Join Me on a Trip in the Yellow Time Machine

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 12 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.


There are times when pictures are worth more than a thousand words…

My wife travels to Baltimore, MD at least once a month on business. Because I work for a virtual company (Auxano) with no “office,” my primary role of Vision Room Curator requires only an Internet connection to “set up shop.” Occasionally, I accompany her and we spend the evening or weekends visiting in the area. Recently we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare before leaving Washington DC to return home. We have a standing list of places to visit, and we agreed on the National Geographic Museum. Located in the heart of the city just a few blocks from the White House, the Museum had a surprise in store for me:

A literal wall of all the National Geographic magazine covers since the magazine’s launch in 1888.


A story I wrote a few years ago, and updated later, immediately came to mind:

The image below,  from the December 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine, once again stirred memories.

Giant sequoia

The following is an updated repost from 2009:

NGM Oct 2009

Images are often powerful reminders of our past. One of my boyhood memories is that of eagerly anticipating the monthly delivery of “National Geographic” magazine.

The familiar yellow border outlining an amazing photo was my ticket for travel around the country and the world. It’s a pleasure I enjoy to this day, as my mother continues give the magazine as a gift each year. Until recently, I kept them all – now going on 36 years, plus dozens of other pre-1979 issues I have picked up at occasional yard sales (but that’s another story!).

The October 2009 issue has a striking image of a redwood tree on it. As soon as I saw the magazine in its shrink-wrapped shipping bag, I was transported back to first grade show and tell: my crude drawing of a redwood tree, taken from a July 1964 NG story.

I filed that thought away, and not long afterwards, had the occasion to visit my boyhood home in Tennessee. I asked my dadNGM July 1964 (who was still living at the time) about that magazine, and sure enough, he had kept the magazines too! I pulled the issue off the shelf and thumbed through it, gazing again at living giants thousands of years old, comparing them to the same family of trees 45 years later. While I enjoyed that trip down memory lane, there was still something tugging at my thoughts.

When I returned home, I searched my library and found the answer: Growing Spiritual Redwoods by William Easum and Thomas Bandy. Published in 1997, it was a striking call for church leaders to understand the new paradigm the church was entering. They likened the healthy church to a redwood tree. I remember reading the text when it first came out, and my copy bore highlighted sections, Post-It© Notes, and scribbles throughout.

Using the metaphor of the redwood tree, the authors described the growing and healthy church as follows:

  • They stand taller than any other tree, but their visibility is less a function of the numbers of their adherents, and more the magnitude of their ministries
  • They hold aloft an enormous umbrella of intertwined branches, which shelter a huge diversity of life in an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect
  • They are resistant to crisis from beyond and disease from within. Political winds do not break them, and ideological fires cannot burn them down
  • They put down strong, extensive root systems that intertwine with those of other Redwoods. They draw nutrition from unexpected sources, and reach out into unlikely places
  • They regenerate in abundance. Not only do seeds initiate new life across the forest floor, but they sprout vigorously even from the stumps of felled trees

What can your church learn from the redwood tree?

The Lesson of the Redwood Tree aside, I was again reminded of the power of the visual image in communicating. That visit gave me a sobering perspective on what it takes to deliver that image. Walking through the rest of the museum, I was struck by the lonely quest the NG photographers had embarked on: months of often-solitary work, shooting 50,000 to 90,000 images to get the few dozen that ultimately become a story.

That’s the price they willingly paid to bring their vision to fruition.

What price are you paying to bring your vision to reality?



Seeing With Your Brain

We live in a culture rich with images. My generation (Boomers) grew up with television – maybe only 3 channels, but what a difference from our parents’ primary information – the radio and the spoken word only.

My kids (2 Gen X, 5 Gen Y) expanded on the basic television, first with cable, then videotapes, then the Internet, and then DVDs.

My 4 grandchildren? They are digital natives, taking visual communication to new – and participatory – levels with social media, smart phones, tablets, apps, streaming video of all types on many different devices, and who knows what’s around the corner.

We can’t escape the power of the visual image – and most of us don’t want to.

Most of us are visual learners. We like to see a picture, not just hear a word. Len Sweet has said that images are the language of the 21st Century, not words. Why?

Pictures stick. We remember pictures long after words have left us. Pictures communicate far more than mere words. There’s a simple reason:

We see with our brain.

Vision trumps all the senses. Half of the brain’s resources are dedicated to seeing and interpreting what we see. What our eyes physically perceive is only one part of the story. The images coming into our brain are changed and interpreted. So it’s really our brains that are “seeing.”

If we are on an increasing visual trend in our culture and we understand the importance of vision in our lives, then it follows that leaders should be leading the visual revolution, not just observing (pun intended) it.

With that in mind, I wanted to introduce you to a trio of resources that will help you know how to use visual tools, manage visual practitioners and their work, and understand how to help your entire organization be visually literate – especially if you don’t think of yourself as being skillful visually.

Visual Leaders

Visual Leaders will help you and your organization take advantage of the visualization revolution. Visualization is transforming the world of work and the role of leaders in an age of global communication and complexity. The book is a guide to increasing your own visual literacy and your ability to help others with theirs. (Download a free summary of this book here.)

