Visual Explorer™

About Visual Explorer

Young women from the Mariam high school in Kabul select their Visual Explorer cards.

Visual Explorer™ is a tool for creative conversations and mediated dialogue—using a wide variety of images—about almost any topic chosen by the user. Check out this useful review in Innovation Management.

Purchase Visual Explorer Classic
$340USD Post Card size
$380USD Letter size
$320USD Playing Card size

For Visual Explorer™: Special Edition, click here. VE Special Edition is a great addition to the Classic Version, with 100 additional images from around the globe.

Tutorial Webinars


Visual Explorer & the Tao

This beautiful message this morning comes to us from our CCL colleague Harvey Chen.
Thank you Harvey!

Hi Chuck and David,

I am pleased to share with you an amazing experience using Visual Explorer. Last week I used Visual Explorer at my college class reunion at the occasion of the 123th anniversary of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The theme was to share one lesson of experience each person for the years after graduating from college. One classmate by the named of Yongjun Liu, a self-made poet (we were all trained as naval engineers in college), picked the rice-planting VE card to represent his Zen-polarity insight, and made the connection between his insight, the VE card, and a classic Chinese poem written by a Monk Qici of Liang Dynasty over 1,000 years ago. That was a powerful and artistic sharing. What a perfect match between the VE card and the poem!

I attach the card image, the poem in Chinese and my translation in the attached file for your information.

Best regards,


Harvey Chen, PhD  陈朝晖
Chairman of the Board of Advisors
Center for Creative Leadership Greater China CCL 创新领导力中心(大中华区)

Digital Engagement & Reverse Mentoring at the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program

The Center for Creative Leadership built a new digital experience for this year’s Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program, piloting a new digital tool, twice.

This progressive web app,, turned a tried and true CCL physical tool into a digital tool. Instead of having participants experience Visual Explorer in the traditional way, where a card is selected to help participants express what effective leadership means to them, students and coaches used the new app instead. Once a digital photo was selected, participants typed thoughts about what they saw in their picture and how their image spoke to them about effective leadership.

Read the full post here, at the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program.

More on Visual Explorer: Special Edition here.



Origins and history of Visual Explorer

Here is the recording and transcript of our webinar on the origins and history of Visual Explorer! Somewhere in the world, right now, there is a Visual Explorer session … 

Visual Explorer: How we got here from Labs@CCL on Vimeo.

Leadership in permanent whitewater: Playing with the metaphor (VIDEO)

The essay below was first published in 1997. Several generations of kayak design have come and gone since then, and David Magellan Horth and I have run the Nantahala River in a tandem kayak, twice. The main point of the essay is still a good one: serious play is the key to navigating turbulence, wherever you find it. (The image above of the businessman / kayaker, and the newer one below of collective whitewater leadership, are by cartoonist / philosopher / friend Dave Hills. These are not in our Leadership Metaphor Explorer deck, but probably should be. Thanks Dave.)

Permanent White Water: Playing with the Metaphor

Charles J. Palus

This article is reprinted from Issues & Observations, CCL Press, Volume 17, Number 1, 1997.

In his book Managing as a Performing Art, Peter Vaill introduces an intriguing metaphor for the change, uncertainty, and turbulence that now characterize organizational life: permanent whitewater.

“Most managers are taught to think of themselves as paddling their canoes on calm, still lakes. . . . They’re led to believe that they should be pretty much able to go where they want, when they want, using means that are under their control. Sure there will be temporary disruptions during changes of various sorts–periods when they’ll have to shoot the rapids in their canoes–but the disruptions will be temporary, and when things settle back down, they’ll be back in the calm, still lake mode. But it has been my experience . . . that you never get out of the rapids. . . . The feeling is one of continuous upset and chaos” (p. 2).

This, or any, metaphor can best help us stretch our thinking when we draw out both of its realms (in this case, white water and organizational life) and explore the connections in detail. Vaill says very little about the actual experience of white water. If we take a good look at that realm, however, I believe we’ll find that the ways that people develop efficacy in the turbulence of white water are suggestive of ways people can develop efficacy in the turbulence of organizations.

