Visualize your failure…

There’s a lot more than meets the eye when we visualize failure. Iceberg wisdom in a photo taken near Svalbard, Norway. (photo by Wendi Pillars)

…in order to succeed.

There’s a LOT of talk about how imagining yourself achieving your goals and your heart’s desire can speed up its fruition. I’ve even pushed my students and clients a little further, encouraging them to imagine others’ reactions to their success! It’s a little misleading, though, since all of this visualizing tends to focus more on the outcome than on the process(es) that will get them where they want to be.

There are a lot of people I have worked with through the years who do “all the right things” to manifest their dreams and successes, yet fail demonstrably. “But I write my goal down everyday and think about it!” “I have my goal posted to see everyday and it motivates me more!” “I’ve told my friends what I want and even posted it on social media, so I’ve made it public!” These are all great ideas, especially when they promote accountability.

Alas, the goals were not meant to be, the eager goal-setters were disappointed and thus began the downward spiral. Mental  

Mental contrasting is an activity (and phrase) attributed to Gabrielle Oettingen, a motivation psychologist who has shown its benefits in various realms of human behavior. From academic success to dietary shifts and habit formation, mental contrasting has helped people worldwide achieve greater success through one simple extra step.

They imagine what could go wrong, the obstacles they might encounter along their pathway. In doing so, they equip themselves with a backup plan, a defense, and more transparency in their “blind spots”. Naive optimism isn’t helpful, and mental contrasting helps big thinkers remember their constraints of reality. It reminds us that life has a way of showering humility upon us when we’re least expecting it.

Many of us already do some sort of mental contrasting. It’s akin to the stoic version of negative visualization, in which stoic philosophers would run through all the things that could go wrong so as to prevent surprise and disruption. Working that into your plans can be pretty helpful as we learn to manage our expectations, even on a daily basis.

My greatest takeaway from all of this is that there are millions of factors outside our control, so we shouldn’t be surprised when things go awry. But if we anticipate imperfection in our so-called perfect plans, we are far less likely to be completely derailed by the obstacles we inevitably face.

And of course, clearly indicating possible obstacles on a tangible, sketched out plan, will ensure that everyone on your team will be equally equipped to handle the unknown and persist regardless.

That, dear readers, is you’ll actually become more successful when you visualize your failure.

Reconsider one goal on your vision board. Think of 3-5 things that could go wrong. (Get your team to help if that’s your context.) Be realistic. Then go out and crush your process, and go after what you want. You’re a lot more equipped for success now.

Power up your visual thinking

This saying is one that is taped inside my medicine cabinet so that I see it every single day. It’s been there for years, and has stood the test of time. Although it has been powerful in its typed form, imagining thoughts and words with color is what my brain does. Lately I’ve been playing with different color palettes, and this mash-up evokes different things for me.

Now, I’m no chemistry major, but I do know that color changes occur from chemical changes. I also understand that some sort of energy gain or release occurs with chemical changes, and for me, that’s evidence of just how powerful color can be when we view it. Colors have the power to shift our mood, can evoke strong like or dislike and can draw us toward or away from something.

I’m sure you’ve read about prisons painting their walls pink in an attempt to tamp down prisoner aggression, or the influence of Pantone’s Color of the Year, and can tell a brand name simply by its colors. There is power in color, even a field of study called color psychology, and marketers know this. Use red to spark appetite, create a sense of urgency or display power. Greens to calm, soothe, and think more “earthy”. Blues for water, tranquility, peace, and reliability. Oranges or yellows for excitement, happiness, and vitality. Hues of black or gray for wisdom, intelligence, confidence and strength…all of these within moderation, of course.

Of course there are flip sides to any color. Too much blue or even gray, for example, can nudge moods into a darker, depressive side. Other colors may be associated with a particular gender, or be incongruent with the tone of your messaging. Think not only of your logo, but signage, your website theme, advertising, swag, office organization, product displays and more. According to the Psychology of Color in Marketing, 93% of buyers focus on the visual appearance, and in today’s digital economy, I’m willing to wager that means exponentially moreso for the appearance of your website, social media feeds and online business.

Start with two or three colors. They’re easier to remember than an entire rainbow of hues and two colors are easier to contrast or play with in tandem. Try a darker color and another to make it pop. Be bold. Be daring.

Simply, be creative. You have permission to play.

What story are the colors of your business telling? How do they align with your vision?

What tired “text” can you revamp with evocative, mood-shaping colors to entice your buyers, your audiences, your followers?

How can I help? Let’s get started rethinking the power of visuals in your world.

Leaders, what (really) happens when you leave the room?

It’s that time of year. The end of one “cycle” and the beginning of another.

In other words, time to reflect, envision, decide. Then act.

According to Bill Donahue with Lead Change here’s how I interpret three ways to take that first step to self-evaluate and reflect upon your leadership:

Dig Through Past Decisions. Use them as a guide or a “wise teacher” as you consider whether you would do something again. If you do, what would you change? How accountable are you for taking both credit and blame? What are the ripple effects of your decisions, actions and/or lack thereof? And, can you look at your decisions with clear-eyed honesty?

