If you can’t draw it, you don’t understand it

Stick Figure

There’s a school of thought that says: if you can’t draw it, you don’t understand it.

This was a concept that was introduced to me about 7 or 8 years ago during a strategic planning session in which the facilitator asked us to draw an intractable problem we were looking to solve. We couldn’t use words, only images (even if only stick figures).

I found it was a very powerful exercise, especially when we had to work in small groups in order to define our problem in terms everyone could agree to… and then illustrate the problem without using any words.

I’ve since added this as an activity that I draw upon from time to time in order to determine whether my participants are truly getting the concept. As a facilitator, I appreciate this activity because:

a) It often stretches participants beyond their comfort zone. When you take away the ability to use written language, people get somewhat uncomfortable. Quickly.

b) It really does give me a snapshot as to whether or not the participants are getting a concept and/or whether we’re all on the same page.

The creativity that groups will come up with often amazes me. If it’s something you want to try out in an upcoming session, I’ve made a lesson plan available for you here. This is specifically geared towards change management, but feel free to adjust to suit your own needs.

If you happen to use it in an upcoming session, drop me a line. I’d love to hear how it goes!

4 thoughts on “If you can’t draw it, you don’t understand it

  1. Brian — this sounds like a fun activity. I checked out the lesson plan. Would you happen to have any examples of what your learners came up with? I would love to see how different people interpret the same concept.

  2. I can’t draw worth a toot, even stick figures or linear designs. But I often try because some learners may be able to use my drawings and “connect the dots.” I like the expression, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it.”

    • I like the concept of “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it” and I love using that as a ground rule in debriefing certain exercises. With the drawing activity, the goal is a little different and, because I can’t stay away from cliches – the beauty of the “If you can’t draw it…” activity goes to the heart of the saying: a picture is worth 1,000 words.

      Yes, there will always be participants who complain that they can’t draw worth a toot. Then again there are participants who always complain that they hate role plays or they’re introverts and therefore don’t feel comfortable speaking in large groups.

      The activity is designed to have several people put their heads together and produce *something*, some sort of imagery that evokes the spirit of the content being learned. And it can be interpreted in so many different ways, and people often take away all sorts of meanings from the imagery that the participants produce, which makes the debrief super powerful.

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