Visual Thinking Workshop Summary – Agile Tour Kaohsiung 2019

Spreading the Visual Thinking Love

Every year, I spend some time in Taiwan.  It’s an excuse to take a side-trip to Japan, and a great way for the kids to bond with their maternal grandparents.  This year, we decided to spend more time there than we normally would as we wanted to give our oldest daughter the opportunity to attend a local kindergarten.  With the extended time here I decided to connect with the local Agile community and spread the sketchnoting love.  To my delight, I learned that the Agile Tour movement, a worldwide series of non-profit events connecting Agile communities, had also hit Taiwan.


The biggest challenge for me was presenting a technical subject in Chinese (Mandarin), so I reached out to Mike Rohde (the father of Sketchnoting) to connect me with the Chinese translator of the Sketchnote Handbook, Ms Bubble.  I needed an accurate translation of the terms “Visual Thinking” and “Sketchnoting”.  Google translate doesn’t do so well with technical terms, but I was able to learn through photos of Mike’s translated book that the Chinese term for “Sketchnoting” is “塗鴉筆記“ (pronounced “too”, “yah”, “bee”, “gee”).

Chinese Translation of Sketchnote Handbook


With the help of the local audience, I also verified the following terms:

Graphic Recording – 視覺紀錄 (pronounced “shi”, “jueh”, “gee”, “loo”)

Visual Facilitation – 視覺引導 (pronounced “shi”, “jueh”, “dao”, “yin”)

And finally, Visual Thinking – 視覺思維

What is Visual Thinking

My favourite example used to explain visual thinking happened to be a local example.  These are real-time displays outside public toilets indicating if a cubicle is vacant, occupied, or needs investigation (?).  🙂

My friend and fellow visual thinker, Tracey Moerkerk, always describes how useful these indicators would be at a rugby stadiums or music concerts, because of ridiculous half-time toilet queues.

I introduced the concept of sketchnoting and how it helps you form connections with the content, and is so great for sharing.  Mike has been pivotal in my visual thinking journey, so logically his definition makes a cameo!

I explained how visual thinking is about expressing ideas through simple symbols (with text/colour combinations).  As Lynne Cazaly (another one of my visual thinking idols) puts it “It’s smart, not art”.  I explained how it’s easy to add simple icons to your visual dictionary by drawing it many times.  “Ducks” are my daughter’s favourite bird.  Because she’s asked me to draw ducks over and over again, I can now draw a duck in 2 seconds, seriously I kid you not!

Mike sums up this point with this page of his book – place your attention on capturing the main points.

A Visual Icebreaker

Here’s an icebreaker that you can use to:

  1. Introduce visual thinking
  2. Get to know someone new


I explain that the level of artistic ability you need for visual thinking is simply that of drawing with your non-dominant hand.  It does not have to be pretty!  In this icebreaker, participants sketch a partner with their non-dominant hand, and have a natural (rich) conversation because they’ve handed over something tangible.  They’ve had a conversation over a piece of paper.

Visual icebreaker in action!  Try this at your next team meeting!

Sketching Tea

Another exercise we did was sketching the tea making process.  This is a common icebreaker used in Agile teams to explain how people have can have diverse perspectives and interpretations on the same subject.  No two sketches are ever the same.  By visualising the tea making process, you’d have to:

  1. Listen to instructions
  2. Interpret the instructions
  3. Synthesise the tea making process in your brain
  4. Then translate it onto a piece of paper

You could then have a rich conversation about all the little nuances and variations to making tea!

We did a few other activities, such as practising using symbols and metaphors through LEGO Serious Play.  We shared some templates for visual facilitation, coaching and meetings (which you can find in my upcoming book – The Visual Coach Handbook), and finished off by sketchnoting a TED talk.

And here we have 13 new visual thinkers trained up over the course of a 2 hour workshop delivered while on holiday in Kaohsiung!

Thank you to the friends I made along the way!