Heather Willems, Author, Facilitator, Visual Storyteller

Scaling Up Services - Heather Willlems

Heather Willems, Author, Facilitator, Visual Storyteller

Heather Willems is the Co-Author of Draw Your Big Idea and visual strategist. She has made it her life work to help others gain Clarity Through Creativity ™ . As an artist, graphic facilitator, and mentor, she helps top executives operate more efficiently using visuals as a tool for unlocking solutions to their toughest challenges. Building on her experience as co-founder of ImageThink, she visualizes the biggest ideas of some of the world’s most influential companies by creating long-lasting records of ideas in an engaging, memorable way.

After 15 years of facilitating breakthroughs with clients, she helps organizations work more purposefully by activating their vision, mission, and values. She visualizes big ideas for world's most influential thought leaders and companies including Disney, AOL, FedEx, Google, Lego, and NASA. Her work has been featured on TED, The Today Show, MSNBC, Inc., Forbes, Mashable and the Wall Street Journal.

Whether she’s leading workshops or speaking about the power of visual storytelling in both her personal life and in organizations, she has a passion for making connections. She’s spoken at New York Times Small Business Summit, Conference for Women, Columbia University, SXSW, Comic-con, PTTOW! and more.

Heather lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.


Grab Heather’s book Draw Your Big Idea: https://www.amazon.com/Draw-Your-Big-Idea-Creativity/dp/1452152926


[00:00:01] You're listening to Scaling Up Services where we speak with entrepreneurs authors business experts and thought leaders to give you the knowledge and insights you need to scale your service based business faster and easier. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.

[00:00:22] Welcome everyone this is Scaling Up Services. I'm Bruce Eckfeldt, I’m your host and our guest today is Heather Willems. And Heather is a creative storyteller. We're going to find a little bit about the work that she's done as a visual strategist as a graphic facilitator as an entrepreneur herself. And I'm excited about this being being someone who originally was out of the creative field.

[00:00:39] I always have a certain soft spot for people who understand creativity understand design design thinking and so with that. Heather welcome to the program. Thank you very much.

[00:00:49] So what do we start with background because I know that you've had a lot of different kind of. You've worked with a lot different companies. You've had a lot of experiences as a designer as a creator as a facilitator. How did how did you get into this. Well so let's do the background of how you got into us. We can split a little more detail what what visual storytelling is and how you how you do it. What is the actual process.

[00:01:13] Sure. I have a background as a visual artist actually went and got my master's degree in photography from there. I ended up working as an educator and then eventually found my way into consulting and the visual storytelling I actually discovered while being a waitress.

[00:01:36] We're all good. Yeah exactly. Exactly.

[00:01:41] Let me ask this. Have you always been creative.

[00:01:43] I mean were you the type of person who you know five years old was doing these amazing drawings and you know visually like at your core visual and graphic in that sense very early or that was that something that developed over time.

[00:01:56] Well rumor has it. Apparently I was drawing before I was four years old I was drawing. But you know every parent says that. But both of my parents are very creative and I believe that I come from a long line of artists and different forms. But my mother was before graphic design. She was an illustrator so she wouldn't like draw the things I'm fumbling over my work to get both of my parents come from a creative field my dad was a interior decorator and then my mother did commercial art.

[00:02:29] Got it. She was genetically genetically predisposed to being being creative there.

[00:02:34] I prefer to draw pictures or write stories than play with toys and I guess the story goes that I I packed up all of my toys when I was eight years old and proclaimed that I didn't need them anymore.

[00:02:47] They should be given to a child who is in need of these toys that I am.

[00:02:50] Yes. And my mom was just like oh sure. So she's sort of down in the basement but I never I never played them again I was really interested in drawing and and writing stories.

[00:03:00] Yeah.

[00:03:00] Did you always know that you were going to have a very kind of creative visual graphic career or was that a question that various points of upbringing and professional decision making.

[00:03:10] You know what. I made it a mission that I would make my career out of art. And the reason I was really actually motivated by my father who found it to be so challenging to be a creative and business that he really wanted me to go into business school and I refused. Like every 18 year old daughter does. But yeah I really I really made it my mission I was just I was kind of at the beginning I was like I'll show you dad that I can make a living.

