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Stride 2 Freedom Speaker Series: The Power of Visual Thinking with Eric Oakland and Marita Herkert Oakland

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Relief.  Wonder.  Rekindling.  Excitement.

Aren’t these words that any business owner would love to embody?  How do you get there?  Well, today on the Stride 2 Freedom podcast, I had the distinct pleasure of learning how through my interview Eric Oakland and Marita Herkert Oakland, a husband and wife team that founded Relumed (pronounced reloomed).

Relumed is in the business of supporting business owners and teams in the practice of visual thinking.  Visual thinking is the act of expressing ideas in a visual way that groups of people can use for discussion, collaboration, and execution.

Consider this:   I want to sit down with my team and share the goal for the next quarter.  I speak to the group and then ask them to contribute to the strategy of how we are going to make it happen.  Lots of ideas fly around and lots of people talk.  Some seem to get my strategy and others don’t but I let it continue.  After an hour meeting, someone has been taking notes and ask where we are at?  The answer:  Nowhere.  The problem is that everyone has a different view of what success looks like and the path to get there and aren’t able to see how one person’s path might link with another’s so that we can work to build a cohesive plan.  This is where Relumed comes into the picture.  They not only can facilitate these types of conversations and get all these great ideas into a visual that creates connectors and parking lots and boxes and arrows.  But they can also train leaders on how to facilitate these kinds of conversations visually as well.

The power of visualization to architect strategy and a shared plan cannot be overstated.  It is an incredibly powerful way to get everyone on the same page, to take ownerships, to make it about the collective vs. the individual.  Now don’t get scared and have the reaction of, “Well I’m not an artist.”  That was my reaction too.  But it’s not about being an artist.  It is simply about having an understanding of the frameworks to employ.  Relumed uses something called the Constellation System of Visual Thinking and they explained it so well in one of their articles from February 2021.

One pro tip I learned from them is the use of the Google Jamboard as a virtual whiteboard when having facilitations with remote teams.  Check it out.  Super cool.

Who should I interview next? Please let me know by clicking here.                                 

 

In this Freedom Speaker Series episode with Eric and Marita, you will learn:

  • How visual thinking helps teams converge around a shared plan.
  • The power of visual thinking tools for business owner leadership.
  • Why many of us tend to shy away from drawing but shouldn’t.
  • How to kickstart visual thinking in your organization.

Listen Now
 

We are fortunate to have Eric and Marita available to spend time with us on this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. If there is a speaker you’d like us to interview, click here and let us know. Stay well. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Show Notes and Links From Episode:

Relumed

Eric Oakland LinkedIn

Marita Herkert Oakland LinkedIn

Google Jamboard

Miro board

Episode Transcript:

Russell Benaroya: Hey everyone. Welcome to the Stride 2 Freedom podcast. My name is Russell Benaroya and I’m the co-founder of Stripe Services; a virtual back office, bookkeeping, and accounting firm serving hundreds of clients around the United States. 

This podcast is designed to help small business owners focus on growth and innovation. In other words, focus on those things that inspired you to start your business in the first place. We call it your genius zone. We do our job on this podcast when business owners feel like they have the trust and confidence to build the right team of partners around them that will help them grow. Thanks for joining. Let’s go.

Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Stride 2 Freedom podcast, where we help business leaders get and stay in their genius zone. My name is Russell Benaroya, and I’m your host. Stride 2 Freedom is brought to you today by Stride Services. We’re an outsourced bookkeeping and accounting firm serving aspiring high-growth professional service businesses like marketing agencies and consulting firms.

Our genius zone at Stride Services is helping our clients use their data to make better business decisions. You can learn more about stride at www.stride.services. Let’s get into the episode.

I have the distinct pleasure today of interviewing two individuals that are changing the way businesses align groups of people around vision, strategy, and execution. Through visual thinking, Relumed is facilitating a movement in a collaboration that is transforming organizations and, if you listen to this episode, may transform yours. Marina Herkert-Oakland. Oakland-Herkert? Oops.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Herkert-Oakland.

Russell Benaroya: Herkert-Oakland, I will not edit that out, is the co-founder of Relumed. She has a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago and has held a wide variety of business, nonprofit, and government roles. 

