Aperture: Through the Lens Leadership

Visual metaphors for leadership and strategy


What is Aperture?

Our social interactions, our organizational dynamics, and our leadership behaviors are often intangible and unconscious. Often, this leads to conflict, misalignment or simply missed opportunities across teams and organizations. These issues can snowball over time into disengagement, loss of focus, drifting corporate culture, and poor performance.

Aperture offers a fast, energising and creative way to quickly simplify complex issues, define intangible issues, and build common ground towards better solutions. With imagery we can explore any question in the realm of leadership, change, strategy, or organizational dynamics. Images can also support coaching, mentoring, training and education. Pictures trigger our creative, intuitive and “thinking fast” right brain in a non threatening way so we generate new ideas, new perspectives, and new meaning around old problems.

Insights from metaphorical language also give us wider perspectives, more choices, and greater options. They generate action to move things forward, be it a dilemma to be resolved, an opportunity to be grasped, or a new insight that triggers innovation.

Framing the process around a clear question or theme is key to ensure the process provokes meaningful interpretations. These can then be compared, debated, challenged and resolved into actions and agreements. Framing helps groups come to a common understanding, expand their thinking into new territory, and build collaboration to move forward. Images provoke reactions, reactions generate ideas, and ideas drive action.

The theory behind Aperture includes Dialogue, Social Construction, Design Thinking, Behavioral Economics and Appreciative Inquiry.

What is the process?

Groups should work with a qualified Facilitator either face to face using one or more card decks per exercise, or virtually using a login to access the image library and then move selected cards into folders for group discussion during each exercise. A typical session will last between 1-3 hours depending on group size and the number or questions to be investigated. Group size can be individual (in the case of Executive Coaching or Mentoring), small intact teams (up to 10), or cross functional groups (up to 30 physically or up to 100 virtually with breakouts in groups of 5-10).

Once a challenge or key framing question has been identified by the group or the leader, participants reflect on that question and choose an image or a few images from the portfolio that, for them, prompts their thinking, or points to ideas or potential answers.

Small groups (typically 3’s or 5’s) then share images and their interpretation against the framing question. Each image will provoke dialogue and inquiry across the group, which is then rolled up into a plenary thematic discussion captured and curated by the Facilitator, who can add relevant observations and frameworks to increase meaning about a group’s social dynamics, strategic choices, future direction, innovation potential, and so on.

The process is repeated for subsequent framing questions, which typically build on each other, allowing groups to debate and assess alternatives for change. Often a visual summary report will capture the conclusion of the session, and the Facilitator or leaders will clarify and document the outcomes.

How does it get results?

The result of these creative exercise is to literally “open the aperture” on key strategic and existential questions facing leaders in any organizational context.

The act of identifying a frame for inquiry and then provoking debate and ideation around it will increase engagement and commitment to any shared conclusions.

In cases where challenge, diversity of opinion, and conflict is present, the process also serves to surface difference in a non threatening and constructive way. Appreciating how others see the world, and understanding where their interpretations come from is one of the best tools for building common ground, or learning to respect differences. Images do this in an intuitive, universal way that helps groups focus on the issue and the idea rather than judging the person.

The quality of the outcome of any dialogue is directly proportional to the quality of the questions posed and the debate that ensues. The key when using images as metaphors is to suspend judgment and maintain curiosity about the diversity of interpretations across the group. This is what leads to new insights, collective meaning making, and shared solutions that can have a direct impact.

What next?

We offer some sample framing questions below for typical application in Individual, Team or Organizational settings. Further contextualised processes are available by Industry including: Finance, Asset Management, Technology, FMCG, Professional Services, Pharma, and Media. Customised processes are also available for context specific topics including: Leadership, Transformation, Innovation, Culture Change, and Partnerships/M&A.

For further information or guidance please visit our contact page.

For Individuals

Images can be used to explore any personal question or issue that requires understanding a problem, looking at options, or finding new approaches to a situation. For coaching, mentoring or as a tool for personal reflection try these framing questions:

1. What problem, opportunity or issue do I need to explore right now? Find a picture or pictures that “look like” it

2. How do I feel about this situation at the moment? Find 1-2 images that represent positive feelings and 1-2 that represent negative associations

3. What would a positive change look like around this issue? Find images that represent something positive now, in 1 month, or in 1 year

4. What options or resources do I have today that could help? Find a few images that represent this

5. What actions or steps can I take right away to improve things? Find another image for this if it helps

6. Lay out the images in a sequence of “current reality”, “future actions” and “success/outcomes”

7. Write down your conclusions and what you need to get started. This can include getting more information, sharing an idea, or just moving to action. Share your story with a friend, mentor or manager to create momentum

For Teams

Maintaining effective social dynamics is key to high performing groups and teams. The “How” (the ways we interact, what we say, the quality of our relationships, our reciprocal expectations) as as important - and sometimes more important - than the “What” (the actions we take, the decisions we make, the plans we execute). We also know from neuroscience and applied behavioral science the cultural and structural attributes that lead to collective success. Some of these include having a clear purpose, a shared context, well defined goals, freedom to act, and permission to fail. If you are looking at how to ensure future growth, higher performance, or greater cohesion across your group, be it your Board, your Executive Team, or your Operational area, you can explore your social dynamics with these framing questions:

1. How would you describe the identity and values of this group today? Choose up to 3 images and share

2. How are we “being” together (open, curious, defensive, ambitious, other)? Choose 1 image and share

3. What are the biggest challenges facing our group right now? Choose up to 3 images and share

4. What do you think are the biggest opportunities for us in the future? Choose up to 3 images and share

5. Choose one of these challenges or opportunities and describe what success would look like for it. Choose 1 image and share

6. What needs to change in our “being” to achieve this success together? Choose 1 image and share

7. What do we need to change, and how can I contribute? Choose 1 image for “us” and 1 for “me” and share. Then document agreements and actions.

For Organizations

Identity and purpose at the organizational level are as important to drive action and results as our personal ambitions and sense of Self are to drive our own goals. To be fully engaged with any organization, people need to feel emotionally connected and personally invested in a wider “story”. Often, organizations fail to fully engage their people and access much needed discretionary effort because these important questions of values, purpose, or strategy are not shared or understood. To explore how you can get people fully onboard with your strategy, or to co-create a more powerful future together if the strategy is in doubt, try these framing questions:

1. What picture describes our organizational identity today (how are we seen externally)? Choose 1 image and share

2. How would you describe our organizational culture today (how it feels internally)? Choose up to 3 images and share while discussing the question “Do our external identity and internal cultures match? If there are there gaps what are they and how is this affecting performance?”

3. What strategic challenges / opportunities we are facing today? Choose up to 3 images, share and choose one challenge / opportunity to explore further

4. What would success look like if we manage this challenge / opportunity well? Choose 1 image and share

5. What needs to change for this to happen culturally (internal) and in term of identity (external)? Choose up to 3 images and share

6. What can we do as a group today to start creating this imagined future? Choose 1 image and share

7. What will you do personally as a leader to support this change? Choose 1 image and share, then document agreements and actions

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