Rich Picturing: Six Tips for Getting Started

This article tells you what rich picturing is, why it is important, and how to do it. It provides six tips for getting started, and two example rich pictures based on cases in the business press. If you’re not in a reading mood, you can simply watch the video below!

What is Rich Picturing, and Why Is It Important?

Analysts and managers in organisations tend to talk or write about situations. You probably write many emails and attend many meetings every day! It is the accepted way of doing things.

The problem is that there are limitations to the spoken and written word. Neither helps us to view situations holistically, or express dynamic relationships well. It can limit our understanding. If a situation is not well understood, it is difficult to take purposeful action, which leads to stagnation, or failure. There are plenty of recent examples of failed strategic initiatives to support this idea.

In the 21st century, markets can be transformed, redefined, or made irrelevant very quickly. Our business environment has changed; but, we generally use the conventional medium to understand it. We think we need alternative ways to process this new, complex environment, and to appreciate the opportunities and threats it presents. We question whether the conventional approach is always fit-for-purpose! What are the alternatives?

Rich picturing is a richer and more challenging medium that presents new possibilities for analysts and managers. It refers to the practice of representing a problem situation visually. You could say that it is drawing out your situation on paper. It can be done individually, or in groups.

Rich Picturing Still 1

Usage for Analysts, Managers and Consultants

For an analyst, rich picturing offers new possibilities. In your day-to-day work, you would typically receive a briefing from your manager, some data, and would be expected to build a model to ‘solve’ a problem. Rarely, however, are you asked to explain ‘why’ a model is important; but, perhaps you have doubted the utility of some of the models that you have been asked to build. Rich picturing allows you to look at the situation in its entirety, and to choose the best place to focus your modelling efforts. It’s a great way maximise the impact of your modelling skills.

For a manager, rich picturing can be an awesome strategic tool. Rich picturing allows you to view the different areas of a problem situation at the same time. Using the structure outlined below, you can capture the firm-, industry-, and environment-level factors in a single view. This engenders a more holistic understanding of the situation, and a stronger appreciation of the linkages between the various elements. It provides you with an excellent starting point for strategic thinking.

For a consultant, rich picturing can facilitate a first client meeting. Whether you are consulting internally or externally, there is a need to ‘talk through’ the situation and to air all of the issues. Your client will no doubt have an idea what the root causes of their problems are, but it is your job to provide constructive challenge, and offer alternative hypotheses. In an individual, group or one-to-one setting, rich picturing can be a useful addition to your consulting toolkit.

For everybody, rich picturing offers a creative way to think about business problems. Research suggests that pictures are more memorable than words, and people usually think it is fun putting one together. So, how do you get started with it?

Rich Picturing Still 2

Some Tips to Help You Get Started!

Now, if you are thinking ‘I won’t be able to do that, because I can’t draw!’ you are not the only one. But, as we will find out, your artistic ability or inclination does not really matter!

The purpose of these resources is to share some basic guidelines that anybody can apply to help them get started with rich picturing.

So, let’s look at some helpful tips.

The number one rule of rich picturing is ‘It’s not about the picture!’ We are not suggesting that you should show your picture to your client or manager; but we are suggesting that creating a rich picture will help you view a problematic situation differently, and generate new insights. You have to adopt an entirely different mindset to create a rich picture, and this is where the value actually lies. The presentational quality is less important.

Number two is to use a structure to help you get started, and to identify the levels relevant to your problem situation. Use three levels and divide the paper into three to represent these. We recommend using the levels of firm, industry, and broader environment. Other possible levels are the individual, the team, the department or division, or a group of competitors. There are many possibilities; the point is that the picture helps you think about the different levels and captures the relationships between them.

Rich Picturing Structure Graphic

Number three is to create an issues list. It is important to diagnose your organisational situation – to identify all of the things that are going wrong! So, when you identify something that is problematic, contentious or uncertain, write it down. Try to be articulate: writing ‘marketing’, for example, is not really helpful; but, writing ‘difficult to identify target market’ is more precise and therefore useful. The list of issues is the main output of the rich picturing process. You can position it on the right of the picture, as illustrated in the graphic above.

You may not want to share your rich picture for whatever reason, but the issues list identifies all of the insights that you gained, in text form. It should guide your next steps: deciding where to take action in the problem situation, and the best modelling approach.

Number four is to decide on the focus. The focus should be your client or customer. Of course, your client or customer could be yourself, if you are using the picture for your own purposes. Draw your client or customer in first, usually it is best to position him or her just inside the organisation part of the picture.

Number five is to focus on relationships. It is important to make the picture as rich as possible – you should not be ‘filtering out’ many of the details yourself. However, it is equally important to link the various elements together. As an analyst or a manager, it is helpful to understand how long-term trends shape the dynamics of the industry, and the firm’s position in relation to its competitors. You must focus on the interactions between the parts of the picture to do these things. Use dotted lines to indicate a link, and an arrow to convey a clear causal relationship.

Rich Picturing Still 4

The final guideline is to create an icon set. As you do more rich picturing, you will find yourself using the same symbols or icons repeatedly. Get used to drawing common features such as people and other competitors, and develop quick ways to draw them. If you can quickly draw out the important elements, it will improve the efficiency of the process. So go on, create your own icon set!

There are six basic guidelines to help you get started. We hope you realise that it is nothing to be scared of, and we hope this motivates you to try it out for yourself! Now, time to practise…

Use the below cases and rich picture examples to help you get started. Access the article, read it and, with the six tips in mind, create your own rich picture for the organisational situation. Then, compare to the examples provided.

It is important to bear in mind that there is no ‘model’ rich picture for any situation – everybody’s interpretation is different. However, comparison with the examples may help you check how well you have applied the principles outlined above. It is important to also reflect on how rich picturing made you think about the situation. What insight, if any, have you gained that you would not have gained from a bullet point analysis?

Exercise One – Hugo Boss
Link to article
PDF of example rich picture

Exercise Two – Morrisons Supermarket
Link to article
PDF of example rich picture


We hope you’ve found these videos helpful, and thar you have tried rich picturing for yourself. How did you find it? Let us know! Contact us here.

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