Her partner in life and business which we’ll talk about, Eric Oakland, is a consummate entrepreneur, having created three other successful businesses—Squiggle, TruScribe, and Population Design, and maybe I’m even missing a couple of others, Eric—before co-founding Relumed. Your house, by the way, must be exploding with creativity and innovation. I can only imagine.

Eric Oakland: I try my best, but I got to rein it in a little. 

Russell Benaroya: You do not want to miss this episode. It’s a fascinating look into the power of how to draw out ideas and move groups of people in a common direction. Let’s get into this and see how visual thinking can help your business or business idea. Hi, Marina. Hi, Eric. How’s it going? 

Eric Oakland: Hello.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Great. Hi, Russell. 

Eric Oakland: Thanks for having us.

Russell Benaroya: It’s such a pleasure and such a gift for me to be able to interview two people at a time, and also to interview a husband and wife team, which is really where I want to kick off. I’m just curious if you would share some of the joys of being in business with your spouse. Tell me a little bit about that.

Eric Oakland: I’ll start because I want to say that Marita and I have been experiencing our entrepreneurial journey since I started. Even though you said I’m the consummate entrepreneur, our spouses and the people around us share the ups and downs of that. When we’re high, everyone else is feeling good. When we’re low, everyone else is feeling that too.

This is the first time that we have joined forces day-to-day in business, but those highs and lows have been shared for years. For me, one of those joys is that before when you would come home and talk about what’s going on, there’s a limit to where that interest is. You kind of nerd out on something and it’s a little bit like, “That’s great. That was when we were at work. Let’s be home now.”

There’s that part where we’re sharing all aspects of this. That’s a freeing space to be able to just be open about all the things that are going on in our business.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Absolutely. We are a really good team. Most partnerships are great in their own ways. We complement each other really well and always have in a lot of different ways. The joy that you speak of is us bringing together our own superpowers and making something that really reflects who we are. 

We’ve been married for almost 13 years, so we know each other pretty well by now. We’ve got two little ones who are just as excited about hearing what’s going on in the business. I know how to play up his strengths with his creativity and this vision that he’s able to bring, and he knows how to bring my strengths in to bring some order to some chaos, to nerd out on some of that process side of things in a way that really helps us build an exciting thing together.

Russell Benaroya: What was it that brought you two to converge around creating Relumed? Tell me a little bit about that journey and then transition into what Relumed is all about and why it exists.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Absolutely. I will start on this one and give you a little bit about how I came into it. Then, Eric, you can probably give a little background on your other businesses and how that brought you into things. 

My journey, as you mentioned, my degree is in social work. So I was working a little bit in some nonprofit management and consulting. One of the projects that I was doing was coming in with some local women entrepreneurs. They invited me in to facilitate a conversation around visioning and strategy for these women entrepreneurs. The idea that actually came out of that was maybe we can make it visual because the person that I was working with knew that Eric had his own business with his very creative side of things. 

We decided, “Let’s just test this out. Let’s bring these women entrepreneurs together and draw out their businesses and see what those undercover, those hidden assumptions are in their business. How are they growing? Where do they want to go with it? What’s that big vision that they’re trying to accomplish?”

It was a really amazing experience. It was really powerful to bring Eric in. We actually had quite a few other visualizers as well, but to bring this visual component into work with businesses and to get into some of those meteor conversations. It was a little bit of an accident of how we started with this. We were taking the work that I was doing and the work that Eric was doing, but it really came together in a beautiful way.

We kept iterating on that. It took about a year and a half of doing a little bit here and a little bit there. Then last fall, we had all of the components of it come together and we could figure out, “This is how we can work with businesses. This is how we can make this happen.”

Everything going digital and going virtual with COVID meant that the things that we thought we could only do in person, that we could only do live on a whiteboard, we could actually do online. We could do it on a Zoom call. It made it something that was possible to build out. 

Eric, why don’t you talk about how you came into it?

Eric Oakland: Well, being asked to add this visual component to the work that Marita was doing with women entrepreneurs had a lot to do with thinking about business. Not just from the nuts and bolts, not just from the profit and loss, but from purpose. From what it does for the business, what it does for the people, and what’s at the heart of it. You can see where that social work background and the work in nonprofits connects for business.

