Tag Archives: Tim Brown

Tim Brown: Using Visual Thinking Is How Your Brain Naturally Simplifies Things

If you’re like most of us, when you look for a Table of Contents in a book, you’ll expect to find a series of Chapter headings and sub-titles. So it might come as a shock when you see that the Table of Contents in Tim Brown’s 2009 bestseller Change by Design is a two-page mind map (see picture).  You might dismiss this as just a gimmick or a cutesy way to illustrate the book.  If that’s your reaction, you’ve probably been conditioned to think mostly in words, and if so, you could be failing to use a big portion of your brain – typically referred to as your “right brain.”

The VISUAL Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

The VISUAL Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

Actually, science has now shown that 50% of the brain is dedicated to processing visual information (much, but not all, of it concentrated in the brain’s right hemisphere). The upshot is that you can be failing to use that part of your brain if you’re ignoring the many ways to think and communicate visually. It could even be the case that for the brain to function optimally, we need to think visually, use visual tools, and communicate in pictures when appropriate. So why is it still so difficult to buy into the idea that a Table of Contents could be portrayed visually?

Traditional Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

Traditional Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

Chalk that up to an education system that for the most part, until recently, shunned visual thinking as a serious method.

The tables are turning, to use a good, visual metaphor.

Much research now shows that the brain works best when both the left side (logic, words, reason) and the right side (visuals, the mind’s eye, feeling) have been developed and work well together.

Some of history’s greatest minds must have understood this intuitively. Einstein, a scientist and mathematician, claimed that his first love was actually music and said he couldn’t live without the joy of playing the violin daily. Thomas Jefferson, hailed for his way with words and the beauty of the Declaration of Independence, was also an avid artist who sketched and designed frequently.

“All children draw,” Tim Brown writes. “But somewhere in the course of becoming logical, verbally oriented adults, they unlearn this elemental skill.”

A growing chorus of experts are showing that training the right side of the brain is not just for the sake of the art itself. It’s the art that makes the whole brain better. Brown explains how it works for him: “When I use drawing to express an idea, I get different results than if I try to express it with words, and I usually get to them more quickly.”

The process of thinking visually can also help you tap into a part of yourself you might otherwise have missed if you only think in words. That’s the message of Sir Ken Robinson in his latest book, Finding Your Element, the sequel to his bestseller The Element, which is about discovering your unique talents and passions, and building your career around them. “To find your Element,” he says, “you may need to see yourself differently.” The key word there, actually, is “see.” It’s a visual process.

Mind Map of the book Finding Your Element, by Sir Ken Robinson

Mind Map of the book Finding Your Element, by Sir Ken Robinson

Robinson himself has become an advocate of mind mapping, the visual technique illustrated above by Tim Brown. “To create a mind map, you begin by putting the core idea or them in the center of the page and draw a circle around it. You then draw branching lines fro the center circle that represent related thoughts and ideas. You can have as many of these branching lines as you like and each of them may divide into two or more other lines of thought.” As an example, Sir Ken himself offers a kind of visual table of contents – “a mind map of the structure and main themes of this book” (see picture).

It’s an old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. In today’s world where people have little time to read even five hundred words, the new motto may become that a sketch is worth a thousand words, and it only takes a few seconds to bang out a quick sketch.




Design, Imagination, Creativity and Innovation – How they all Fit Together

Imagination and Creativity Illustrated: Mark Twain at his Writing Desk

Imagination and Creativity Illustrated: Mark Twain at his Writing Desk

These four words today are used often. They’re used interchangeably and some say they’re overused. But they’re also here to stay. So it would be good to get to know them better. Here’s a quick look at how leading experts have defined them.

Design – and Design Thinking

Tim Brown, David Kelley and Tom Kelley from design firm IDEO have been leaders in the movement that transformed “design” as artistic work into “design thinking” as a process. Here is how they describe design thinking:

“Design thinking is a way of finding human needs and creating new solutions using the tools and mindsets of design practitioners.” “Being human-centered is at the core of our innovation process. Deep empathy for people makes our observations powerful sources of inspiration.” Design thinking is thus “a methodology … [it is] our process for creativity and innovation.” 1

To produce design-driven innovation, IDEO developed their methodology into a 4-step process: 1. Inspiration – which is primarily the step of “connecting with the needs, desires, and motivations of real people [to help] inspire and provoke fresh ideas”; 2. Synthesis – which is the challenge of “sense-making” – reframing the problem and observations to identify the possible solutions; 3. Ideation and Experimentation – the step of testing, experimenting and finalizing; and 4. Implementation.


In his book Out of Our Minds, Sir Ken Robinson broke the whole process down into three parts: imagination, creativity and innovation.  Here’s how he described imagination:

“Imagination is the source of our creativity”.  Indeed, “every uniquely human achievement in every field” is the “product of the human imagination.” It’s “the ability to bring to mind things that are not present to our senses. We can imagine things that exist or things that do not exist at all.” It is the “primary gift of human consciousness.” In imagination “we can anticipate many possible futures.” The imagination “liberates us from our immediate present circumstances and holds the constant possibility of transforming the present.” 2

Imagination and creativity “are not the same thing,” Robinson stresses. “Creativity is a step further on from imagination,” and this leads to …


Creativity is a step further on from imagination, because it involves a lot more than just being imaginative. It is:

“the process of having original ideas that have value.” Being creative “involves doing something. It would be odd to describe someone as creative who never did anything. … Creativity involves putting your imagination to work. In a sense, creativity is applied imagination.” 3

Creativity is thus a process, and Robinson says the three key words in the definition are process, original, and value. The process, simply put, is about generating ideas and then sifting the ones that are original and have value from those that don’t.

How does this differ from innovation? “Innovation is applied creativity,” he says, which leads to …


According to Robinson:

“Innovation is the process of putting new ideas into practice. … By definition, innovation is always about introducing something new, or improved, or both and it is usually assumed to be a positive thing.” 4

Peter Drucker, in The Discipline of Innovation defined innovation in similarly broad terms:

“What all successful entrepreneurs have in common is … a commitment to the systematic practice of innovation.” It is the “specific function of entrepreneurship, whether in an existing business, a public service institution or a new venture” Innovation is thus “the effort to create purposeful, focused change in an enterprise’s economic or social potential.” 5

In both definitions, innovation clearly is not just new products or inventions: it’s bringing about purposeful, focused change that has value in practice, in any sphere of society.

Putting It All Together

Putting all the above together, what the above definitions have in common is that innovation is a process.

Whether you call it design thinking or some other term, it’s the process of transforming ideas from your imagination into a creative output or solution that has value and thus amounts to an innovation.

What’s the upshot? The simple upshot is that everyone already has  the first two: You already have an imagination. And you already have a process (it’s whatever you do routinely each day).

The question is whether you are tapping your imagination to  actually become creative, and whether you’re using that creativity to produce new solutions that have value. In other words, whether you learned … to think like an innovator. It’s a choice we all make, as individuals, and as a society, every day.





  1. Tom Kelley and David Kelley, Creative Confidence (New York: Random House, 2013), pp. 21-25
  2. Sir Ken Robinson, Out of Our Minds (UK: Capstone Publishing, 2011), pp. 141-42.
  3. Out of Our Minds, p. 142.
  4. Out of Our Minds, p. 142.
  5. Peter F. Drucker, “The Discipline of Innovation” (Harvard Business Review).