Revitalize Your Relationships. I seriously love this question—and it kinda hurts for any leader to think about if they’re really trying to be more effective:

What happens when you leave the room?

Are your team members and organization members ready to take up the sword with you and for you? To carry on that mission with the gusto you envision? Honestly. What would that look like on a daily basis, on the ground, and with absolute unwavering integrity to yourself and others? What’s it worth to you if you build those relationships? What’s it worth if you don’t?

Take Note of Transforming Moments. Your vast and varied experiences aren’t going to matter a bit if you don’t evaluate them and find the lessons within. Whether super obvious or buried under some layers, how are you going to use those lessons to move– or better yet, thrive— forward? And yep, those personal, vocational, and communal experiences can certainly overlap. Some of the best transformative moments in one area will help you transform in an entirely different one, so quit separating your ideas and see what happens when you apply and combine takeaways in new arenas of your life.

What are you waiting for? Today is the day to start digging in to your leadership story, one person, one decision, one experience at a time.

You know me by now, so if you’re doing all of this with a marker in hand, you know your thinking and leadership will become a whole lot clearer. If you want someone to partner strategically with you to do that, let’s chat.

Achieve your legacy with this one action

I read once that most people spend more time planning a holiday than they spend on setting goals for their lives.

I thought, “No…that can’t be true…”, then started thinking about my own life. I know this is the Time of COVID and most norms have flown out the window, but yeah, I was guilty of not being specific about goals and reviewing them on a daily basis. Sure, I have goals, but many are related to my son and short-term successes at work. And I definitely haven’t been writing them down for daily review.

I mean, who has time for lifetime legacy goals? Isn’t that selfish?

Jim Rohn implores those who want to be successful to write those goals down. And THEN revisit them every single day. Ideally you would even re-write them each day!


Legacy is that “gift” you leave behind that inspires others to do more, be more, and serve more. If you are gearing your work and talents to serve others or the world in some capacity, that is not selfish.

You are your greatest asset. How will you show up ready to achieve what you truly want? Here’s the secret:  set your goal, visualize what you want, define and describe it in detail and write it down. The highest achievers write their goals down in vivid detail. And revisit them consistently. It sounds easy, but very few people set any goals at all. A small percentage of people set goals and write them down, but fewer than 1% of people write their goals down AND review them on a daily basis.

Decide what you want to achieve. Write it down. Review it. Repeat daily.

That’s crazy, isn’t it? Just by writing down your goal, picturing it vividly and reviewing it consistently, you’re more likely to achieve success. Imagine doing this on a personal level, with family members, and on a team or organizational level. With all the uncertainties COVID-19 has wrought, this is the time to get clear on your next steps.

There’s magic in those markers, so get visual and achieve more.

Three Reasons to Use Stickpeople as Strategists

Why make such a big deal out of simple sketches? What’s up? And how on earth can stickpeople transform my culture at work?

Simple. In theory, that is. In practice, it kinda hurts your brain, but it’s worth it.

Reason #1:

If you can co-create and talk through ideas, thinking and sketching, sketching and thinking, then you’re going to find clarity, not only in your outcome, but also your processes, each person’s role(s), and next steps.

Reason #2:

When you’re sketching and thinking, chances are pretty solid that you’re innovating and trying new ideas. Rather than criticize someone for a crazy idea, the sketch allows you to sit with the idea and use it as a focal point. When everyone has the opportunity to wield a marker, sketching and making thinking visible leads to a culture of “what if…” instead of stultifying silence and compliance.

Reason #3:

Drill that mess down. Rather than talk AT your team for an hour, sketching out ideas helps you drill down to the absolute essence and crystallize takeaways for your audience. When planning your meeting / talk/ presentation, sketch it out first. (And yes, stickpeople are your best friends!). Once that’s hammered out, what do you truly want others to walk away knowing? How will you know they know it?

What are you waiting for? Get your markers flowing and put those stickpeople to work!

How to Thank a Veteran

Happy Veterans’ Day to all those who have served or are currently serving in our armed forces. As a veteran myself, I tend not to talk to others about my service, and it makes me a little uncomfortable when people “thank” me or want to shake my hand for my service.

I don’t want to discount those efforts, but I do want to provide options for those who truly want to thank veterans for their service. And with me, it’s certainly far more about how we live our lives and the actions we take rather than words we say.

I created the video above for students, but I think everyone can resonate. May you all live your lives fully and not take what we have for granted.


PS–Consider how using visuals in your organization’s videos can make them more personable and accessible to your audience. What worked for you in this video? What ideas did it spark for your work?

One-Pager on Visual Thinking

Ever need to explain the value of your product or service for others? Consider using simple visuals to create a single-page summary that makes your organization, product or service stand out from a bulleted list or otherwise text-heavy promotion. Hand-drawn images are still, despite their “simplicity”, a powerful messaging tool that appeals to the human side of business and understanding, while fueling your behind-the-scenes processes with new intention.  