Visuals are very emotional. Visuals are ways of capturing both the logic and the emotional parts of what we’re thinking and processing and capturing them on a page. Through the last year of being virtual, it was a lot of fun bringing something absolutely different to people’s lives. Everybody’s on a hundred different Zoom calls a week, but our experience was unique to their overall experience. It was great bringing that. 

On top of that, in that stress, in that chaos of trying to figure out what’s going to happen next, what’s the year going to bring? What is this going to do for our business? To bring that order to the chaos, all that cognitive load of worries and stresses and nuts and bolts and laying them out before them so they could see the totality of the problem, or the solution, or it’s not the big bad cloud. It’s a set of things that fit on an 8 by 11½ sheet of paper. Somehow that’s easier to deal with. 

It was a lot of bringing light to the situation. We had a lot of fun doing that and it became something we wanted to keep pursuing.

Russell Benaroya: If you could explain Relumed to a fifth-grader, how would you explain what Relumed does? 

Eric Oakland: Relumed is about helping leaders and their teams find the light at the end of the tunnel. We do that through visual thinking in two ways. We can bring visual thinking into the organization—our expertise and facilitation—so that tomorrow, the next day, immediately, we can sort through the chaos and find solutions and understanding together. Or we can help organizations develop visual thinking capability in their organizations so they can use it every day. Those are the ways that we operate in the world right now.

Russell Benaroya: Fifth grade question. What is visual thinking? What is that? 

Eric Oakland: Well, here’s what it isn’t, to start with: it isn’t high-polished graphic design that we use in our marketing and sales material and our training and product design. That’s how we’re used to seeing visuals in business and they work amazing. I was a graphic designer for a bunch of years and I focused eventually on branding. We’ve heard the stories of a business spending millions of dollars on one logo. We know visuals are important. 

Visual thinking is the use of drawing to be able to bring visuals into real-time conversations anytime, anywhere. I also spent time in my past exploring comic books and graphic novels and drawing for people for illustration and fun. One of my starts in business was drawing illustrations for a documentary where photography didn’t exist. The photos of that time didn’t exist. Visuals or drawing is used in a lot of ways.  didn’t exist. The photos of that time didn’t exist. Visuals are drawings used in a lot of ways. 

Finding visual thinking was the first time it connected my passion for being able to draw things anytime, anywhere, but with solving business problems and figuring out complex ideas and issues. We say drawing, but it’s really in how it’s applied that visual thinking veers away from the arts and into business. 

Russell Benaroya: Marita, how does that apply in a practical sense?

Marita Herkert-Oakland: A lot of people have the tendency to be like, “I just need to get this out on the whiteboard. I’m going to jump on the whiteboard,” or, “We’re going to get the digital whiteboard pulled up and we’re just going to get this all out.” It is a way to get the stuff in your head out on paper, or on a whiteboard, or put visible so that people can all understand the same thing. 

I’ve been in plenty of meetings and conversations in business where one person is talking like, “Okay, so are we on the same page?” and everyone nods along and it’s like, “Yes, I get that.” When you walk away, you find out that three people have three different ideas of where we were at, or where we were going. 

When we use visual thinking, it centers us. It lets us see, “No, no, I wanted to do this thing right here,” and we all understand it, we all see it. The way that I conceptualize it is it’s a way of listening. It’s a way of demonstrating your listening. I’ll often call Eric our visual listener when we are in conversations, because he’s really processing what’s being said. He’s showing what he’s hearing through what he puts out on the page, and we’re able to teach people to do that same thing. 

It’s a skill that people already have, but they don’t always realize that it’s valuable. That fifth-grader probably drawing in their notebook during class, is probably doodling to keep their mind busy, because we need that connection to visuals. That’s what we do. 

Russell Benaroya: Let’s play with a specific example. Let’s say I’m the CEO of a company and I’ve got a team. Maybe I have a team of 20 people at the company. I’m in a meeting with five people that represent my management team and we’re talking about strategy and like where do we prioritize? Where do we lay out roles and responsibilities? Who’s responsible for what?

Tell me how visual thinking can be an ally or a tool in helping to manifest this really meaty discussion into something that everybody can get a better understanding of through visual thinking.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Let me tell you a little bit about our constellation model. This is our system that we apply to most of our initial conversations. The way that we do it is we have three points of the model. The final one, and the most important, is ‘so that.’ Your purpose, your goals, your outcomes. Every conversation, if you are trying to figure out your strategy, should start with where are we going and why? 

