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System Mapping & Drawing Happy Pictures


This episode is all about drawing pictures. Visualise your systems, the inability to visualise your systems and also how to map your business using pictures.

Last week I launched my free email course Know Your Systems. Signing up takes two seconds and you’ll receive 6 days of daily content on how to understand and control your systems.


You can subscribe to my free email course Know Your Systems.

See my blog article on Professional Associations and Systems Mapping.

See Ingrid Lill’s website here.


This is exactly the point of system mapping. Lots of complex information conveyed instantly” [RB]

“Purpose of the picture or diagram in systems mapping is not to be completely accurate or detailed or even up to date.” [RB]

“The most important part of mapping is actually deciding what you have and how it works with other systems and generating a conversation” [RB]

“The visual medium is designed to convey a lot of information quickly. It’s the fastest way of communicating research” [RB]


This is Richard Bown and welcome to Automation for the Nation. This is episode seven. This episode is called System Mapping and Drawing Happy Pictures. I'm recording this at home this week and there's unfortunately quite a bit of building noise outside which has found its way onto this recording. I sent over a systems context diagram to client today ahead of a meeting and I immediately received an email response. You missed a whole chunk of the picture system x isn't there? This is exactly the point of system mapping. Lots of complex information conveyed instantly. Now imagine if that had been a word doc or a PDF. Probably no one would have looked at it until the meeting, and even then they would have to read it before they can make any sense of it. A PNG or a JPEG is rendered in preview in many mail browsers, meaning you're already ahead. They'll have seen it. It will pop up already. This episode is all about drawing pictures, visualise your systems and also touch on this important subject that just came across my desk. Are you even capable of visualising your systems? Last week, I launched my new email course called Know Your Systems. This is a six day email course which shows you some simple techniques to understand and control your systems. And you get to see the systems you perhaps not considered for a while or had forgotten about in the course. Over six days, you will learn how your systems are costing you time and money, losing your opportunities. And we introduced the main concepts of know your systems, such as making a picture of your systems, your departments and people naming your systems owner and at least one system administrator, optionally assigning budgetary responsibility to the systems owner for those systems, keeping the picture updated regularly, planning meetings around your systems and ensuring that the systems discussion becomes part of your daily narrative. So we see that the picture here is at the heart of the discussion. We want to keep that as our centrepiece. I've been talking about drawing pictures and making it clear to everybody. But does it make it clear for everyone? Well, we'll dive into that a bit later on. But for the moment, I wanted to remind you about know your systems and let you know that it's totally free and I'd love your feedback on it. So it relates to the course. A key component of it is visualisation, making a picture of your systems, imagining what they look like and how they interact with your departments. When I work with a business, I want to understand their systems. So the first thing I will ask them is for a picture. It doesn't really matter if it's up to date or not. It just shows some intent from the business, either now or in the past. Purpose of the picture or diagram in systems mapping is not to be completely accurate or detailed or even up to date. The most important part of mapping is actually deciding what you have and how it works with other systems and generating a conversation. Sure you can do this in list form as well. It doesn't need to be a picture. You can just write down what you know and you can also describe the systems and what they need to do in words. The key part is conversation. Creating a conversation. If you're doing this with a picture, though, maybe you'll run into this particular challenge. This week I found out about something which stopped me in my tracks in some ways and made me even think about reconsidering this whole approach. It's a condition known as aphantasia, the absence of a visual imagination. This can be measured in people and as exhibited by a lack of pupil response to certain visual stimuli and according to some research by the University of New South Wales. Approximately 4% of the global population could have this. And there's a nice quote from the scientist involved in the study who says These findings further highlight the wider variability of the human mind that can often remain hidden until we ask someone about their internal experiences or invent new ways to measure the mind. It reminds us that just because I remember or visualise something one way doesn't mean everyone does. So my brain child, this theory about making pictures of our complex system landscape and discussing them is suddenly in jeopardy, I think. If this way of working is not as inclusive as our first thought, can it still be valuable as a tool? For some people, it might not work. Well, that's certainly one way to look at it, but the other way is without visualisation. Are we missing a large part of the story of our complexity anyway? The visual medium is designed to convey a lot of information quickly. It's the fastest way of communicating research. At 3M Corp concluded that we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text, and further studies found that the human brain deciphers image elements simultaneously, while while language is decoded in a linear, sequential manner, taking more time to process. So even if we can't visualise it ourselves, we can process it faster and more accurately, accurately. And it makes sense to have a different view of looking at a problem. This week, I was also the guest on a branding café event hosted by Ingrid Lill. Ingrid is a brand storyboard coach and visual thinking mentor. She provides clarity in the form of drawing the space you're trying to work in and the audience you want to attract. And then she storyboards the results in a way that helps you visualise that journey. So this is the journey that you're seeking to take your audience on. And I absolutely love this. I've been working hard on defining my nation and creating content to cater to it. It's therefore really good to see that the journey is visually laid out in front of me in a form that makes it concrete. If you're like me, then you respond better to a visual representation of what you do than just words. The journey that Ingrid drew for me involved the chief executive of a busy professional membership association. This person is overwhelmed on a daily basis from requests from other organisations for closer collaboration. She has the worries of the industry regulator. She has the staff asking for improvements in the way they work. With COVID 19, the. There was a worry about the impact of working from home on productivity in this maelstrom. How can she effectively expect to understand and run systems improvements and successful IT projects? Well, often she can't, and so she delegates it to other members of staff who are also under pressure to deliver. Small organisations don't have the time to invest in systems change. However, they are the ones that most benefit from the efficiencies of scale that they bring. I use drawing and engagements to understand systems and working with Ingrid. I was quickly able to say that diagramming is also central to my mission. Reading from Ingrid's website, she takes a very similar approach using drawing as a means of defining what a business owner needs to focus on. In general, this is the core audience of your consultancy business. What's a vital? Your message needs to be clear, but getting to the words is often best accomplished in the medium that you feel most comfortable with. When I use drawing and engagements with clients, it's to visualise their systems and help them understand what needs to happen to them next. While I've studied a few potential more formal frameworks for this approach, such as Wardley Mapping or see for diagrams, I'm happy just with basic building blocks of systems, which at some level is the same as a see for system context diagram. I have found that using a high level approach brings great results. As I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, a client can immediately spot when something is missing from the picture without having to read a long report on it. I really enjoyed the session with Ingrid and I would highly recommend joining her next open session. I will link her website in the show notes. I'll also link an article I've written on visual systems thinking for professional associations. Hopefully you can visualise what I'm talking about until you read it. Many thanks for joining me again. Looking forward to speaking with you on the next episode of Automation for the Nation. Until next time, this is Richard Bown saying good bye and good luck.