Visual Meetings

Visual Meetings supports a group’s cycle of learning. Visual Meetings explains how you can use graphic recording, sticky notes, and idea mapping when imagining, engaging, thinking, or enacting in meetings. It is loaded with very practical and detailed descriptions of how to conduct different visualization activities. It also reviews the Group Graphics Keyboard and the seven archetypal choices for organizing displays.

Visual Teams

Visual Teams explains how to create and sustain team performance with visuals. Visual Teams builds on Visual Meetings and shows how to use these methods across the whole arc of a team process, including the parts in between meetings. It also provides a graphical user interface to thinking about team dynamics with the Team Performance Model. The seven challenges of high-performing teams are explained in detail and linked to tools that help meet them.

Got a pen?


You might also like:

What Color is Your Pen?

According to author Dan Roam (The Napkin Academy) there are three kinds of visual thinkers:

  • people who can’t wait to start drawing (the Black Pen people)
  • those who are happy to add to someone else’s work (the Yellow Pen people)
  • those who question it all – right up to the moment they pick up the Red Pen and redraw it all.

Which are you?

Hand me the pen! Black pen people show no hesitation in putting the first marks on an empty page. They come across as immediate believers in the power of pictures as a problem-solving tool, and have little concern about their drawing skills – regardless of how primitive their illustrations may turn out to be. They jump at the chance to approach the whiteboard and draw images to describe what they’re thinking. They enjoy visual metaphors and analogies for their ideas, and show great confidence in drawing simple images, both to summarize their ideas and then help work through those ideas.

I can’t draw, but… Yellow Pen people (or highlighters) are often very good at identifying the most important or interesting aspects of what someone else has drawn. These are the people who are happy to watch someone else working at the whiteboard – and after a few minutes will begin to make insightful comments – but who need to be gently prodded to stand and approach the board in order to add to it. Once at the board and with pen tentatively in hand, they always begin by saying “I can’t draw, but…” and then proceed to create conceptual masterworks. These people tend to be more verbal, usually incorporate more words and labels into their sketches, and are more likely to make comparisons to ideas that require supporting verbal descriptions.

I’m not visual Red Pen people are those least comfortable with the use of pictures in a problem-solving context – at least at first. They tend to be quiet while others are sketching away, and when they can be coaxed to comment, most often initially suggest a minor corrections of something already there. Quite often, the Red Pens have the most detailed grasp of the problem at hand – they just need to be coaxed into sharing it. When many images and ideas have been captured on the whiteboard, the Red Pen people will finally take a deep breath, reluctantly pick up the pen, and move to the board – where they redraw everything, often coming up with the clearest picture of them all.

Roam’s conclusion of these different types of people?

Regardless of visual thinking confidence or pen-color preference, everybody already has good visual thinking skills, and everybody can easily improve those skills. Visual thinking is an extraordinarily powerful way to solve problems, and though it may appear to be something new, the fact is that we already know how to do it.

What color is your pen?

There’s Nothing Wrong with Words…

…what’s wrong is that they’re not enough.

I’m currently enrolled in, and taking online, The Napkin Academy from visual communicator Dan Roam.


  1. There is no more powerful way to discover a new idea than to draw a simple picture
  2. There is no faster way to develop and test an idea than to draw a simple picture
  3. There is no more effective way to share an idea with other people than to draw a simple picture

In a typical organization – including ChurchWorld – there is a whole gang of smart people so overwhelmed by verbal data that they’re hard pressed to know what to pay attention to.

The words and data are overwhelming.

That’s where pictures come in. Whether drawing them, looking at them, or talking about them, pictures add enormously to our ability to think, to remember, and most importantly, to do.

I’m really benefitting from being a part of The Napkin Academy – and you can too.

It’s time to put down the mouse and pick up a pen…

Your Visual Thinking Toolkit

Any problem can be made clearer with a picture, and any picture can be made using the same simple set of tools and rules.

–       Dan Roam, The Back of the Napkin

Author, consultant, and visual thinker Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin, Unfolding the Napkin, and Blah, Blah, Blah) argues that everyone is born with a talent for visual thinking, even those who swear they can’t draw.

Here are the main concepts as covered in his first book The Back of the Napkin and expanded on in the next two books. Using these simply powerful tools, he shows anyone how to clarify a problem or sell an idea by visually breaking it down using a simple set of visual thinking tools.

3 Basic Visual Thinking Tools

  • Our eyes
  • Our mind’s eye
  • Our hand-eye coordination

4 Steps of the Visual Thinking Process

  • Look
  • See
  • Imagine
  • Show

5 Questions to Help Open Your Mind’s Eye

  • Simple or Elaborate
  • Qualitative or quantitative
  • Vision or execution
  • Individual or comparison
  • Change or status quo

6 Ways We See and Show

  • Who/what – portrait
  • How much – chart
  • Where – map
  • When – timeline
  • How – flowchart
  • Why – plot

The Back of the Napkin proves that thinking with pictures can help you discover and develop new ideas, solve problems in unexpected ways, and dramatically improve your ability to share your insights. You will literally begin to see the world in a new way. Ven though the book has been available for several years, if you haven’t got one I encourage you to pick up a copy as soon as possible to fully understand, and implement, these powerful communication tools.

These tools have a new meaning to me as Vision Room Curator at Auxano. To help me better prepare for my new role, I’m starting school today: Dan Roam’s Napkin Academy, the first online school for visual thinking. I’ll be posting more about it later this week.

You should pick up a pen and join me!