If we are able to have that on our page, and we write out as we’re hearing them, “This is the “so that”; this is the thing that we’re trying to do.” It may be that big North Star, that big-picture goal that we’re finally figuring out. It also may be like, “Next quarter, our marketing is going to be X, and we’re going to do this many more channels,” or whatever that might be. We start with that, and that’s the key there. 

As the conversation is evolving, the two other sections are what drives it. The middle section is, what are we doing? We’re figuring out this strategy. Let’s map out all of our options. As the conversation comes in, as everyone’s talking and putting their own ideas in, somebody’s putting down, “Oh, we could do this,” or, “We will do this,” or, “We won’t do this.” 

We keep that all center and we can see as we’re going what is going to connect. What, of what we’re doing or what we want to do, is something that’s going to move us towards our “so that”? We start being able to use that conversation in that piece to say, “Hey, Susan. Does that connect us to our “so that”? Can you show me where that connects?” 

Then the first piece, the left side of the page that we put out, is, “What do we have? What are those resources that we have?” If we don’t have the resources to do the thing to get to what we want to do, then we’re not going to make it work. As the conversation is going, we write out, “We need this new tool. We have this expertise,” whatever that might be. 

When we are having conversations, we build out that model every time. We start with a blank page, because we don’t like to box in a conversation, but they often naturally fit there. That’s how we would use it. What do you have to add? 

Eric Oakland: One of the things we keep talking about is putting things on the page. There’s a couple of things that happen with visual thinking that are different than when we’re just having a conversation. One, if you share something and it gets put on the board, you feel heard. You understand that everything that you’ve thought or shared or whatever is getting considered in the piece. 

The second is the goals. When those are front and center, we can navigate more easily because it’s easy to get distracted. It’s easy to have different agendas trying to push and pull on what we’re trying to do. For clarifying and agreeing on what our objectives are, it keeps us focused. It keeps us going in that straight line. 

Then there’s the part where we use this term constellation. If you think of looking up at the night sky and you’re seeing where the stars are, sometimes you see where the stars aren’t. What haven’t we considered? What’s missing? What’s blank? When somebody mentions one piece, it often triggers and allows a connection to something else, so there’s the ability to find the missing pieces as well. 

That sometimes will be enough as it is, but maybe that’s the jumping off point to finding out where they need to dive deeper. Processes, mapping out systems, etc.

Russell Benaroya: Back to that example where I’ve got this group of five people in the room. In the absence of that constellation model, in the absence of having the tools to help visualize this conversation of inputs, and then the “so that” output, in the absence of that, what do you often see? Do you see a lot of conversation, a lot of words being put out into the air, but nothing substantively being documented? Is that number one?

Then number two is, let’s say they weren’t just out in the air, but what do they end up being like? Like, bullet points or just lists? It’s an effort to document. It’s an effort to get it out there, but it misses something very important probably. What is that? 

Eric Oakland: Our differentiation is that we’re not necessarily coming in as consultants for your business and telling you how to do business. We don’t want to armchair quarterback things because there’s nuance. There’s history.

What we often hear from people after a session is the surprise that all of that that has been put down is theirs. It came from them. It came out of their team. They’re like, “We probably would have gotten there eventually, but we’ve sped up the time to finding those solutions or those problems, or those nuances.” They might have, through that note taking and bullet points and numerous meetings, gotten there months from now. We’re getting there in that 90 minutes or in a shorter amount of time than without visuals.

Russell Benaroya: Oh, go ahead, Marita.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Thinking about your question a little bit more, the state of things currently for many organizations is that not everyone on the team often feels heard. Not everyone on the team feels like they know where things are going, and why. 

When we are offering this as a tool, it’s to help people feel heard. To get on the same page, which we’ll probably say that six more times. It’s making it visible, so that everyone participates and everyone has a place at the table. It’s that team development. It’s helping get everyone moving in a way that if it’s not working, that’s when you come in and you try something different.

Russell Benaroya: What I’m hearing is I’m hearing empowerment, ownership, accountability, contribution, seeing where that individual fits into the collage; into the ecosystem. It seems like for a business owner, having this arrow in your quiver would be such a powerful tool. More so than ever before, and certainly coming out of COVID, by the way, the people capital is more important than ever. We’re anticipating a major shift in the employment dynamic. 

