I forgot my PIN Number again – How visual thinking improves everything

What is Visual Thinking?

Think of activating a new credit card. You call your bank and you use the keypad to select and dial in your new PIN number. Perhaps you write it down. After a few hours, you forget it and refer to what you wrote down.

The reason behind the frequent forgetting many of us experience might be explained by Edgar Dale’s pyramid of learning: we forget most of what we hear or read.

We remember longer what we see in images. That’s where visual thinking plays a major role. Imagine my PIN is 3715. Then, take a pencil and draw images that remind you of the PIN code. For example:

A triangle, the rainbow, a trophy and a hand: that’s my PIN number. Visual thinking, therefore, is the process of thinking through visual processing.

Why is visual thinking so important?

The relevance behind visual thinking lies in our different ways of learning. As suggested by Walter Burke Barbe, there are three learning modalities:

  • Visual: Through pictures, shapes, sculpture or paintings
  • Kinesthetic: Via gestures, body movements, object manipulation or positioning
  • Auditory: By listening or using rhythms, tones, or chants

When we try to learn or to explain something, we focus on listening and taking notes, or conveying our message through a series of gestures and words, respectively. If we plan to present a topic to a specific audience, we even prepare slides to enhance our presentation. However, when we need to express our opinions or improvise speaking on a topic, we seem to be restricted to our own words or body movements. We totally forget about pictures or visual representations.

Using images when explaining different topics “forces” us to express ourselves more easily, and the other party is more likely to understand us better. Use “visual thinking” to help your communication skills to evolve.

When Can We Use It?

Visual thinking is restricted neither to learning nor to presenting information. For instance, there is a well-known technique often used when learning, taking notes, or planning called mind maps.

A mind map is a spider diagram that helps us to organize information. We start from a central concept drawn as an image. The central concept could be discussion during a meeting, the topic of a lecture, or a plan you want to execute in your business. You create branches out from the center which represent associated ideas. These ideas could be also presented as words or images.

When capturing information in a linear way, we might end up going forward and backward, adding more information if the discussion is not well structured. However, using mind maps, it is likely we will have plenty of space to elaborate and unleash our expansiveness. Let’s see an example:

How Can I Draw What I Think?

As kids, we are taught to express our feelings and beliefs by drawing or painting. Nonetheless, as we grow up, we forget these activities and lose some of our childhood creative mindset over time.

Visual thinking is not about becoming Picasso but presenting information in a visual way that everyone–especially you–can easily understand and remember. For a refresher on “how to draw,” the following is really all you need:

• Shapes and lines

• Colors

By combining both, you can explain complex processes or situations easily. For example: a simplified version of the recruitment process:

My recommendation: go to your next meeting and don’t be afraid of drawing. People will appreciate your effort—perhaps even be delighted by your effort—and will be more likely to understand what you came to tell them.

By the way, do you remember my PIN number?

Antonio Gonzalez


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