Copyright CMC 2001
MOVE YOUR THOUGHTS INTO NEW MEANINGS
LogoVisual Technology began in the 1960s with the development of structural communication by an English scientist, John Bennett. It was first designed as a method of exchanging information to facilitate understanding rather than knowledge alone. It used new emergent principles of systems and holistic thinking that were anchored in specific logics and technologies. First applied in schools, it made its way into the arena of management training and mutated into a creative medium of thinking for individuals and groups. In the year 2000, this method came to be called ‘logovisual technology’ to designate its full significance.
LOGO – indicates it has to do with meaning and our human concerns
VISUAL – indicates that it makes thought and meaning visible both to oneself and to others
TECHNOLOGY – indicates the integral role of various tools, devices and software enabling the participant to handle thoughts and meanings in a tangible way
LogoVisual Technology is under continual development at the Centre for Management Creativity, based in Yorkshire, UK. CMC provides tools, software, manuals, seminars and consultancy in support.
The method assimilates the contributions of ‘mind-mapping’, ‘brainstorming’ and ‘lateral thinking’ and many other methods of creative thinking and group work by enabling people to ‘make meaning’ in a variety of ways according to their own purpose and concerns. It is being used in problem-solving, conferencing, counselling, etc. It appeals to both artistic and scientific temperaments, to the man in a hurry and to those who wish to go deeply into something. In the year 2000 it was first introduced into mainland China and is currently being applied to the method of innovation called TRIZ, first developed in Russia.
LVT (logovisual technology) enables you to experiment with your thoughts and find new meanings and patterns. Instead of thinking being ‘hidden’ inside your head, it is brought out into visible space. By making your thoughts visible it becomes possible to reorganise them into more effective pathways. In a group this has the added bonus of provding a means of making a common language so that participants can better understand each other and have a real chance of thinking together instead of at variance with each other.
The elements of LVT can be made with the simplest of means, such as cards and a pinboard, but there are also sophisticated softwares that enable inviduals and groups to handle complex information and ideas with a facility to record thinking as it evolves. The important thing is that the user is in control at every stage.
Brainstorming Sessions Move From Blackboard to PC Screen By JEREMY WAGSTAFF Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
If, like me, you’re still recovering from the excesses of the season, you might not be ready for this — but I’d like to discuss brainstorming. I’ve always been somewhat suspicious of the concept, harboring visions of meetings where people say things like “I’m thinking revolving yogurt spoons for senior citizens” and the decibel level of contributors is in inverse proportion to the quality of their input. The results are usually determined less by their brilliance than by the approaching lunch break. It needn’t be quite this awful, even on a full New Year celebration stomach. Technology can help. Trust me.
Enter Visual Concept from the northern England-based Center for Management Creativity, founded by John Varney (www.cmcsite.com). It is a program designed to aid individual or group creativity, and is an offshoot of the center’s decade-old involvement in fostering business creativity and innovation. In essence, the program entails using movable shapes to encapsulate ideas, which are then shuffled and linked to each other to form clusters, or arrangements of ideas. This, you may think, doesn’t sound very revolutionary. It isn’t. But where Mr. Varney has the edge over similar products is that the simple, visual approach of his thinking naturally lends itself to computers in ways that, say, the mind maps of creative-thinking guru Tony Buzan, don’t.
What the Center for Management Creativity has done is to transfer its whiteboard-based approach to software. And it works. In a nutshell, it goes like this: Get your brain-stormers to throw out ideas and assign each of them to a hexagon — the preferred shape in that they lock onto other hexagons easily, but don’t box your ideas in. Then, when the brainstorming session is exhausted, cluster those hexagons together where obvious links exist and watch as relationships that weren’t previously clear gradually make themselves apparent. Of course, you could do this on a whiteboard. But a computer screen is a natural fit for this kind of brainstorming since it allows much more flexibility to move things around, alter shapes, add links and mix colors on the fly. Not all relationships may be direct, for example, which is where more complex couplings can be used or links added to other objects or files.