I think I read a study that says 40% of people are going to reconsider their current employer this next year. Oftentimes, that exit from an existing employer is the result of not feeling heard, or not believing or not understanding that they have where they contribute. It seems like visual thinking as a tool for a business owner can go a long way toward helping people see where they fit into this organization.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Absolutely. A facilitated conversation with the leader is one of our favorite things. Leaders are not short on vision, but often there’s so much vision that it swirls. It stays in their head. Or it’s hard to explain it all, like, “Oh, there’s so much. We’re going to so many places in the next five years. Here’s this piece of it.” 

The team often is saying, “I want more. I want to know more of what’s in your head. I need you to get it out. I hear this. I see the excitement, or I see what we’re trying to put in place. But why? Why are we doing this?” The leaders that we get to talk with, we just get to pull it out. We just get to help them see it in a way that they can share and that they can engage people with.

Eric Oakland: Sometimes they’ll communicate pieces of it to different members of their team, and nobody can see the same picture that they can. Being able to help them articulate that in a way that everyone gets to see it is powerful. 

Not only that. Especially if there’s future vision that the things I’m doing now or connecting to, sometimes that’s where visionaries and leaders get second-guessed. “Why are we doing this here? I don’t see how this connects to the future. I don’t see how this helps me now.” If we can show those connections better, if we can help people anticipate what’s coming down the pipe, then there’s beauty in that transparency.

Russell Benaroya: Is Relumed a service that a business owner would call on to bring into their organization to say, “Help facilitate for me some visual thinking with my team so that we can share a picture together, so we can share a picture”? And/or do they call on Relumed because as a business owner, these skills seem really powerful? “I would like to understand them and administer these kinds of visual thinking practices with my team on my own.” 

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Both. The side that I work on mostly is those facilitated conversations. Eric and I jump on a Zoom call with a team or with a leader or both, and I facilitate that conversation. Or we’ve got others that we can bring in and help facilitate those and visualize them. Then if they want to be trained, then we’ve got some workshops and courses that we’re developing and have available for those teams to come in or those leaders to come in. That’s Eric’s expertise. 

Eric Oakland: Like it was mentioned a little bit before, if the interest is to have that tool in your toolbox today or tomorrow, we can come into your group. Be a part of that and work with you, and so there’s the speed of making that happen. 

With organizations that may want to have that as a capability, so that you could not only use it in your strategy session, but what about using it in your collaboration with teams? You can have somebody who can visualize that process you’re trying to nail down, or sort through information or feedback from teams or clients or that sort of thing. 

What we recommend is starting at the top. I’ve met so many business leaders who, like we’ve talked about, they jump up on the whiteboard once in a while. They are like, “Okay, I’m thinking about something. Let me show it to you,” and they’re using fairly rudimentary stuff. We’re not looking for artists. We’re looking for somebody who can just put something clearly up. It’s often accidental that those are skill sets. It is a skill set that anybody can gain if they’re interested, but it’s important that that is valued at the top. 

If you’re a leader who sometimes grabs a napkin and sketches a few things out on it, or jumps on the whiteboard and you want to gain some more formal skills, just enough to know that you have all the tools you need to effectively be a visual thinker and lead with visuals, we can provide that. 

Then if it does seem like something you want to encourage throughout your team, find individuals. There are people hidden all over the place that have visual skills that they didn’t quite put away in their youth; Didn’t quite give up to handwriting fully that can be deployed, can be taught to use visuals for the benefit of your business.

Russell Benaroya: Is it fair to say this isn’t about being a great artist? This is about having a set of frameworks, of visual frameworks that based on the type of conversation that you’re having, it could be with a client, it could be a one-on-one, it could be with a collaborative strategy session that you know, “Oh, I’ve got a framework that I learned about that seems appropriate for this context. Let me use that as the vehicle to drive this conversation.” Is that right?

Eric Oakland: Absolutely. It’s similar to how we learn how to use words, how to use phrases and sentences to write a good email. How to craft or pick up the phone and leave a good message. We use our verbal communication to effect change and communicate and connect with people. Using a set of visual tools and a visual lexicon, a visual alphabet, a visual language to do the same is what it takes to learn visual thinking and apply it.