How can I claim this? My avocation is kayaking whitewater rivers. I have run many eastern U.S. rivers including the New River Gorge, the upper Gauley, and Chatooga’s Section IV. As a Research Scientist at the Center I have also spent a lot of time studying individuals and organizations in the midst of turbulence.

Let’s start with the current in a whitewater river. A novice river-runner typically sees what appears to be a random froth of rocks and water. One of the first lessons is “reading the river.” How can something random be read? Properly speaking, white water is not random; it’s chaotic. Chaos has random elements, but it also contains exquisite patterns. In rivers, these patterns tend to be quite stable, so that a snapshot of any single area tends to look the same from moment to moment–although it is constantly reoccupied by different water molecules. Reading a river is thus a matter of learning to recognize the patterns and associating the patterns with their effects on boats.

The most important pattern element in white water is water moving upstream. Yes, upstream. Features of the underlying river bed that provide resistance to fast-moving water create varieties of eddies and waves containing local upstream currents. Think of the overall pattern as one of great masses of water moving more-or-less straight downstream, embellished at the edges by circular swirls (eddies and waves, or what is sometimes called “turbulence”). These swirls make all the difference. A skillful boater can place his or her boat on even a small eddy, with little effort. This allows the boater to slow down, turn, stop, or even drift upstream a bit.

How does one learn to read a river? Two basic approaches are available. The first is by instruction in the types of river patterns and the rules for navigating these patterns. The second is through play. The former needs little explanation here, being the essence of formal training in any realm. The latter is quite intriguing for our present purposes. Skillful play is the hallmark of an expert boater. Play is also a way that beginners can learn to read and negotiate white water. It is the act of stopping at a point in the current and exploring a single pattern or a series of patterns; exploring the complex interaction of the river, boat, and boater.

For example, a boater may play by surfing a wave, moving back and forth across the face of a stationary river wave rather than moving downstream with the current. Play involves discovering rules, testing rules, breaking rules, and inventing new rules. Play requires relative safety, so that the consequences of rule violation are minimal–for instance, playing above a large still pool rather than above a dangerous waterfall.

The notion of “shooting” or even “navigating” a whitewater rapid strikes me as clumsy, the act of someone whose reading of the water is undeveloped. “Shooting” implies riding the mass of water as a kind of projectile, with the swirls functioning as impediments. (Don’t we tend to think of turbulence in any realm as an impediment?) On the other hand, the description used to indicate confident, skillful negotiation of a rapid is play–as in, “She played the rapid with ease.”

What I am referring to here is similar to what Ken Gergen calls serious play: a spirited way of deeply but safely exploring patterns that have significant longer-term implications. For example, part of the reason for playing on this wave now is that tomorrow I may need to surf a wave for the purpose of avoiding a dangerous waterfall. All white-water play is at least a little bit serious. People who run white water but don’t play rarely advance much beyond a beginner’s level. Boaters who don’t play tend to have an overly rule-bound approach to the river that does not allow innovation at crucial moments; the style of such boaters is usually sloppy or rigid, in either case ultimately dangerous. The chaos of white water inevitably requires innovation at crucial moments.

Now that we’ve taken a closer look at whitewater, let’s see what it can tell us about organizational life. Obviously, the metaphor strongly suggests that play in that realm is important. Consider a situation that almost all of us have faced: learning to use a personal computer. The MS-DOS operating system requires you to adhere closely to arcane rules of operation. Learning DOS is difficult because play is difficult (unless you’re a hacker) and mistakes often cost-ly. The Apple system (and now Windows) is radically different; most people can learn the complex ways of computing by playful experimentation with a sense that single mistakes are not usually costly. People who don’t play with their computers, and only learn by the book or in classes, tend to learn and innovate more slowly than people who do play.