[00:03:43] This is a defiant an act of defiance.

[00:03:45] It was it really was at the beginning it was an act of defiance. But then as I started doing it I found that it was everywhere especially when I was teaching I taught at the Ohio State University and my students would come in and say you know I have to quit your class because my parents want me to take some real classes. And from that point I really made it a mission not only to build my career around art but then also be able to show other people that they could do the same thing.

[00:04:15] Yeah that's powerful.

[00:04:17] So how have you turned it into this profession I mean what was the or the stages you kind of went through in terms of figuring out how to make this you know not only you know a creative kind of creatively satisfying but also professionally successful.

[00:04:31] Well I think at first as I mentioned I started out as a photographer and I have a master's degree in photography so at first I started doing editorial work and then started working in the commercial do it working commercially working for Target and Andersen Windows and Wolf which is a kitchen appliance. Oh yeah yeah sure. So I worked. I worked for a chick the photography and I was working in the corporate world. And that was not us not satisfy me because I didn't feel like I had at that young age I don't feel like I had full creative control in that situation. But coming in to say my 30s and then even now today the work that I enjoy doing really is coming from one trusting my creative instincts. And then to answering a question that I don't have an answer to. And in this case it's really like what is the greater purpose. Like what is our greater purpose as individuals. What is our greater purpose as individuals within an organization. What is the organization's greater purpose. And how do I align with that. So those are some of the questions that I started asking myself. And then from the business perspective like how do you make a business out of that.

[00:05:46] What I found through my creative practice is if you can find the value in the process of answering that question what's something that you can start to turn into a service business.

[00:06:00] Yeah I like it.

[00:06:02] Let's talk a little bit it would just about sort of the nature of this kind of visual thinking or using some of the techniques that I've seen you use it you know in some of the events that I've seen you out and stuff. I mean I think that one of the kind of powerful things that I've seen in terms of people reacting to you know the work that you do. I think there's just a different part of your brain or something that starts to get engaged when you start sort of thinking with images and illustrations when you start getting out of the words and the language construct and then seeing things in terms of visual into relationships. But I guess what has been your experience or how have you.

[00:06:38] How have you kind of developed that as a skill and then used that as a facilitation tool. Talk to me a little bit about that.

[00:06:45] The first thing that comes to mind when talking about visual note taking and then bringing that practice into the business world as a visual strategist I can kind of speak to it in two different ways. One is the individual who is as you said thinking differently in a in a while they're listening and then as a facilitator who is guiding a conversation. When being when it's being used when I take visual notes and the visual note taking is I'm basically doing three things I'm listening to the conversation I'm picking up the key ideas the main points that are being made and then drawing images to support that message. And I think the value of it as an individual to do this. So whether you're in your own business meeting or you're you're just taking notes at home and having it as a creative practice is that it increases your ability to absorb information and increases understanding. And I believe that the primary reason is because you are listening in a different way as you mentioned we're just just listen to Eric Maddock speak.

[00:07:53] Oh yeah. Yeah. Just the other night.

[00:07:55] Oh yeah yeah. And one of the things that struck me when he was speaking is that he said we listen five times faster. We listen five times faster than people speak so interesting. Yeah we're only hearing 20 percent of the information that's being given to us. We are filling in 80 percent of our capacity with distractions. And so what the what the visual note taking does is it consumes some of that distraction area. So we're kinetically connecting to the content and listening for that next point that's going to be made. So while other people are looking at their phones or noticing the food that's waiting for them after the speaker is done talking you're still connected to the content by taking the visual notes too.

[00:08:47] You mentioned something that I hadn't quite thought at or appreciated that you know use it as a listening tool for yourself.

[00:08:54] How can anyone do this or is there I mean you'd know you're a highly talented I seen your work fits in it's you know visually stunning and you know it has a very developed kind of graphical style or capability you know for somebody who is not trained in illustration and in graphic composition in these seats can they use this to listen better.

[00:09:16] Absolutely. It doesn't have to do anything with how beautiful the images are. It's about communicating the ideas.

[00:09:25] So it's all about just it's even whatever level of drawing skill you have just using you using the DOD word on kind of language based capturing of the stuff that you're hearing will activate a different kind of part of your brain or allow you to listen in a different way.