Russell Benaroya: Have you launched online courses yet? I am all in.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: End of August. Our first online course will be live in August.

Russell Benaroya: I can see this being so powerful for business owners and entrepreneurs that have a thirst for learning and continuous improvement. This is perfect. 

Eric Oakland: We’re going to be starting with a very hands-on, half-day format, so we can work together and understand where people are at and learn what steps they need to take. One of the things that’s important to us is that you don’t have to feel like you have to learn everything under the sun about visual thinking. To get started and to be a visual learner, a visual thinker. 

For me as an entrepreneur, as a business owner, visual thinking has helped me personally think through my own thoughts. Process my own chaos. Present ideas to other people in a way that is cleaner. That isn’t overwhelming. 

My business, TruScribe, started because I worked with my first client. I didn’t know this was going to turn into a multimillion-dollar business. She and I sat down at a coffee shop talking about what we would create for her first whiteboard video. I had to convince her in that space of what I was going to do, what my plan was. I was able to sketch it all out, draw up some boxes and that sort of stuff and put it in a notebook. 

In there, it gave her the trust and the confidence in the plan and what we’re doing. visual thinking, for me, has been the start of so many amazing things in my work.

Russell Benaroya: Tell me about the tools that you use. Eric, I think when you and I spoke originally, I shared with you that we are active users of Miro board at Stride. What kind of tools do you use in your facilitations, and/or have you found that entrepreneurs can have access to as a vehicle to promote visual thinking?

Eric Oakland: A great question. I teach, first and foremost, to use what you’re comfortable with. There’s a lot of people that like the feel of paper, of notebooks, of working with tactile things. Their favorite pens. For years, I’ve purchased the same notebook that I’ve just restocked every time I finished one. I use cheap pens because I always lose them. There’s the use of just the things around you. 

There’s the ability to use whiteboards and big spaces, if you’re more comfortable with a big chunky marker on a whiteboard. I know a CEO who thinks on the whiteboard, snaps pictures and sends that to their team to enact in this digital age, in the time of Zoom, using mobile tablets to broadcast what’s on your screen and be able to draw. 

You bring up tools like Miro and Mural. I might say those are even a little bit more advanced for what the basics are for visual thinking. They can be great ways to put up things and let people play in a sandbox. Even before you get into facilitating those sorts of things, there’s a way of using visuals in a much more modest or simple way, from how we take notes in a meeting to how we prepare for presentations, etc.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: One of the surprise tools that we’ve been using more is Jamboard, like the Google Jamboards, because we can easily collaborate with clients. It’s something that most people are on Google products anyways, so we can do that really quickly and easily. It’s a very low barrier to entry.

Eric Oakland: We might be sitting in the same room, both on a Jamboard, because I can visualize what we’re talking about and she sees. It seems weird being in the same room and working digitally, but it’s just helpful. 

Russell Benaroya: You made my day. We’re on Google suite and I don’t know about Jamboards. 

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Oh, okay. There you go.

Eric Oakland: It’s a free tool that Google provides. It has very simple tools. It’s not complex. You can share a link with somebody who’s also on Google and they can jump on with you.

Russell Benaroya: That is awesome. Is that, Marita, what you use during your facilitations? Or do you use a different tool?

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Often, Eric is using a more designer app. I don’t know. What’s the app that you use, actually?

Eric Oakland: I use an iPad Pro as my base tool for contributing to a Zoom or video conference call, and I’m using a tool called Affinity Designer. Now, some of that is because I have a design background and I use layers in different ways, etc. It’s really just using the Pen Tool capabilities of Apple in some different ways to help the experience. Part of what we want to provide is a visual experience that fits with what we’re doing. I use that tool to just give me custom colors and that sort of stuff.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: We’ve even used the Zoom whiteboard. That worked well for quite a few sessions as well

Eric Oakland: We used that for the first part of 2020. How to begin, the aesthetics aren’t the most important part. As you get used to it, you can choose what your aesthetics are. For the most part, it’s the experience of being heard and having everything captured and not lost.

Russell Benaroya: I’m going to capture some of these links in the show notes. I’d also love to capture an example of a visualization that you’ve done like a demo visualization result with a client so that people that go on to the blog post about this interview can see and visualize what an output looks like. That would be really helpful. 