Here’s another example: I have done work with an organization that has instituted “feedback groups,” in which peers meet several times a year to give one another detailed feedback in a small-group setting. The groups that have done the best have approached this potentially stressful task with a measure of serious play. That is, they have created a safe, trusting atmosphere in which they can take measured risks and even make mistakes and see what happens. The more successful groups show a sense of trying to figure out the dynamics within the complexities of coaching, often bending the formal rules in the process.

What ideas might we take from all this for understanding organizations that are experiencing some form of turbulence? Here’s what I offer, in the spirit of ideas at play:

  • Chaos in organizations is not random. Organizational turbulence is full of patterns. There are almost unimaginable layers of order enfolded within chaos. The nature of the order can be quite surprising, and is sometimes invisible to conventional wisdom. Turbulence can be an enormous aid, rather than an impediment, to prediction and control. Find new ways to learn the patterns–to “read the river.” The development of this kind of perception is a core competency, not a frill.
  • Play is essential within organizations if people are to develop an eye for patterns within chaos. Play is essential for action and innovation within chaos. Being consistently rule-bound is crippling. Serious play is a vital supplement to traditional learning. Organizational play requires safe places in which to break rules, make mistakes, and recover–and then try it again, and again. Find the higher-order rules which govern breaking rules with relative safety.
  • Fundamental innovation can come from serious play at the fringes of organizations. Groups of mavericks busy violating common sense aren’t all that bad. Making sense of chaos is ultimately a community venture including both the center and the fringe. Make room in the community for both the center and the fringes (and make sure any “skunkworks” are not in exile from the community).

Peter Drucker said, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” So, it is interesting to note that the newest high-performing kayaks barely float. Maverick whitewater enthusiasts, playing with the shape of kayaks as they built them, ultimately came up with one shaped like a potato chip. It has a very thin profile and is slightly concave on top, with bubbles built in for the kayaker’s legs. Because of the low volume of air it contains, this kind of kayak almost doesn’t float in calm water. Suicide? That is what common sense suggests–but common sense is wrong. In whitewater, all or part of the boat can be made to dive beneath the swirls and into the masses of water beneath, which contain their own distinct patterns. These patterns are inaccessible to kayaks that float on the surface (now referred to with the semiderogatory label of surface boats). These patterns afford means of river-running, and play, that were previously undreamed of. The new design can perform something like a wing in the laminar flow of the deeper currents: They “fly” underwater.


Gergen, K. J. (1991). The saturated self: Dilemmas of identity in contemporary life. New York: Basic Books.

Palus, C.J., & Horth, D.M. (2005). Leading creatively: The art of making sense. Ivey Business Journal. September / October. Reprint # 9B05TE05.

Palus, C.J., & Horth, D.M. (2002). The leader’s edge: Six creative competencies for navigating complex challenges. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Vaill, P. (1989). Managing as a performing art. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.



Visual Explorer in Africa

We are working on a chapter and a story for The Change Handbook, 3rd Edition on the topic of Visual Explorer as a tool for change, and its role and impacts in Africa. Below is an excerpt. Look for the book this fall!


Visual Explorer is a way to enhance the depth and power of conversations using a set of diverse and interesting photographic images. (more…)

A visioning exercise

This wonderful exercise is offered to us by our colleague TZiPi Radonsky.

TZiPi is a traveling rabbi-teacher and woman of the world, coach, writer, artist, and our associate at the Center for Creative Leadership. (more…)

Visual verbal videos: Creating reusable digital artifacts from Visual Explorer™ dialogues (VIDEO)

Action Learning Leadership Team Visual Explorer VIDEO from Charles J. Palus on Vimeo.

KB, the facilitator of this action learning team, and creator of this powerpoint show, writes:

It was a useful tool to that project – one of the best uses of it was to show them this slideshow again several weeks after they were into it – and hitting the sticking points. It was nice to remind them of what they said, in an inspirational way. … I’m using VE again tomorrow night with leadership partners from dance and theater companies; they operate under a dual leadership structure. We’ll use it with two questions: 1. What do you each bring to the partnership? 2. How does your organization experience the partnership?

