culture and visual thinking

When I teach system thinking, I start with an exercise in which students are given a blank sheet of paper and given a question, “what makes organizations fail?” In the US, when I do that, invariably students develop a bullet list. I use it as an opportunity to say that they should draw a picture showing the whole system and interrelationship among factors. This is a technique that I inherited from Fred Collopy and others and quite useful. That was until I used it here in Japan. Few weeks ago, in my first class here in Japan, I opened the session on system thinking with this usual exercise. There are 14 students in all. To my surprise, 4 students drew pictures. 3 of them were Japanese students. So, I was not sure what to do as my opening line is preempted. People who are in the teaching business know what I mean!

That whole experience however made me to think why that was the case. So, each time I met people here in Japan, I shared that experience. The responses are remarkably consistent. Most of them say that they are not surprised. They point out Japanese culture is so visual that it is too surprising to hear that students’ first instinctive reaction to the exercise was to draw. They point out Manga culture as one important element of such visual culture. Then, I began realizing that I am surrounded by strong visual cues no matter where I go. Here are some of those visual cues.

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