How do people learn about Relumed? How do they hear about you, and what is the pain that they’re feeling that they’ll call you?

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Right now, a lot of our work is just through networking and building relationships. We have found that it’s a big ask for us to come in and work on some pretty sensitive areas in your business. Your vision and how you work with your team and stuff, it requires some relationship and some trust. We really work to develop those relationships with folks before we start working with them. That’s a lot of how we’re finding clients and working with them. 

In terms of the pain points, go ahead.

Eric Oakland: Real quick, too, we host a monthly roundtable. A visual thinking roundtable that lets us just have a no-pressure conversation with people who are interested in learning what visual thinking is how it works. We facilitate that. I draw and we capture that conversation and post that to social media. We spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, sharing videos and visual content to talk about it. 

As far as the pain points, one of the things we’ve brought up a few times is the sense of overwhelm. The CEO, the founder, you’re often alone in what you’re doing. There’s not usually anybody else at the buckets to stop with, so the pressure is on you to solve it. Pressure is on you to own it. The pressure is on you to come up with what’s next. That can be a fantastic thing. A lot of us get into businesses because we want that. As your business grows, there’s just more of it. 

Some of my more fulfilling places where we’ve been able to help founders is in clearing through that sense of overwhelm. Being able to sort through that chaos and bring order so that the things that are immediate can be clear. The things that can be dealt with later or can be pushed down the road, you can settle into that and feel confident. 

In other cases, that confidence of, “I have what I need to get this done,” or, “I know exactly the five steps, the 10 steps that I need to get there,” yes, I can do that. We can do that because there’s nothing worse than this fog or lack of clarity in where we’re going to go. How are we going to get there, and do we have what it takes to get there? Visual thinking can be applied to help business leaders with all of those.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Another thing that we actually haven’t really touched on is some of our work is going in and working with other people’s clients. We will help in a discovery process, or we will help in an onboarding process to help get someone’s client’s vision out and ready for them to work with. 

We’ll work with consultants where we are part of their initial process. Their client is going to work with us and do their visioning and get that, so that they’re ready to have a good relationship and good and successful engagement.

Eric Oakland: A unique customer experience that others aren’t providing. The assurances to that client that everything’s captured. Everything is there. Everything is going to be taken care of.

Russell Benaroya: I love that idea. What are three adjectives that would describe how your client feels after a successful facilitation?

Eric Oakland: There’s a relief. 

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Yes. 

Eric Oakland: There’s often a rekindling. This was some of the reasoning behind the name Relumed—a reigniting of that energy and excitement for what’s coming next, as opposed to either a dread or an indifference towards what’s coming next. What’s the third one? You got this one. 

Marita Herkert-Oakland: There is the sense of wonder that people have of like, “Wow.” A lot of it is internal. “Look what I’ve done. Look what I’ve put in place.” I don’t know. The relief is the one.

Eric Oakland: Yeah, I definitely took the relief one.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: You took the relief one.

Eric Oakland: I could see relief. Excitement. This becomes a new option. There’s a new tool on the table. There’s something else that they know they can come back to, so it’s knowing that they have that

Russell Benaroya:Relief, rekindling, wonder, excitement. 

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Yeah.

Russell Benaroya: Awesome. What is something that people don’t usually ask you about visual thinking, but you wish they did?

Marita Herkert-Oakland: I think a lot of people focus on the visual side of it and will be quick to say, “Oh, I’m not an artist,” or, “I’m not creative. They don’t necessarily focus quickly on the thinking part, or the way of communicating. 

When we get a little more time to explain it, that is able to connect, but it can be something that people will dismiss quickly when, “All I can draw is a stick figure and it doesn’t matter,” or, “I’m not visual.” 

Eric Oakland: It’s interesting. I think, collectively, people are visual, number one. When given a pencil and or a drawing implement and paper as children, we actually draw things and create either what’s in our head or whatever we can imagine, but we divert that into something else. 

It seems like everyone’s felt, at some point, some sort of shame or embarrassment about something they drew. It was like they got stopped. They said, “Hey, you probably don’t need to keep doing that.” There’s a study that says when you reward that part of experience, when you start giving people stars for that sort of stuff and then you take those away, they stop doing it. 

