moment for people when they realize oh, that’s how you use these suckers.


4. It makes a big different and it’s weird because we are never taught that. So, in your session there is obviously a lot more than just about the difference between a bullet and a chisel tip marker; why is this visual way of expressing thought., why is that so important?

It’s not just expressing, I talk about visual agility which I think is made up of three things, if you imagine a Venn diagram and you can sketch it out at home now, in the left hand one is the word capture, in the right hand one is the word convey and then in the bottom collaborate. So I think you can use visuals and that’s written words as well as sketched icons, words and images, to capture thinking, ideas, information, feedback, to convey, so to pitch, present, explain something and to collaborate, so to problem-solve, to ideate, to plan something together. So it’s when we expose or we put our thinking on display or we can capture what other people are explaining and thinking, that’s when the power comes in, it’s very quick, our brain processes visuals quicker and there are a powerful anchor, so you can often see a visual and then reel out this long story about what sits behind that visual. Think of like a photo, one of your favorite photos that you have on your smartphone, you know the story that sits behind that visual, you remember what you were wearing, how you felt, who was with you, how much the coffee cost, how bad the beer was, the story that goes behind it and similarly we can do that with hand-drawn visuals.


5. If someone is facilitating a meeting, why is it not sufficient to just write down what is being said on the board?

That is sufficient. Words are good, I am not an advocate of picture charades, guess what this is, no, you still want to have words and pictures, I think often we make writing that it’s not worth looking at. So in a session I talk about using visuals to validate what people say, so people are heard, you can verbally validate someone, thanks Todd, great suggestions; but once I write that up, now I visually validated you as well, so Todd is sitting there going yes, my idea was captured and it was respected. So, I am an advocate for making writing that’s worth reading rather than a scroll, you walk past meeting rooms and you often see white boards with indecipherable scratchings all over them and I don’t think that really respects the collaboration or the thinking that’s gone behind it, it doesn’t take much longer to write a bit neater.


6. You demonstrated that and when I saw you write, not only was it just neater, but you also had almost like your own fonts of writing for very different things. So, how does that make a difference in conveying meaning?

Sometimes you can let the word do the work for you, so for example if a team would talk about focus or they needed to focus, yes, I can draw a picture of a guy holding a magnifying glass or one of my favorite ways of writing that is to write the f big, the o a bit smaller, the c a bit smaller, the u smaller, the s, then I would put two lines on that, so letting those letters do the work for you rather than having to sketch something complicated, so yes your own font and handwriting conveys information. There are handwriting analysts that will tell you what your personality is like depending on how you do your ys and your gs and your hs and I am just an advocate for clear communication, make it clear, respect what people are saying, represent it with respect and it will live on, it will be an artifact that it can stay on the walls, that can stay in the internal memory of that team or project.


7. [...] But you just mentioned just using letters, you don’t have to draw anything, so what does it really take to be able to do this?

Todd's full question: It’s strange actually that we are having this conversation about visuals, but we don’t have the visuals and you start to realize how much more could be there if we could only represent certain things visually, if we could convey that. Now, some people may look at your great example of the word focus that you brought up that in order to do this thing you would have to be a skilled artist, right? But you just mentioned just using letters, you don’t have to draw anything, so what does it really take to be able to do this?

As well as that Venn diagram of capture-convey-collaborate, I like to talk about some flow over the top and underneath that. Over the top I think it’s about contexts, so you need to capture the sort of things that matter to that group, that environment, and then at the bottom there is some competence, we don’t need much because we learned a lot of great sketching skills when we were younger, they just lie dormant, competence and then there is confidence and for me this is what I say every day when I am working with teams helping them communicate and collaborate better, it’s the confidence that stops people putting their thinking out there and Jim Benson of Kanban fame talks about that, he says he’s sure that people are afraid to show their thinking and I certainly agree with that, so the confidence is the thing that can often stop people adopting this thing and really making it work for them.


8. For a lot of people more than just thinking is the idea that they aren’t artists, so for somebody that doesn’t consider themselves an artist, is it possible for them to do this, or do they need years of training to do this or how did you help the people in your session?