Visual Explorer in Jaffa, Israel

From Steadman Harrison III:

I love it when Visual Explorer looks really unique and powerful in special settings. The first program we ever delivered in Israel our host rented a museum. On the top of a building in Jaffa, the little town that’s just south of Tel Aviv, we decorated the upper floor, which was open, and you could look out at the Mediterranean. It had, on exhibit, all kinds of sculpture and artwork. We laid out all of the different sizes of Visual Explorer — pocket-sized card decks, postcard-sized decks, and 8 1/2 by 11 decks. We just collaged those all over the rooftop of this building. You can imagine the sunlight and the Mediterranean air and all this artwork and sculpture around, and the images themselves just sort of came alive in that environment.”

Put Something in the Middle of Difficult Conversations

Jan Jaffe and her colleagues at the Giving Practice have an excellent new DIY guide for Philanthropy’s Reflective Practices. Download it for free here. A short introduction on the Guide, and reflective practice for philanthropy is here.

How do skilled philanthropy practitioners navigate challenging situations in their work to get to meaningful connections and good outcomes? Interviews with dozens of them reveal a common ingredient: they each use reflective practices to help them observe, make sense of and adjust their behaviors. Our new guide focuses on four of these practices.

We especially appreciate the section on Letting the Right Brain In, and the sage advice to put something in the middle of difficult conversations:

Sometimes words need an aide-de-camp to catalyze authentic dialogue. Images, metaphors, stories and poems can encourage a different kind of sensemaking for moments freighted with history, unspoken expectations, or lack of clarity. If a dialogue between you and me is stuck, then talking through a third object, like a poem or image, may help deepen the conversation.

Download the full PDF here.

Polarity Thinking and Visual Explorer

This note comes to us from Peter Dupree of Polarity Partnerships. Thanks Peter!

This is from Doha, Qatar, using a Polarity Map with Visual Explorer on Continuity & Transformation. Excellent “sense making” with multi-cultural group!

I have done something similar with the polarity of Horizontal Development & Vertical Development. Once they get out on a map and relate to it kinesthetically, I have them explore images that speak to them, choosing an image for each pole, and talking about it. This brings them through a pre-cognitive doorway, and ‘readiness’ is less of an issue.

Use of Collaboration Explorer and Visual Explorer in a Capacity Building Retreat in Nairobi

By Kathy Vaughan
Center for Creative Leadership


quoteI used Collaboration Explorer and Visual Explorer as part of a retreat for a high performing team within a multilateral agency whose work is pro-poor. The team is comprised of core staff and several consultants. The team has operated in a highly dynamic environment over the past year with large scale organizational change and with lack of formal leadership of the new overarching entity within which they sit. Over the course of the year, I have worked with them on a capacity building initiative to enhance the collective capacity of the team in the areas of communication, conflict management and negotiation. The September retreat marked the end of the engagement. The design for the retreat included both Visual Explorer and Collaboration Explorer. (more…)

From Here To There (FHT): A Leadership Essential

More on the FHT Model here

Our second most important asset at CCL Ethiopia

Leadership Explorer tools at our office in Ethiopia.

A heartwarming note below from Aaron White, one of the founders of our office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Aaron calls the Leadership Explorer tools “our second most important asset at CCL Ethiopia.” (See the photo at the bottom for the first!) Thanks Aaron!

I spent the day at CCL Ethiopia’s new office here in Addis Ababa. As I explored our new digs I found three new storage cabinets packed with Explorer tools. Some had square corners, some rounded, but all had been in the hands of dozens, if not hundreds of people.

These Explorer tools get used in every single program here. If we didn’t have these – and our Leadership Essentials – we really couldn’t have been successful here.

Thanks to all of you that brought these in your suitcases, stole them from supply closets, and helped create them!

Aaron White
24 November 2017

Our most important assets are our participants and our faculty! More on the Leadership and Debate Club Program here.

Leadership and Debate Club participants and some CCL Addis Faculty. Photo by Rahel Asefa.