Admittedly, this all takes some getting used to. I tried out the concept on a range of issues, including my New Year’s resolutions and thoughts on the general direction of technology (not on the same sheet, mind you) and found some interesting things about myself I’d rather not discuss here. I’m sure that in a group environment, and with practice, the approach would pay big dividends. I’m a big fan of mind-maps, where branches of related ideas are rooted in a central concept (see the excellent Mind Manager at www.mindman.com). But I found Visual Concept more flexible in some ways, since it allowed me to throw out ideas of all kinds without having to assign them any sort of relationship with each other, or hierarchy, in brainstorming jargon. Both programs share some key attributes: They are very well designed, very robust and very flexible. Visual Concept has the look and feel of a top drawer program, which probably helps justify its $400 price tag. But it’s a pleasure to see software properly thought through and written.
If I had quibbles, they would be minor ones. In some cases, there are one too many steps in assigning text to a shape — that can get in the way of free-flowing thought. In others, I’d like to be able to easily switch colors for a series of shapes without having to alter each one separately. These are small grumbles. This software can help ease those brainstorming blues and actually assist you in thinking instead of obstructing you. It dovetails beautifully with other programs such as Microsoft Word, and comes with serious, in-depth tutorials that should set you on the way to innovation and creativity. Indeed, I’d love to see some crossover between this and mind-mapping software, perhaps exploring three-dimensional space. Who knows, it may even put an end to those “I’m thinking solar-powered legwarmers for household pets…” type conversations. Write to Jeremy Wagstaff at [email protected]
‘Logo Visual Technology’ (LVT) can add tremendous value in any context where people are involved in thinking things through and the rudiments of LVT can be picked up in a few minutes. The ‘logo’ part of the name refers to meaning and meaning can be expressed in terms of knowledge, ideas, feelings, images or whatever works for you. The ‘visual’ part refers to making your meanings visible – by making your thoughts visible you engage more of your brain. The ‘technology’ part is about ways of handling your meanings as if they were objects. You can do LVT with just some cards and desk space, with Post-it(tm) notes you can stick to a wall or with purpose designed products such as MagNotes. You can also invest in some smart software and do things you have barely dreamt of. LVT puts your brain to work in new ways. We are discovering more and more about its power and range. LVT organises thinking.
It creates meaning from meaning. You begin with basic chunks that are called ‘molecules of meaning’ – MMs – because they can build into more complex wholes. The MMs can be sorted into an order but, more importantly, they can be arranged into several orders, by clustering them into significant groups. The meaning of the clusters can then, in their turn, be made into a intelligible structure. The elements of meaning are arranged on a board or displayed on a computer screen. This space can be shared with others so that you can ‘think together’ and form a kind of mind. Essentially then, LVT is about making our ideas visible and being able to move them around – as if we can see and move things round inside our minds. This is all the more significant when you think about groups of minds working together. Anyone who wants to think better and share meaning with others can benefit from LVT. It is here to serve people, and release their potential. However, it is a rich technology and like any technology needs to be explored and learned so that, with practised skill, it can add value in many domains. There is no doubt it should be a tool in the hands of managers, teachers and students – anyone who needs to improve their thinking and that of others.
The tools of LVT impact on such a broad range of methods and applications that we shall not attempt to offer a comprehensive study in this publication. What we offer is an introduction to the core method. Once you can relate LVT to your own experience, it becomes a very natural thing to use.
Changes in the way people think and communicate for the most part take place very slowly but sometimes there are sudden jumps. We believe that we are in a time of such a sudden jump. Only very recently, the idea of visual language has made an appearance. This is largely due to the prevalence of computers, which can make accessible standard images, forms, icons, etc. and also facilitate topological arrangements of material on a page. Robert Horn’s major reference book Visual Language: global communication for the 21st century presents the case for the power of combining words and images. Making thought visible enables it to become public and so overcomes many of the obstacles to communication and involvement that beset most ways of interacting. Once you get the taste for visual language you will wonder how you ever managed without it!
But visual language is only half the story. LVT includes a tangibility component, so that people can not only see what they think but also move it about. This means that visual language is put into the hands of people and they do not have to rely on experts to express their ideas for them. The roots of LVT go very far back. At one time landscapes were shaped to carry information as we can still see in ancient sites. Several hundred years ago, Raymond Lull – often regarded as the father of computer science – devised technologies of thinking. The same programme was taken up by Gottlieb Leibniz in the seventeenth century. In Renaissance times, there was a resurgence of ‘the art of memory’ – ways of visualising knowledge in patterns. It was in 1966 that a private research institute, under the direction of the English mathematician and philosopher John Bennett, came up with the idea of structural communication. Structural communication is the direct ancestor of LVT. Developed as an educational technique, it proved too complex to realise with the technology of the time – there were no PCs around then and the teaching machine developed by Bennett’s team in association with the then General Electric Company was cumbersome! For that reason, simpler approaches were adopted, leading to the use of hexagons with magnetic backing.