You had 75 minutes, but I ran a one-on-one session with someone yesterday in about 10 minutes, they’re equipped, they’re ready to go, I think it’s reawakening some of the essentials that we know about sketching and drawing and that’s where I say I am not artistically trained, I have not loved painting since I was three, I hated painting, I too was criticized for my perspective in art class, and I will say it’s not about the art, it’s not about the quality of how good that sketch is, it’s about the meaning and the message and your job as a communicator. So I can get a bit preachy and say if you say oh, but I can’t draw, I say well, that’s very about you, isn’t it, think about the people you need to influence and engage, they want to get your meaning, if you make it quick and easy for them to get your meaning, you’ll be a better influencer, a better communicator. So, push that concern to the side and focus on the message you have to deliver, words and pictures.


9. You mentioned coming into this technical side of agile and that’s outside of your normal area; what’s drawn you to the agile community then?

The values, the philosophy of this community. So I was exposed to them four, maybe five years ago working alongside a project team and I was helping them with some capability developments, some training to engage with the rest of the business and I said yes, I like the way these people think, the collaborative nature, spontaneity, willingness to try, willingness to fail, absolute bias for action, let’s get that stuff out there rather than talking about getting stuff out there. So when I saw or read the agile manifesto, well, of course, I had to quickly visualize it, so out there in the ether is my visual manifesto, the visual agile manifesto, just really identify with the principles and behaviors.


10. What makes what you bring to this community so valuable for these people?

I am helping a lot of people engage way better with the rest of the business, not only are many people trying to engage with the business or their own team about what they are thinking, but also help them explain what agile is. So I was working with a financial services team recently and they are rolling out a new aspect of their work, a program, so we represented using a metaphor what agile is and how their project framework works, so I created large visual canvases that live up on the walls in that team’s area and as other people in the business walked through they go what’s that and they are drawn to it and so they come into the area instead of avoiding it oh, there are all those people buried with their heads in their computers and standing in front of white boards, people are now drawn into that area because there is a visual story about this is who we are, this is how we work, this is what we believe in, and it’s working for them, plenty of people around the organization now know what they do, how they do it and it’s helping spread agile across that organization.


11. [...] How do you identify those things and then have the time to translate them?

Todd's full question: One of the cool things I noticed on Twitter that you were doing is you are doing sketches of the sessions that you are sitting in; so maybe for viewers, how do you figure what to pull out and represent, because I know when I am note-taking, I am furiously taking stuff down, but then I look at yours and there are these wonderful images but it was really awesome and nailed the core at the same time; so how do you identify those things and then have the time to translate them?

I’ve written a few blog posts about this because people will often say you are highly visual, I would say I am highly auditory, I am a great listener, so what I am listening for is the intonation in people’s voices. So listening to a keynote this morning from Diana Larsen, she had the slides and beautiful stories and beautiful information but her voice changes, so it goes up a pitch, it goes up a bit higher which is delivering an enthusiastic key point or she would slow down to emphasize something, or she would speed up and get really energetic. So when people’s voices shift, it’s an indicator of what’s important to them, so I am listening not only for the content they are saying, but I am also listening to how they say it and I am keeping in mind that context, what is this talk about again, where are they going with this, what’s the frame and then I’ll know I only need to capture stuff that are relevant to that big context.

Todd: Well, thank you for that, that’s a really good tip. So, one of the other things you talked about that you are very interested in and you are working on with this community is the idea of thought leadership. Tell us a little bit about what that means to you and again, why is that important.

Yes. I am one of the mentors with Thought Leaders Global, that’s a global organization that helps experts unpack what they know and then package it up, it’s not just about being known as an expert in something, but being known for knowing something and I think the world of selling and marketing and getting referrals and getting recommendations is all well and good, but it’s the ultimate when you are positioned as the go to person on a topic that’s able to build your business and grow your business. So, I work with three types of people, I work with entrepreneurs, usually the senior leader of a business, the CEO or senior innovation leader in a business, entrepreneurial business, I work with intrepreneurs, that is innovative people in large organizations that they are showing high potential, and I work with infopreneurs or often sole-trainers or sole-practitioners, the agile coach is a perfect example of that.

All of these people have brilliant expertise, but it often gets clouded or crowded amongst other things, and they can be compared, one agile coach can be compared with another, but through thought leadership they can start to position themselves around their angle and their unique expertise, unique intelligence. So, thought leadership, some people scoff at the word and say you can’t lead my thoughts, but it’s not your thoughts, it’s actually my thoughts, here is my thinking, so I think about it as leading with your thinking, this is what I reckon, here is what I think, I’ve published a blog about it, here is my book, I am going to speak about it. So, thought leadership unpacks what you know and then you deliver it through a number of modes, usually publish, speak, train, mentor, facilitate and coach.


