Today’s question comes from an online friend of mine, Mauro Toselli. He asked this question as a comment to another blog post I wrote on the stages of a World Cafe graphic recording, and I thought it deserved a post of its own!
Here is his eloquent comment:
Taking visual notes with the aim to truly and genuinely record concepts expressed by a group of people and succeeding require a special gene in DNA, I think.
Jokes apart, the main ability here is to be an “ideas enhancer channel” and to govern our involuntary mind’s filters. I’ve never been in the “recorder” position but I,ve been recorded both as a speaker and as part of a group as in the case of this post.
Based on these experiences I noticed sometimes that what is recorded is a recorder arbitrary version. The enhancements are put on what recorder find important which, in some cases is different from the group thinking.
Being able to visually express the power of concepts without impressing a personal influence and moreover stimulate feedback, instill ideas and do not get lost in translation are really super-powers!
Once again, Jeannel, I’m really impressed. I never ask you to disclose your “secrets of the art” but what about telling us about your-side experience? How do you do “channeling”?
Well, Mauro, first things first: it’s not so much about ones DNA as it is about building a muscle… or rather, a specific set of graphic recording muscles:
- Ego Stilling
- Deep Listening
- Sense Making
- Group Reflection
Now go get yourself a refill on your beverage of choice and settle in, because it’s time for a little chat about a deeper workout for those graphic recorder muscles!
Ready? Okay, let’s go!
Discipline and Practice
More than anything, it’s a discipline that requires practice. Much like body building, actually. Our DNA gives us the building blocks for us to work with… the physical body we start with and its aptitude to grow and develop. The practice allows us to build upon or improve where we started from. Discipline allows us to be consistent in our practice, which leads to mastery and more sustainable results.
Another analogy would be learning a new language. We all have SOME level of aptitude to learn a new language. In my case, I learned German in high school. German was easy for me to learn: I studied it five days a week for over an hour at a time, plus I used it a lot with my friends. I got to the point where I was dreaming all the time in German.
Then I graduated high school and stopped studying… and practicing. Guess what happened? I lost my fluency in German. Nowadays, the only phrase that readily comes to mind is “Haben sie kartoffelsalat? Ja, wir haben kartoffelsalat!” Not a phrase that comes in handy all that often.
So. How do I build my muscles as an “idea enhancer channel?” (New favorite title, by the way!)
Jeannel’s Deeper Workout for her Graphic Recorder Muscles
I was meditating for years before becoming a graphic facilitator, and I meditate to this day. This practice has helped me quiet my mind and – perhaps more importantly – quiet my ego. Part of my practice is mindfulness meditation, which allows me to be completely present to what’s going on in the room as I work. I’m not thinking about how I should have drawn something, or what I’d say back to the person who just shared a thought. I’m simply in the room with them, waiting to receive and process what happens. The quieter my mind is, the greater my ability is to receive what’s happening in the room. This is why I view the on-site setup process as a series of meditations… each one stripping away a layer of my busy mind until I am as blank and ready to receive as the white sheet before me. (I know… it sounds a bit “woo” but that’s what I do!)
That empty-mind place allows me to listen to what’s being said as well as reading the energy in the room in response to what’s being said… or not said, for that matter! I know, it’s another “woo” sounding process… but it’s really not. Think of all the times someone has said something they shouldn’t have, and the room turns decidedly unfriendly while the speaker is left wondering what they said wrong. If you’ve ever been able to pick up that shift in the room’s energy, then you’re doing what I’m talking about. I’m just talking about it at a deeper, more subtle level. It’s more like the wife who knows her husband so well that – even though to everyone else he seems to be just fine – she knows that something’s bothering him. That sort of thing. And how do you build this level of understanding with a group so quickly? See step one: empty your mind so you can be completely present… and PRACTICE! ;^)
It’s funny that you used the word “channel” to describe this process, because that’s how I think of it myself: as a channel between the group and the page. When I’m blank, open, listening deeply and sensing into the content of the conversation, then I know what’s landing with the group as something important to capture and remember. Usually, the strength of an emotional reaction – said or unsaid by the group – is the key for me to visually translate content onto the page. But here’s the secret: there’s no second-guessing allowed in my brain. I trust that because I’ve done the first few things, I’m present enough to receive the content the group wants to remember. I also trust that if I am off in my understanding, the group will help to reshape it on the page into something that works really well for them. And that leads me to the next set…
This is why I don’t tend to work in exclusion of the group that created the content in the first place. In order for me to be able to reflect my understanding back to the group, I need to be able to work WITH the group in real-time. On the occasions where I need to create a summary map from a series of simultaneous conversations, I have representatives from each group in the room with me so that I may reflect with them. I set this collaborative, co-creative expectation up front, before the project even starts. That way, it’s simply expected that they’ll create content through their event, I’ll reflect it back to them as we go, and if anything needs to get tweaked we’ll do it right then and there to ensure consistent understanding all the way through.
Lastly, I ask.
If I am not sure about something… be it the accuracy of my capture, the spelling of an industry word, or even a double-check of my read of the room… I ask. I don’t assume. Assumption is the ego asserting itself: this is what I think is important, so I’m just going to do it. And don’t get me wrong on this one. In a way, the entire practice is an assumption, right? I’m listening, I’m putting marker to paper on behalf of the group, so there has to be an assumption that I know what I’m doing and I’m getting it right. Yes, I do that. The assumption I’m talking about here is the ego-based ones. Like the mystery practitioner I got to hear about the other day from an educator who was lamenting about how this graphic recorder decided to really play up a holiday party the district held back in 1996. The group was creating a timeline for the district, and now each time the man I was speaking with saw the resulting mural, he got pissed off because instead of emphasizing the district’s academic work or service to the community, they have a bunch of balloons for a party that was a blip in time, and really had nothing to do with the district’s legacy they wanted to document.
Working It Out
I get this. I can see that mystery graphic recorder now… listening in to the group, hearing someone say “we had this great party,”and thinking to himself “ooh! a party! I can do a lot of fun drawing around that one!”
This sort of capture is not serving as a channel. It’s the ego saying “look how fun I can draw this party!”
And that’s not being of service to the group.
It’s also something that every graphic recorder probably does at some point in their practice. (Hopefully early-on in their practice!)
BUT, it’s also something that can get trained out of a graphic recorder’s muscles with time and practice. We learn to wait just a moment to make sure what we heard was paper-worthy. We check in with the group in our own way to validate this. And we reflect just enough of that memory so that it can richly unpack when it’s viewed by participants.
After all, it IS a practice!
How do YOU practice? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below!
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