[00:09:41] Absolutely. So even if you're just doodling while you're on a phone call or something with you know just nonsensical information it helps to not only increase your listening skills but it also increases the memory of the content that you are engaged with.

[00:09:57] Fascinating. That's a great takeaway for folks to in terms of then so that was kind of you see it as a listening tool.

[00:10:03] Talk to me about as a facilitation tool so listening to us a little bit of a that conversation is going on or that presentation is being made over here and I'm I'm kind of capturing it in this way. I'm listening to it. How how do you use it as a tool to help actually facilitate the process direct direct the conversation or direct the energy of the group. And how does that work.

[00:10:24] There are a lot of different techniques that you can use one way that I like to use the visual strategy with teams is to create a template when people are coming into the space. So it might be something as simple as a giant Venn diagram drawn up on a flip chart that indicates that something's going to happen and that in that space or it could be a visual like a visual story that's telling the entire journey of a customer from you know from discovery to the point of purchase. So drawing up the content that normally would be shown in a PowerPoint and having that up in the space when people walk into the room that it's an indicator that this is going to be a different type of meeting. Another benefit to having the content captured in a visual way and having it up in the space throughout the entire meeting is that you can refer back to something that happened an hour prior and it's not hidden in a flip chart it's not a crumpled up on the floor as posted notes falling off of it. It's a very clean visual template that's capturing the conversation that's happening in the space. And we're talking a little bit more about the act of listening and how that's improved through the visual note taking.

[00:11:38] It's also increased increases the engagement of the participants in how they listen and participate in the meeting because remember you're talking about how there's so many distractions that we're experiencing when we're actually listening to something. One of them is that one people are worried about is their idea being heard another fear or concern that people might have is does their idea have the same weight as their bonds. That's interesting. The hierarchy of information and idea that are happening and then I think a third bonus of having and then another thing that might be concerning to them like what am I going to say next. Am I going you know how you're perceived in this space and in the room. So one of the benefits of having a visual strategist or a facilitator in the room is that when I'm in the space I'm listening with unbiased years what I'm interested in is capturing the information creating a story that people can connect to and see the problem from a different perspective. And then once all of those ideas are up in an even playing field scene where two ideas may come together and merge to create something that's much more robust than the original problem was asking.

[00:12:52] Yeah I like this idea that you can create this map it creates a map of the conversation allows you to quickly go back to other points in the conversation visually more quickly and then you have these kind of connections because a conversation gets a verbal dialogue you know is a very linear ephemeral thing you know. So the moment it passes it passes it's very difficult to the reader. This kind of gives you a map and a toolset to to be able to draw connections and see how these things fit together it potentially could be put together a new way. So I'd like that idea. So let's go.

[00:13:25] So I think that gives people a sense of sort of the the way in which you apply this approach in terms of helping you know either engage you know engage folks capture deeper levels of meeting and then you know using as a map from a facilitation process in terms of what you use it for.

[00:13:42] You know I know that your you've been a big proponent of culture and purpose and you know helping companies really define their values and what their mission is.

[00:13:54] So talk to us about how you can use this process to help help companies get to those questions because I think those are those are really hard questions you guys.

[00:14:03] As a coach and someone who works with companies they've got to try to get to this stuff a lot. You know oftentimes you're just looking kind of deer in the headlights when you start bringing this stuff up. How how does this create a new sort of different more effective angle to get to those questions. You're right. The stuff is

[00:14:19] So hard. It's like really diving into the core of who you are and then forming the organization around that. When I think about this work of identifying the the purpose and the vision the mission and the values of the company I call it the first work because it's really the foundation of what everything is built in your organization and you're talking about culture.

[00:14:47] I believe that the culture is strengthened by having a very clear articulated vision and mission for where you're going and also getting the input from all of your team members into that process I think is very important because one they feel like their voices are heard. So that's as as a leader you're going to be able to see their perspective whether you agree with it or not you're going to start to have some understanding of where they're coming from. Once you create this empathy therefore you're developing this trust and then to have an image of it drawn up. It's something that everybody can start to align to and I'm always fascinated how people really have deep ownership in these images that I helped them create. When I started out doing this process they'd come up like oh there's my drawing. Was like Hey I just drew that

[00:15:40] Like last I checked that.