Very slowly, this application made its way into management use. In structural communication, the ‘student’ was presented with a prepared set of MMs in a numbered array, and these numbers were used to answer questions and to diagnose these answers and feedback corresponding comments. Examples can be viewed at www.toponome.net, a web site devoted to structural communication. The management use of the technique, using magnetic hexagons, loosened the method and made it creative. It also revealed the importance of being able to handle the MMs as ‘objects’. Now we have come full circle and powerful computers are readily available to bring structural communication to life as LVT. LVT is a new way of thinking, a new kind of language, going beyond the visual into the tactile and physical. This is carried over into computer applications, where we simulate physical operations. The involvement of people in the process means that LVT favours democratic and open-forum processes.
THE ABC OF LVT
We have invented the term ‘logovisual technology’ to describe something that a lot of people are already doing. It identifies a method that has enormous potential. You can do LVT with just some cards and desk space, or with post-it notes you can stick to a wall. You can also invest in some smart software and do things you have barely dreamt of. LVT puts your brain to work in new ways and we are discovering more and more about its power and range. The rudiments of LVT can be picked up in a few minutes.
The ‘logo’ part of the name refers to meaning and meaning can be expressed in terms of knowledge, ideas, feelings, images or whatever works for you.
The ‘visual’ part refers to making your meanings visible – by making your thoughts visible you engage more of your brain.
The ‘technology’ part is about ways of handling your meanings as if they were objects.
Anyone who wants to think better and share meaning with others can benefit from LVT. It is here to serve people, and release their potential. However, it is a startling technology and like any technology needs to be explored and learned so that, with practised skill, it can add value in many domains. There is no doubt it should be a tool in the hands of managers, teachers and anyone who needs to improve their thinking and that of others.
Logovisual Technology – the Method
Logovisual technology (LVT) makes meaning tangible, so it can be shared, seen and handled. It is like a game that uses a board and pieces that are moved around (as in chess) but, in LVT, the players create the pieces and decide what they mean. The pieces are bits of knowledge relevant to the people involved. We call these ‘molecules of meaning’ (MMs). The ‘game’ is played by moving the MMs into patterns, so that more meaning is generated or revealed. The rules of the game are generated by the players as they play the game. LVT can become the most sophisticated tool of creative thinking or used simply for example to sort out holiday plans. The same basic form underlies all applications. This form has three stages or levels.
A. Generate and collect together the molecules of meaning
B. Move and arrange the MMs into groups or clusters
C. Configure the clusters into one total view
These three provide three levels of ‘play’, each of which has its own logic and discipline and process. They are there to be used and developed if you want to. We have described LVT in terms of a ‘game’ but this is only one of a whole range of metaphors that can be used. Contrary to most techniques currently available, LVT does not dictate how you ‘play the game’. This makes it extremely versatile. The more you understand your purpose and what you want to achieve, the more use LVT can be to you. LVT does not tell you what your purpose should be. It puts tools into the hands of people that can help them articulate their own thoughts, share them with others and see more clearly what has to be decided. Therefore it tends to foster democratic process and dialogue rather than control and dictation.
LVT need not be a long-drawn out process and can be done as quickly as you have time for. Here are some sample exercises you can do in as short space of time as ten minutes. To actually do something yourself is worth a hundred explanations from others.
Here is a five-minute LVT exercise. A Fresh Look Around You
If you don’t have available LVT tools such as MagNotes you will need something like index cards, or at least some pieces of paper, and a pen.
Molecules of meaning. Look around the room at the objects. Put the name of an object on a card and then add its relevant qualities. E.g. ‘TABLE: support, working space’ or ‘WINDOW: view, light’ and so on. Proceed until you have at least 10 and preferably 20 such items.
Clusters. Shuffle the cards and pick out three or four. Lay them out in a cluster. See the combination as suggesting an arrangement of things in the room different from how things actually are, and as a ‘good idea’. What is this good idea?
