Solving Problems With Pictures

A common question I get asked when mentoring leaders is “What’s the easiest way I can get people to be more innovative in solving problems?”

My response is “get your people to draw pictures.”

Some of you might baulk at this.

“I mean the last thing I want is for my people to be doodling when they should be working!”

The fact is, however, getting people and ourselves into the habit of drawing when we have a pressing problem will help in numerous ways, including: 

  • Enabling you to see patterns

  • Identify correlations

  • Communicate faster

  • Create potential ideas and solutions

  • Create, assess and anticipate potential scenarios more effectively

  • Describe accurately what has been happening in relation to a challenge

  • Create context of the problem

  • Predict potential actions or solutions and the impact they will have

  • Communicate an execution plan

  • Create and communicate a vision

  • Make sense and create meaning in a difficult time

  • Create clarity and focus for a team

Are you convinced yet? The interesting thing is that we just used a graphic tool. Bullet points and lists are a graphic way of organising ideas and thoughts, just as tables and charts are, too. If you’re thinking, “But I can’t draw.” The good news is you already possess the skills to draw and already are familiar with many graphic tools that you can use to solve problems faster, more effectively and more successfully.

I like to think of using drawings when problem solving in one of three ways:

  1. Description

  2. Prediction

  3. Prescription

If the word drawing is pushing your buttons (this is often the case because, when we hear drawing, many of us default to thinking of fine art drawings such as Picasso drawing), then I suggest you think of the term graphics or graphic tool instead.

Graphics can help us solve problems because they empower us to see patterns. Much of innovative problem solving starts in being able to identify a problem that no one else has seen clearly. Graphics is what can enable us to do this faster and simpler.

Let’s break down these 3 areas in more detail. Oh, I just remembered here’s a graphic to quickly show the connection of these three areas using a Venn diagram. A graphic model such as this is a great example of describing relationships as well as ‘clumping’ categories together.


When solving problems, nothing is more powerful than starting with identifying the context of what has happened up to the present moment. This sentence infers that it would be useful to get a grip on time. That is, how long has this been an issue and when certain issues have occurred.

In the west, we read left to right and associate the past with the left and the future with the right, which is why time frames are drawn on an X axis with the left side side being in the past and the right side the present or the future.


The simplest graphic we can and should draw is a horizontal line going from left to right and then labelling time frames along it. For example the far left might be 2015, the middle might be 2018 and the right side 2021. Alternatively it could be months, weeks, days or hours, Pick what ever time frame will best cover the period leading up to the problem occurring.

When drawing - Ideas With Legs.png


What specifically happened? This can be graphically represented by drawing a square with a question mark in the centre of it. Some other simple symbols we can draw for sub categories include:

  • Process - drawing some squares, circle and arrows

  • Product - draw a cube

  • People/ service - draw the outline of the top half of a person 

  • Action - draw a hand or hammer

What drawing - Ideas With Legs.png


  • Where did the issues occur or where are they are occurring

  • Office - draw a vertical box

  • Home- draw a simple house

  • Draw a plan 

  • Draw a basic map

  • Draw a circle or series of circles or clusters

Where drawing - Ideas With Legs.png

How/ How much

  • How did it happen? 

  • Draw a square and then an arrow and a circle

  • Pie chart 

  • Bar chart

How or How Much drawing - Ideas With Legs.png


  • Why did it happen or why is it important?

  • Mistake - slip up, black out, real mistake

  • Difficulty

  • Failure

  • No take up

  • Frustration/ pain point

  • Aversion

  • Focus

  • Execution

  • Communication

Why drawing - Ideas With Legs.png


  • For who - simply draw a stick figure or a simple outline of the top half of a person

  • Individual

  • Team

  • Customer

  • Supplier

  • Competitor

  • Regulator

Who drawing - Ideas With Legs.png

If you’re keen to learn more about how to use pictures and models to solve problems, consider a workshop or some mentoring from us.

Founder of Ideas with Legs