Co-creating this type of visual summary is an unparalleled discussion and filtering activity. Ask others in your team or organization what THEY think the value is, and what THEY think are the key points that others need to know in order to choose what you have to offer. It is sobering to realize how many different ideas and perceptions are floating around among team members when you believe everyone is on the same page.

Creating a one-page visual summary literally and tangibly ensures everyone’s thinking is on the same page. In turn, this thinking becomes shareable, and malleable or customizable for different viewers. Obviously your values won’t change, but the way you present them for your different clients or audiences can shift. Change colors to match a client’s brand, or substitute a couple of words/phrases with an organization’s specific synonyms for even more rapid alignment. Perhaps you can include some visuals the target audiences rely upon to build out thinking from their standpoint.

Don’t get too attached to your first idea(s) or implementation as you create this type of visual. Make sure to include feedback loops and open communication lines, and be ready to pivot or completely change if required. It does need to capture value along with the core content, aka, the “short story” of your organization/service.

How can your summary connect your high-level concepts to your client’s/audience’s day-to-day decision-making? How can your summary serve as a tool to help influence organization, communication and the implementation of new thinking? How can you leverage the potent combination of a creative and structured approach to sharing your business/organizational value with the world?

3 Ways to Introduce Visual Thinking into Meetings

Psst…hey. Leading a meeting anytime soon? Here are 3 ways to introduce visuals into your meetings.

Paint done. Be crystal clear about what “done” looks like. This phrase and concept come from Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead and is an antidote to clarifying expectations. We’ve all been there, where we have expectations that are crystal clear in our own mind, yet we’ve never voiced them to others. Maybe it was a personal situation, maybe professional. Inevitably, frustration ensued and most likely the required expectation(s) were never achieved.

When you ask someone to Paint Done, however, you are asking to see a picture of what success looks like in a holistic view. It invites thinking from others who will be involved in the work, giving them the opportunity to make sure they have what they need to do what is being asked of them.

Reality check, space to tackle tough conversations, and authentic collaboration? Check.

Provide a central image, whether it is of your customer, ideal client, employee, or even the competition. It does not have to be fancy and in fact, you might be amazed at the power of your stick figures to finesse conversations. Using an image recalibrates your thinking by tapping into the visual brain. The central figure serves as a neutral anchor for everyone’s focus, and your group can use it in multiple ways, even virtually.

In practice, you can use breakout rooms for groups to respond to your prompt. Let’s say you’re reconfiguring your ideal customer during times of COVID19. Rather than elicit ideas from a huge group, smaller groups can converse then you can see where the overlapping ideas among teams exist and where disparities reside. Enter greater thought diversity.

Alternatively, a second idea is to ask teams to annotate directly onto the screen using the text feature, typing out descriptive phrases. The anonymity of this feature may be a comfortable boost to those who want to speak against the tide, allowing you to gain real feedback you wouldn’t otherwise glean from a larger, inhibited “public” group.

Co-create a visual library. Choose 10 icons or simple sketches to represent concepts you are continually discussing, challenges you are facing, aspects you are celebrating, and more. The co-creation piece can be done within set organizational teams, OR among different teams that don’t typically work together for cross-pollination of ideas.

Once you have those common shared images, they can be used as shortcuts in meetings, on organizational material (newsletters, memos, PR materials, etc.), during mentor/ mentee meetings, as building blocks to spur greater creativity or to enhance communication among different departments. The resultant shared understanding enlivens conversations, clarifies information, specifies requests for action, and illuminates processes, all because the focus is more tangible when seeing our words on paper or screen.

In other words, use simple visuals to help you drill down to the essence of your meeting by helping you clarify what you want to say, connect the dots, prioritize topics and ideas, and specify next steps.

Warning: once you use visuals to get clear, focused and action-imminent, you’ll never go back. Prepare thyself.

Are you “just” going to draw pictures again today?

Sigh. An all-too-common question in this line of work. Legit, I suppose, until you experience it for yourself. Whether drawing out ideas with your own hands or watching someone else sketch out processes, ideas, and evolving concepts, your brain is in full-on engagement mode.

Drawing isn’t just for kids.

Our brains are fascinating and, quite simply, they love to work. When we provide multiple pathways for information to come into our brains, rather than just reading something or listening to someone, we are enabling storage of that information in more than one place. In turn, this means there are more opportunities for recall.

Bottom line? With visuals, we not only think more, but we also remember more, which is (pardon the pun) a no-brainer when you want others to remember what you are telling them. It is also invaluable for ensuring everyone is on the same page, and for ensuring clarity, rather than merely assuming it.

Sketching out our understanding, whether we get it or whether we are in the process of getting it, helps harness ideas in a tangible way. Others can see that understanding, build upon it, tweak it, or be creatively inspired to take a mental leap of innovation. Be ready for transformative learning, no matter your business.