Total view. Close your eyes and imagine the room as in a totally different arrangement. Just see what you get. The actual molecules of meaning as objects are the table, window, chair, painting, carpet, etc. but they represent feelings and qualities for us As we move the objects around we are also bringing about different combinations of feeling experience in ourselves.
Here is a longer exercise but it need no take more than ten minutes Active Reading
Molecules of meaning. Take a report you are working on or anything that concerns you that you are free to cover with marks. As fast as you can, scan the page of the report or document and circle with a marker pen phrases that stand out as significant. Once you have done that, use the marker pen and cover over all the uncircled text, so that you are left with a largely dark sheet with several phrases left clear.
Clusters. Split the set of phrases you have picked out into two or more groups in any way you like and, on cards (or MagNotes if you have them) write one sentence that contains the meaning of all the phrases, one card for each group.
Total view. Arrange the cards roughly in a circle – and write down in the centre the core message. As before, we emphasise speed and not thinking things out. Just go through the motions and you may be surprised at what you get.
A Simple Model
The method of LVT has many roots, including the emergence of visual language, studies of creative thinking, understanding the dialogue process, and many others. Now we give a simple model that sums up much of this and is based on understanding creative thinking. It combines two interplays: between splitting and fusing, and between making and seeing.
Thinking does not produce new iacnformation – which has to come through the senses or ‘experience’ – but it does produce new meaning. It does this by an alternation of splitting and fusion. It takes what is known and splits it into atoms, molecules or elements. Without this splitting into smaller bits, nothing new can be made; because what we know is in clumps, locked into a set pattern. When we have extracted the atomic or molecular elements, we are free to combine them in many different ways. Every combination of the elements will make some kind of sense. But some will be more obvious than others and some will be more relevant or significant than others. We have to see what we make and make what we see.
Split – Fuse
The alternation of fission and fusion can apply to many levels. The making of clusters of MMs is research into the meaning of combinations. This is a splitting of the whole field of MMs into new kinds of elements. These new elements may then be fused together into yet another kind of meaning in the total view. Splitting and fusion alternate and are equally important. They represent the basic creative process, in which atomistic thinking and holistic thinking enhance each other. If you can split your thoughts into ‘smaller’ pieces you can make some new thoughts. If you do not split them, your thinking will continue as before, on the same level and with the same content. The well-known phrase ‘seeing the wood for the trees’ is good but emphasises the ‘fusion’ or holistic side. It is also important to ‘see the branches for the trees’ or the ‘splitting’ side as well. One without the other
Making – Seeing
Whatever appears on the screen or on the board is something we have made. It is a physical construct made out of objects that represent meanings. We need to stand back from time to time to assimilate and ‘read’ or see the meanings that are suggested by the clusters or arrangements of MMs. Sometimes, this kind of seeing or reading is called visualisation’ which is ‘to see the parts as a whole’. Logovisual technology goes beyond visual thinking because it involves the actual handling of meaning: making, placing, moving, arranging, etc. This is called the tangibility factor because it comes out of our basic senses of touch, bodily awareness and movement. The facility to handle and change the elements of meaning at any stage in the process is crucial. In LVT we ‘make’ meaning by handling MMs.
LVT is supported by a range of products. There are kits in which molecules of meaning are handled as physical objects in physical space and there is software where this done in ‘virtual space’. By convention, the MMs are written statements on hexagonal shapes. These shapes are most useful when it comes to clustering them together into groups. The hexagons are attached to white boards by a magnetic backing that enables them to be picked up and moved at will. When working alone, you can use a personal kit about the size of a lap top, or an actual lap top using Visual Concept software.
MagNotes is the trade marked name for magnetically backed hexagons sold by CMC.
Visual Concept is the trade marked name for the LVT software developed by CMC.
Using the software, you can rapidly compose LVT models (as is shown) but you can also link MMs to detailed documentation, web sites, email addresses, audio-visual material, etc. When working with others in a group, you can use larger size equipment or computers equipped with projection facilities. Different colour hexagons can be used to depict different levels or types of meaning. A list of products available from CMC is given at the end of this document. LVT involves not only tools but also methods, to which this small handbook is an introduction. Facilitators can acquire know-how through specialised seminars and workshops provided by CMC.