Sustainable Outcomes for Youth (VIDEO)

Sustainable Outcomes for Youth, in partnership with CRS Uganda funded by USAID.

Check out this introductory video on Sustainable Outcomes for Youth, a project recently launched by CCL in partnership with CRS Uganda funded by USAID.  Yonas Tegene (CCL Human Resources Director) is our wonderful host. Notice the use of novel tools including Visual Explorer. This comes to us from our CCL colleague in Addis Ababa, Birikti Haile. Thanks Birikti! (more…)

Visual Explorer Special Edition: Coloring Book Introductory Webinar (VIDEO)

Webex session links and slides are below:

Streaming recording link
Download recording link

Leading From Within

Thanks to my CCL colleague Bert DeCoutere (IP and Innovation Lead at Center for Creative Leadership) for this description of his new experiential design for Leading From Within.

We worked with the central question: How can I continuously evolve into the leader the future needs me to be?

Leading From Within

The flow of the experience is to use what we have inside us to transform into what the future needs us to be.

We used Visual Explorer to discuss “me as a leader now” and “me as a leader in the future.” We explored four roots of our leadership: personality (Work Place Big 5), experience (Experience Explorer), values (Values Explorer) and identity (social identity mapping). Then we concluded the poster with our transformation journey ‘”from here to there” – using cards from the Transformations deck.

Visual Explorer in action

Here are a few recent photos of Visual Explorer in action. These remind me that Visual Explorer is often a kind of performance art. Seekers of meaning interact with the gallery laid out on the floor or on tables. The art invites the viewers into the frame, onto the stage, and into the movie. Perspectives alter. Meanings emerge. A different path is taken.  (more…)

Leadership Explorer tools in Leadership at the Peak

Here’s a story of Wisdom Explorer in combination with Visual and Metaphor Explorers, from our colleague Dave Altman. Dave is an early adopter and shaper of the Leadership Explorer™ tool series. Dave is COO at the Center for Creative Leadership.

‘When participants enter the room, they are dazzled with a potpourri of stimuli that gives them a shot of energy and piques their curiosity… ‘


Transitioning to the Third Act

Check out the great work of Nick Owen and Edward Kelly in the Third Act Conferences and Retreats!

owenFriday January 20th (1800) – Sunday January 22nd (1530), 2017

The Third Act Retreat: Transitioning to the Third Act
Facilitators: Dr Edward Kelly, Nick Owen & Annette Hennessy
The Abbey, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire

A weekend working with our own stories of transition, our stages of development, and the ancient insights of The Elder Tales in our journey to What’s Next for us? A residential weekend of craic and inquiry in a delightful rural setting.

Single: £495; Shared: £445 per person; Non-residential: £395 (including lunches & dinners)

To reserve your place contact or



Team Wall Posters

Two questions framed this Visual Explorer session for 22 team members:

What will I contribute to this team and this work?

What will I need from others to bring my best?

They created the poster below! Thanks to Alice Cahill, CCL Senior Faculty

[to enlarge, right click, open in new tab]

Design & facilitation by Alice Cahill

Design & facilitation by Alice Cahill

Leading sustained cooperation in fragile environments

A group of over gcsp-ccl35 diplomats, peacemakers, and leadership researchers gathered last week in Geneva, hosted by the GCSP-CCL Alliance and sponsored by NATO. Learn more about this fabulous meeting here. Our topic was leadership development and how to improve it for leading sustained cooperation in fragile environments. (more…)

Research methods and theories related to Visual Explorer

Our chapter in The SAGE Handbook of Action Research talks about the theory and research underlying Visual Explorer.

The main idea is that VE is a projective technique for assessment, evaluation, ethnography, and dialogue. Projective techniques have an honorable history via tools such as TAT, and Rorschach, going back to the work of Carl Jung. (more…)

Mediated Dialogue in Action Research

Here is an extended excerpt from our chapter: Mediated dialogue in action research, in The SAGE Handbook of Action Research, 3rd Edition, edited by Hilary Bradbury. To see the full chapter and lots of other wonderful chapters, get the Handbook!

