Recently I was interviewed by a bright, young reporter from Communication Arts about The Grove’s work in visual facilitation. “I’m talking to a lot of different people and really wanted to talk with you, an acknowledged leader in this field,” she said. “I want to get to some of the underlying theory and structure of what is happening."
This opening triggered an immediate cascade of memories back to the 1970s when Interaction Associates, Geoff Ball, Fred Lakin, and I were on fire about Group Graphics, the future of technology, facilitation, and organizations. After all, we were in the curl of the massive wave of rethinking that all of my generation was doing about established institutions. Why not take on knowledge work and how we know what we know?
At the time I was steeped in General Semantics, a somewhat esoteric but very influential movement which should have been called 'applied epistemology'—the study of how we know what we know and how that knowing guides action. I knew Joe Brunon was doing something called “Generative Graphics” down at Stanford Research Institute. Meanwhile Michael Doyle, an architect, was comfortable drawing all over flip charts in his work. I wasn’t thinking about “leading” anything at this point. I was learning like crazy, and it was a true collaboration.
I did stick with it and write and teach a lot about visual facilitation. The Grove has fielded hundreds of workshops since our first in 1980. Then Wiley & Sons convinced me to begin writing the Visual Leadership Series in 2009, with three books now published. I have thought a lot about our field and now accept the responsibility of being a thought leader, but I still wonder about what this means.