Visual Thinking and the Art in Leadership

The napkin and the pen

Where my journey started

When I turned 22 I lost my job when the tech bubble burst in 2001. I had graduated from Florida State with an English degree and took a job with a startup as an SDR (Sales Development Rep) making 100 cold calls a day. It sucked, and then the company went under. I spent the next two months wandering. I took a three-week sabbatical that included two trips to Key West (from my home base on South Florida). I then took a job selling advertising door to door in Broward and Dade Counties. I’m pretty sure it was a front for the mob, it didn’t last more than 3 weeks.

A new world opens

“Son, why don’t you come down to the office around 3:30 tomorrow afternoon.” Oran talked like that. He grew up in Tennessee, married his high school sweetheart, and played football at Alabama for Bear Bryant. He’s made of different stuff.

Fast forward to now

20 years later and it’s one of the most useful professional tools I have access to. My teams regularly give me shit for my inability to avoid whiteboards when leading a discussion. Now, I’m leading a global marketing team that is completely remote and I find myself surrounded by pads of graph paper, pencils, stencils, and other tools to bring my visual thinking to life. I haven’t quite found the right tool to make it happen more spontaneously in collaboration. Like too many of us, I’m mostly relegated to slides.


  • When you’re struggling with a concept or problem, stop, take out a pencil and paper and draw a picture.
  • Visual thinking and communication are key capabilities for any leader. A simple picture, even a basic drawing will make any message more impactful.
  • Two concepts are helpful in understanding why visuals are important:
  1. Picture Superiority Effect (PSE): Simply put, when it comes to comprehension and retention, using images is far better than text alone.
  2. Dual Coding: Combining factual information and add visuals, it engages both the left (analytical) and right (abstract), sides of the brain.


Here are a few resources that I find helpful in developing as a visual leader.



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Courtney Wilson

Courtney Wilson


I like driving business growth, telling stories, and leading killer marketing teams. Student of life, fellow traveler. I’ve been there too.