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  • Writer's pictureEndring

Stuck in the Rational? Use the power of images to spark creative thinking.

In this week’s issue we are going to make the case for harnessing the power of visual thinking and imagery to help solve our most important challenges. And we’re going to share a simple 4 step framework to help you just do that.

Many of us, by default, approach problem solving with the analytical side of our brain - pulling data, crunching spreadsheets, writing, and a whole lot of talking. We know we need to inspire others, but sometimes what comes out feels a bit clinical or lifeless, without emotion or depth.

It might be capturing minds, but not hearts AND minds.

Often what we need is a fresh perspective that can only be attained by tapping into a different part of our brains. The more creative part.

Imagery has the potential to unlock a perspective that we may not be consciously aware of.

As humans, we are attracted to (and find deeper meaning in) pictures and images. We do this in our personal life with photos, artwork, or the use of Vision Boards.

A powerful image can leave us breathless and full of emotions. It also helps us express meaning that we wouldn’t be able to access in the logical centres of the brain.

We usually come up with reasons not to invest the time into this creative way of work, and sometimes it come up with thoughts like:

  • “We don’t have time to engage in these type of activities to ‘spark creativity’”

  • “This isn’t real work - feels like ‘mumbo jumbo’”

  • “I am not the creative type”

But if we can just hit pause on the arguments for why we SHOULDN’T engage in such a process, and take that proverbial leap of faith, we can tap into the power of imagery to come up with new ideas.

Here is a straight-forward exercise that jump-starts the creative process when we work with teams to design experiences, ideate solutions, or develop a vision of the future.

1 - Expose the team to new images.

This step is about exposing yourself and your team to new and different visual stimuli - something that we may not be accustomed to in our day-to-day work.

We usually pre-select 20 to 30 images for this exercise. The images should be wide-ranging and include elements from architecture, people, natural landscapes, animals and art. The key is to have a variety of images that are evocative, powerful, sometimes even jarring.

If we’re working virtually, we lay them all out on a Miro canvas. If we’re working in-person, we lay the them out on a couple of large tables in a board room.

There are no strict criteria here for your team members other than that the images must evoke a feeling or emotional reaction. Tell them to pick the ones they think most represent what you are trying to address as a group. It’s supposed to be intuitive.

Give each team member 6 voting dots. Allow folks to review in silence and to select (with voting dots) the images that resonate most with them. They are allowed to put more than one vote on a single image.

  1. Pro Tips:

  2. Time-box this component to 10 mins max.

  3. Play some mood music while people consider the images - something uplifting, comfortable but not sleepy. [We’ve started this segment with ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ a few times]

2 - Collect the impressions.

Once everyone has had on opportunity to review and vote in silence, collect the 5 or 6 top-voted images by the group.

On a separate canvas, or a wall in the board room, place them in order of most to least votes.

Go through each of the images one by one. Invite the people that voted for the image to verbally share one key word that they associated with it.

Write all of the words down.

You may find that some of those who voted had the same word in their mind as someone else, that’s OK. Often, we ask the rest of the group if there is another word that leaps to mind for them, and write one or two more down.

Complete this for all of the top voted images.

Pro Tips:

  1. Allow about 20 minutes for this segment. Give people some space when coming up with the keywords - no rush, let the words come at their own pace.

  2. People need to openly share, so make it clear that this is free-form and not inviting a debate.

3 - Find the Power Words.

In the previous step, there will usually be some ‘ooooh’ing or ‘aaaah’ing, and other affirmative noises from the rest of the group, as the words really resonate with the team. Note these reactions, as these words are what we like to call the ‘Power Words’.

For each image, we work with the team to pick 2 Power Words. We can often identify these through brief discussion to reach general consensus.

If for some reason you can’t get agreement, you can do another quick voting exercise, where each team member gets another 6 voting dots to place against the word that resonates most for each image.

Collect all of the Power Words onto one flipchart or whiteboard.

When all of the words are together, let the team reflect on them, and ask them to share some observations about the words.

When we discuss this Power Word ‘cloud’ in groups, the interplay of thoughts and emotions start to reveal connection points that perhaps weren’t there before the start of the exercise. Associations start to multiply and trigger new insights.

People build on these observations, and as a team have new revelations about the topic.

Pro Tips: You might want to note some of the more powerful observations on sticky notes and post them around this Power Word cloud. You might need to remind people to stay connected to the heart when the head starts to dominate again, and can refer back to these observations during the rest of your session.

4 - Start creating.

This step depends a bit on what your intended outcome is.

If you are designing an experience, you may want to ask team members to piece together a story, a ‘day in the life’, and then share with each other the headlines to their stories.

If you are creating a vision or purpose statement, you may ask them to craft a few sentences describing the future inspired by these words.

[Photo: Alice Dietrich, Unsplash]

Either way, this is the time to let each team member reflect on their own and get creative.

You should sense a new energy in the room and a shift from very rational language to more emotive, inspiring language.


  1. If you are setting this up as part of your agenda, don’t build in a break between the Power Words exercise and the creative act you want the team to do. You can have a break before everyone shares what they have created, but make sure they spend at least 10 minutes creating something right away so they capture the moment.

In Summary

Next time you need to go deeper on a creative or problem solving journey with your team, and you need to spark a different set of ideas (ones that connect with the hearts rather than just the minds) spend 30 minutes with the team tapping into this powerful part of being human.

Take these short simple steps:

  1. Expose the team to new images.

  2. Share the impressions.

  3. Find the Power Words.

  4. Start creating.

If you enjoyed this issue and want to learn more about how to brings teams together to creatively collaborate, feel free to subscribe and/or reach out to us.

Thanks for reading. See you again next week!

[Main photo credit: JR Korpa, Unsplash]

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