The SAGE Handbook of Action Research, 3rd Ed., Hilary Bradbury, Editor

The SAGE Handbook of Action Research, 3rd Ed.,
Hilary Bradbury, Editor

Palus, C. J., & McGuire, J.B. (2015). Mediated dialogue in action research. In H. Bradbury (Ed.) The SAGE handbook of action research, 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. 691-699. Click here for the complete Handbook.

Here is our “how-to” white paper connecting this chapter to change leadership.

Mediated dialogue is an approach to reflective, insightful conversation that is useful for action research and related endeavors, including inquiry as a part of leadership development. With mediated dialogue, various media (typically visual images, such as those in Visual Explorer™) are used as sources of metaphor and as places to project thoughts and emotions related to one or more focal questions. (more…)

The From Here to There (FHT) Model of Human Development

The From Here to There (FHT) Model frames development as a long-term journey:

FHT model

From Here to There Model applied to a life journey

Starting with:

“Where are you from?”
Origins, identities, communities


“Where are you now (here)?”
Present state, presencing, observation, reflection, assessment


“Where are you going (to there)?”
Toward a desired future state, aspirations, visions, strategies, goals, dreams, and possibilities.


Hell Yeah! Projects


The Hell Yeah Projects

In June 2016 a group of 10 women from New Hampshire and Maine used the Visual Explorer tool during the pilot of a new self-development experience called “The Hell Yeah Projects (HYP)” which helps people identify strengths, values and passions to create more meaning in their lives through projects that pointedly focus on the intersection of those three things. (more…)

From Here to There: The Young African Leader Initiative (YALI)

Sam Ray has just returned from Kenya where he, Kathy Vaughan and Sam Kasera facilitated a final round of  Leadership and Self-Awareness workshops for USAID’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

From Here to There with YALI Leaders

From Here to There with YALI Leaders

Approximately 400 leaders from East and Central Africa have now been through this Center for Creative Leadership workshop (Addis Ababa office) in Nairobi.

The two-day workshop was built around the CCL F-H-T Framework. Every module mapped to a part of their life journey:
a) Where I have come from (FROM)
b) Where I find myself now (HERE)
c) Where my team and I are going (THERE)
d) How I got here (FROM to HERE)
e) How my team and I will get there (HERE to THERE).

Participants mapped their learning on the walls in real time, resulting in 400 unique ‘selfies’ of these young peoples’ leadership journeys. The YALI program has offered rigorous, large-scale testing of the From-Here-To There framework and never fails to generate perspective and insight for users.

Leadership Essentials in South Sudan

Browsing Leadership Metaphor Explorer cards

Browsing Leadership Metaphor Explorer cards

Our colleague Philip Kakungulu is working with leaders in South Sudan. He sends this note with photos from a training program he designed including Visual Explorer and Leadership Metaphor Explorer. Thank you Philip and let us know how your work proceeds! (more…)

The DAC Framework: Creating shared direction, alignment, and commitment

quoteHow would you know if leadership is happening in a team, in a workgroup, on a task force, or across the organization? Look for three important outcomes: direction, alignment and commitment (DAC).

Making Leadership Happen, Cindy McCauley



Dialogue by putting something in the middle

Dialogue is a reflective conversation engaging the multiple perspectives of a number of people to explore assumptions and create new meaning. Create dialogue by putting objects in the middle of amediated conversation. Meaning becomes projected onto the object. Images work very well. You can use photos, art, stories, Visual Explorer and other Explorer tools, mementos, videos, graphics, and so on.

When people get good at this, they don’t need a physical object—they can put a topic (a challenge, a problem, an idea) in the middle.

As the Star Model graphic illustrates, multiple layers of the topic are explored from many angles (multiple perspectives).

Try This (more…)

Climate Change Conference, Paris, 2015

UN 2011_logoThe 2015 Climate Change Conference has just concluded in Paris. As we approach the end of the year here in Philadelphia the weather is ominously summer-like.

