I received a note from an experienced architect looking to get into the field of graphic facilitation, inspired a bit by another practitioner and my book Visual Meetings. I took some time to respond to his questions and thought I might share them more generally here.
Thanks for your note. I was planning on being an architect myself back in my 20s, even enrolled in school, but another job opened up and I went in another direction, the but the architectural field is really the source of our approach at The Grove—in that designers have always worked visually and interactively. Let me try and answer your questions.
RE TRAINING: Our Principle of Graphic Facilitation workshop is for people who want to be professionals, and is filling up rapidly these days. We have another one day workshop on Visual Meetings on September 27 that is more of an overview. It still has room. It’s designed for a bigger group and focused on builidng awareness of all the possibilities.
HOW HARD IS IT? The business of being a graphic facilitator, combining the graphics with the group leading, is a much more challenging prospect than just recording graphically. You need to understand group process AND the chart work. Many recorders can’t do it. But a handful of us are wired in a way that we can, and it is a great way to work with groups. The more complex mapping and information design practices work better having the graphics person guiding the process. In effect people experience doing collaborative visualization through the medium of the facilitator. There are, of course, as I point out in Visual Meetings, many ways to get the group to do the visualizing themselves.
MORE WOMEN IN THE FIELD? I think the reason that there are more women in the field is due to the fact that listening is a more “yin” type of activity. Being receptive isn’t what men are taught, mostly. Although there is a good network of us who are busy integrating our various selves and find being receptive a nice balance to the masculine stereotype. I’m personally pretty alpha by upbringing and the graphic facilitation has been a great, balancing practice.
RECESSION? The recession knocked us down in 2009 and we actually had a RIF, our first at The Grove. But 2010 and 2011 have seen the business return. It seems to be lubbing a bit again now, but people need to plan even more than ever in the face of uncertainty. Our main challenge is very tight clients budgets and overworked client staffs. It’s a lot more work getting work.
TOO OLD? Regarding your “foray at 62” I can’t really say what the biggest obstacles would be generically. A lot has to do with the kind of person you are. I think people hire consultants/facilitators for all kinds of reasons, some of which are the stated, practical ones. If a person is able to bring out the best in their clients and groups, and really contribute, then people come back. It’s a referral business, where the results sort of speak for themselves—at least the visual part of it. Energy levels different with different people. I don’t know yours. I do know that visual work is active, demanding, and fun! I’m 67 and still loving it. I’m getting challenged with poor hearing in one ear, and I’m a bit creakier, but still find that moving around is a lot better than sitting!!
MARKETING? How you decide to “market” yourself can vary. Some come in through the door of graphic recording, which seems to have more and more demand. The trap here is getting sidelined into doing meeting documentation off to the side. I think that is a very different kind of work than leading a group by managing a visual display they are using actively.
Another door in is through consulting—playing to your strength, which I would guess is physical planning of various sorts. This market is challenged in that municipalities and agencies, which tend to this kind of process, don’t have much money. We’ve found working for the government a real challenge, and are hassling out our GSA status as we speak.
A third doorway is to come in as a designer, helping people create visuals for presentations and other communications. I like this interface, in that the client things I have the problem (of visualizing) instead of them having the problem (a weak strategy for instance). I can get them talking and engaging in the process of exploring what ought to go in a visual and do a lot of solid alignment work.