Management and self-help seminars often use a process with senior executives and managers called creating a “vision board.” This is a way to discover deeper and often hidden wishes without relying so heavily on logic. Once completed, the vision board can actually jump start change in team participation and enhance the long-term success of the company, as well as of individual employees. I have come up with a simpler version of the vision board that is more fluid and easy to use on your own for personal and professional issues. When you are mulling over something, trying to sort things out or set priorities, here is a tool you can use with great success: I call it the “quick-style vision board.”
Get a piece of blank poster board and place it somewhere you pass by often during the course of your day at home or at work: on the floor or an empty chair, or on a coffee table or game table, for example.
As you walk about during the normal course of your day, pay attention as your eye catches images. This could be a magazine cover, or headline and article clippings in a newspaper, or a favorite painting or photograph that you suddenly happen to notice for the first time in a while. Or it could even be a view from your window, or a funny antic your pet does that prompts you to take a quick snapshot with your smartphone and print it out. Just drop things on the designated space as you walk by and go through your day. Don’t think too much, just place things there that catch your eye.
Later you might take the time to cut out the images and make them into a true collage, a finished product. But for now the “quick and dirty” version of the exercise works just fine. I have found it very helpful to just walk by, drop the magazine or image or object or word on the poster board or clipboard without thought and keep moving. I don’t tear out the pages of the magazine; I just leave it cover up if it is the cover that caught my eye, or open it to the relevant page and plop it down with that page showing. If it is newsprint, I just circle the headline or image and drop it there on the poster board along with the pile of thoughts and images building up there. I might even write down thought or ideas on a piece of scrap paper and place them there.
Again, you don’t have to do much framing of the question with this technique (sometimes framing the question is important, but not this time); you just move through your day and put things down as they catch your eye. Most importantly, there is no need to judge what you are noticing: you are just dropping images that grab your fleeting attention. You don’t even know yet what this will all turn out to mean later.
Making sense of what you placed on your quick vision board
After a day or so, go to the poster board (or game table or coffee table) that you have dropped things on, and see what you’ve got. You will be amazed as you notice a theme that shows up in that apparently jumbled pile of “stuff.”
Go for images that catch your attention or draw emotion from you. Notice what your eyes are noticing. Notice if you keep going back to the same place or image. Pay attention to the clues for resolution all around you in your daily spaces, calling out answers as you walk by.
That seemingly random “stuff” will help you know what’s important to you about the issue you are mulling over even if it makes no sense to your rational mind. You can play around with putting the images in some order, mixing them up randomly, or even sorting by type or look or color or theme.
At the end of the process,while looking at the board, ask yourself, “What should I do about X?” As always with intuition, take the very first answer that pops into your mind. If the question has to do with ranking of priorities or actions, make a list in rank order while you look at the board, and while moving the images around it.
When you have completed the exercise you can save or toss the stuff you have collected and leave the poster board or table top free for your next musing. In this way you keep the fluidity of your thoughts going, and nothing is frozen in time. If the issue is a really important one for you and you want to save and savor this moment, you may actually want to take the time to cut out the images and glue them to the poster board or piece of construction paper for remembering and looking at later. Either way, this fun and often surprising exercise can resolve a deep issue that you may not easily have been able to frame or discuss. It can also help with a more neutral but complex issue you have been considering for some time without achieving clarity. And it is almost effortless. Try it once and you’ll see what I mean!
- Originally published in August 2012, revised and republished on 24 June 2016.