13. How does that approach that process, you mentioned comparing one agile coach to another agile coach, well they both coach agile, right? How does going through this process help you find out what it is about you that’s different?

Yes, that’s exactly what it is, one of the exercises that we love to do is to look at some of the key things that have happened in your life and after you’ve mapped out on a timeline you tend to find a bit of a pattern happening there. I did this in a workshop last week with some people and very quickly they were able to identify what their life’s been all about, that we continue to do the same sort of things or repeat the same patterns and that can be through having to sort some stuff out or it could be that that’s what we are passionate about, that’s what we love doing. So once you work out what your life has been all about so far and you try to get that down to a word or two or three, your word might be about integrity or connection or implementation or community or whatever your theme is, then we look at how you can position yourself around that and how you would be the agile coach who is about connection or the agile coach who is all about integrity rather than yet another agile coach.


14. This seems, at least from our conversation, quite different than what we were just talking about which is visualization things. How do the two connect, how did you get involved in both of those things?

Well, thought leadership and my visual practice, that is my thought leadership. My background was about communication, creating things, being creative, my word is create, so anytime that I am selling or positioning myself it’s often from a place of creating stuff, so creating a great team environment, creating an organization strategy, creating a collaborative plan, creating a strong communication message for a business, that’s all coming from the same place of creating stuff, because that’s what my whole life has been about, that’s what my word is and so I am delivering that message through thought leadership and I found Matt Church and the thought leaders movement in Australia, so Matt’s based out of Sydney and there are a number of partners around the world who are leading thinkers in thought leadership and so I’ve been mentored on that program and now I mentor others. So I've worked with a couple of agile people to help position them and they have spoken at this conference and it’s great to see how they are presenting their thinking on a particular topic, and you can be a thought leader on anything that you are passionate about as long as you keep putting your thoughts out there. You have to think first, it’s not thought repeatership, it’s thought leadership.

Todd: Maybe tell us a little bit about the moment, going through that process, when you went from communication to creativity and that moment when you focused it and you finally realized this is it, this is the thing that is the essence of me.

It’s very iterative, I don’t think I discovered oh, my word is create or I’m about creativity. At first I was looking at improvisation because I’ve done a lot of theatrical performance and improv, but I have also done a lot of facilitation, so I thought maybe my thing is about facilitating and collaborating, work with teams and leading them through change, so maybe my thing is about change, so I think there is kind of a evolution or iteration of what your word or what your area of thinking is. And it’s less of an aha, in fact one of the other leaders talks about it as Tetris where you just think you’ve got it into place and then something else drops and you go oh, no, that’s what I am about, oh, no, that’s what I am about, and it goes on and on.


15. So, what’s next for you after this?

Well, this has been a bit of a global tour, I left Melbourne and Sydney in Australia and went to Berlin and spoke and attended the Visual Practitioners Conference that was there, so 200 people drawing on the walls of a hotel, which is good, then come here to the Agile Conference and next week I am going to head home to Australia and I am speaking at an event which is to conference organizers, so I’ll be speaking about speaking and talking about how leaders can lead their teams through change. So that’s a big focus for me over the next few months; I’ve just put out my second book which is called Create Change, so there is more thinking. Thought leaders need to think, sell and deliver, so lots of thinking to do, always selling, engaging with people and taking about what else and delivering. So, lots of delivery, speaking at conferences and workshops, facilitating team sessions, running training programs on visual thinking.


16. If somebody wanted to find out more about you or getting some of the stuff you might be selling or delivering, where would they find that information?

The website is probably best,, follow me on Twitter and I will connect you to whatever your question may be. Couple of books there, plenty of blog posts, white papers, reports, free resources to have a read of and download just to see what I am about, see what it is that you are interested in and I love hearing from people, I love people sending me their visual notes and photos of when they’ve used visuals in facilitating workshops, so really keen to hear back from people and how I can help them.

Todd: Excellent, well, thank you very much for joining us.

Thank you, thanks a lot.

Oct 05, 2014