[00:15:43] But people good. Yeah. Good good. Feel ownership of it.

[00:15:47] And that's one of the things like what is talking about when you find the value in the questions that you're asking and you start talking about that that's when you start to be able to build up a business in that way. But anyway it creates this ownership that that people really have around the mission vision and the values. So right now I'm focusing on seminars called clarity through creativity and told me actually just coming up I'm about to do a workshop tomorrow actually. And what I'm doing is I'm I'm leading a group of individuals within the organization to ultimately articulate and define their own purpose to their individual purpose not the company's purpose but they're not the company's purpose. The individual purpose of why they get it it's there you know Simon Sinek is you know like why they get up in the morning why they come into work and I was talking to the owner of this agency and it's like what if everybody decides that they don't that they're. Right and you know one that's really important information like it sooner rather than later. Yeah your team isn't aligned with your your purpose. But ultimately what my goal is with the session is to help them to tap into their bigger why or their purpose their motto their personal mission and then tie it to the organizations. Yeah that makes sense because I'm so excited because it's really great to see how people start to make decisions that are empowering themselves by doing it in a group setting. They're able to learn what their colleagues need to achieve their purpose and they're able to take actions to help them and support them and then ultimately together they can find ways to support the company's purpose.

[00:17:36] Yeah but I'm curious how so how were you setting up the workshop or you know you're giving giving everyone a poster board and in color trapeze and having them draw. Like what's what's the what's your what's the process that you use to help them use this technique to actually get to those get to those underlying learnings.

[00:17:55] Yeah. Well I mentioned the templates earlier about using those the templates to guide and facilitate the conversation. I've developed a single page PDA that. Are taking that the digital file.

[00:18:11] I've created a single page template that guides people through this process and ultimately the ideas that people be able to download the PDA and do it do some of this really hard work at home. But for myself personally I love guiding people through it so it takes them through a journey it's really identifying their strengths uncovering their motivation what drives them articulating the beliefs that they have and then how those beliefs are tied to their values and then ultimately like what is the commitment they want to make to change in a commitment to change that they want to make and who are they serving. So it's an intense process.

[00:18:51] I can imagine I can imagine there's there's probably a lot of emotions that bubble up to the surface of this process. You

[00:18:58] Know intentionally I but I think that's you know we are we are emotional creatures. And I think the more you can tap into that to figure out what your purpose is you know that's going to drive motivation inspiration a day to day basis.

[00:19:07] Yes I agree.

[00:19:09] So if people want to find out more about you and the work that you're doing the clarity through creativity workshops the seminar is the work that you're doing there.

[00:19:17] What's the best way to get a hold of you and find out more information.

[00:19:20] My Web site is Heather Williams dot com.

[00:19:23] Awesome. We'll make sure that in the show. This has been great. Any any other guest maybe one last question or take away from the group.

[00:19:30] If if someone is interested in kind of applying some of these techniques what's the best way to kind of play around with it to listen better to use it in sort of the next meeting or what would you suggest people do to experiment with kind of the visual side of this.

[00:19:45] Well there are a lot there's a lot of information out on the Internet where you can there's communities like the Sketch Note Army is an awesome community that everybody's doing sketching out and sharing them.

[00:19:59] These workbook is a really great book where people can start to practice those skills and it breaks it down into a very simple step by step process. Then also I co-wrote a book called Draw Your Big Idea. It gives an introduction to visual note taking but it really is chock full of. I think there's over a hundred different templates that you can use and apply to lot it's targeted towards launching a new endeavor. So whether building or a new website or a building or a new building.

[00:20:34] Why don't we get architects on this program. You want to build a building get dry.

[00:20:40] A big idea. I like it by itself. I'll put the link to the book in the show notes as well so people can do all that. This has been great. I appreciate your time. Always a fun conversation with a fellow creative and I really had fun. Yeah me too. Thank you.

[00:20:56] You've been listening to Scaling up Services with Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt. To find a full is a podcast episodes. Download the tools and worksheets and access other great content. This is a Web site that scaling up services dot com and toll free to sign up for the free newsletter scalingupservices/newsletter.