Something in our education system, whether it’s the lack of encouragement. The other flip side of that is we use our drawing capability for writing. Letters and numbers and symbols, those are all drawn elements, but there does seem to be this instant reaction of showing their limit. “Hey, don’t ask me to draw because I can’t. I’m embarrassed. I couldn’t do it.”

I think the question I’d love people to ask is, “What would I need to know to be able to do this? What would be the minimum I could do to be able to be effective or bring value as a visual thinker?”

Russell Benaroya: I know this feeling of stepping up to a whiteboard with a group of people and wanting to command that whiteboard to help draw out their ideas, but feeling inadequate in the tools to properly do it. Then it comes off looking like we’re now just putting bullet points on the whiteboard, because I couldn’t figure out the right framework.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Right.

Eric Oakland: Yes. Especially on a whiteboard, when it’s such a big space, how do I fill it?

Russell Benaroya: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, you’re freaking me out right now.

Eric Oakland: I’m sorry to hear that you have this. We’re all often feeling judged in that feeling it’s a performative thing. 

Even in your meeting room, or with one other person. That’s something that I spend a lot of time with in training people is in that confidence building and lowering that bar of what they expect it to be.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Once you’re up there and you’re doing those bullet points, you’re almost there. You just start drawing some lines to connect things and put some circles on it and star some things, and you’re golden. You don’t need to be able to draw all of the most amazing icons or anything. The tools are really simple, but they’re powerful.

Russell Benaroya: Yeah, it makes me feel so much better. Is there anything else that you want to share about Relumed that you haven’t had an opportunity to, or I haven’t asked you about?

Eric Oakland: Interesting. As we said, Relumed is the first opportunity for us to join forces and explore something that has brought us together in business. We’re really excited to do that. Part of what that means for us, in coming out of other businesses, is that we want to do our business differently. We want to be people-focused. We want it to be us-focused. We’re trying to work through what it means to have small kids, have a business that we’re both all in on at home. How do we find that balance integration? 

Part of that means that when we’re coming into other people’s organizations, we’re coming with understanding. We’re coming with the capacity to not judge where you’re at, where you’re falling or what you’ve hit. We’re coming to help and focus on the people. Not just, “Did we get a strategy written out? Did we fill in all the blanks?” We’re here to help people run their businesses the way they want to run their businesses, and encourage them and lift them up.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: I often talk about how the thing that I always want people to take away as some sort of a mindset shift when we work with them. Maybe they’re not going to use visual thinking going forward. Maybe it’s just not something they connect with. I want to be able to show and demonstrate that you can choose how you run your business. You can choose how you engage with your team. It can be fun and it can be engaging and it can be really, really impactful. 

That mindset shift is something that no matter what you’re taking on, do it with intention. Do it with curiosity and have fun with it.

Russell Benaroya: So many times, as a business owner, I’ve sat back and gotten so frustrated. “They just don’t get it. I say it 100 times. They just don’t understand. What am I doing wrong? What am I not communicating?” 

What I appreciate so much today, Marita and Eric, is that you’ve given us a vehicle to get that misunderstanding out into the world so that the solution, the thing that’s been in my head that I want everybody to understand is no longer just mine to understand. Everybody now becomes a part of it. I can just see the velocity and the acceleration of a business when it’s done correctly. So, I appreciate you launching this business.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: I love how you framed that. That’s a really great way of just getting it out there so it’s all ours to collectively take on.

Russell Benaroya: Exactly. Then I as a business owner can equally be curious. Can equally be constructive, as opposed to being defensive or trying to convince. I’m now just a participant. Just so happy to talk about this capability because I think it is one that when well understood by business owners, can go a long way toward creating an environment. A work environment where people can thrive.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Absolutely. 

Eric Oakland: Thank you for seeing that in this. I’ll send some royalties your way as we move to blossom with visuals.

Russell Benaroya: Yes, yes. There’s no under the table stage happening here. Marita and Eric, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Stride 2 Freedom. You showed us a really exciting way of how to think different and how to visualize an architect’s strategy. I just really appreciate you spending time with us.

Marita Herkert-Oakland: Thank you so much, Russell, 

Eric Oakland: The invitation that you extended is very appreciated. Thank you everybody listening for letting us spend some time in your ears. 

Russell Benaroya: Great. See you on the next episode of Stride 2 Freedom, everybody. Thanks. Bye.

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