Visual Explorer was a useful tool in the Youth in Landscapes Initiative, an essential part of the Global Landscapes Forum hosted in parallel to the main Conference.

Hannah Smith, one of the YIL designers (and a collaborator with CCL Labs) sends this report:

D’escrime: Are you ready?

quoteI used Visual Explorer twice: as a framing activity for our active listening session and as a final reflection activity. You can find some pictures attached. It was a hit both times and I let each participant take their final reflection card home.  Once again, I was impressed with the Visual Explorer to transcend language and cultural barriers and facilitate communication and collaboration of young professionals.”

Hannah Smith is a former CCL-Ethiopia Intern, and is currently a PhD student in the College of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho.


Visual Explorer in China

We are pleased to receive this report from Dr. Harvey Chen:IMG_4613

quoteHere are some pictures of Visual Explorer in China. The participants arranged the VE cards into some shapes– heart, arrow, etc. They wrote a word or two for each card, and summarized the words into one big theme. In the case of the heart, the summary title was “Creating the Future with our Heart.”

Harvey Chen, PhD  陈朝晖
Chairman of the Board of Advisors
Center for Creative Leadership Greater China CCL 创新领导力中心(中国) (more…)

Photo record: Building Ethiopian / German relations in the work place

Thanks to Erik Burtchen at GIZ who helped our CCL Ethiopia staff produce a photo record of their recent program–excerpts below. These are wonderful illustrations of how we use Visual Explorer at help talk about leadership as DAC, and Leadership Metaphor Explorer to talk about leadership culture (more on these concepts here.) (more…)

Visual Thinking for Effective Leadership (VIDEO)

Thanks to HRDQ for making this video of our webinar free for our users.

Join David Magellan Horth and Charles J. Palus of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) when they present “Visual Thinking for Effective Leadership,” a highly interactive webinar that will explore this concept, examine best practices, and show you how to apply it to leadership development. (more…)

Visual Tools in Facilitation: Research Center for Leadership in Action


Our friends at New York University, Research Center for Leadership in Action, have developed these wonderful practice notes regarding the use of visual tools in facilitation, including Visual Explorer.

quoteOur work at RCLA often requires the facilitation of difficult conversations, building connections among diverse groups of people, and/or convening leaders concerned with critical social issues to problem-solve or address challenges. Although visual tools can be used in any setting to facilitate group processes, they are particularly valuable in situations were complex topics are at hand, or when groups have not established familiar relationships. There is a vast array of visual tools to draw on, thanks to many thought leaders who have developed these tools.

Exploring the ecology of leadership: The power of analogical thinking

quoteThis is the creative, connective role of metaphors in action: Carrying the thinking of participants beyond their immediate experiences to make analogical connections with the dynamics of complex systems in many other contexts.”

Our friend and colleague David K. Hurst has great success using analogical thinking as an executive development technique. In a previous post he talked about the usefulness of metaphors. In his latest work he takes it to a new level:

quoteI spent the past week in California working with a senior management team from a large global corporation as part of their extensive executive development program. This was my third time with the same organization and I had worked hard to improve and upgrade the program to focus more closely on their issues. … jump to David’s post>>


Using metaphors for better coaching conversations

Metaphors and analogies are the fuel and fire of thinking, according to a brilliant new book by Douglas Hofstadter. Visual Explorer and Metaphor Explorer are based in this insight. So I am pleased to have in front of me an insightful new doctoral dissertation on the use of metaphor in coaching conversations. Kristen Truman-Allen, founder of PULP Coaching, shares a summary of her dissertation (done at Fielding Graduate University) below–thanks Kristen! (more…)

Assessing Leadership at the Grassroots Level | Leadership Beyond Boundaries

LBB moon

Visual Explorer: Special Edition

Our CCL team in Ethiopia develops leadership at all levels of society including with grassroots and community organizations. Monitoring and assessment are key to this work, and the team has invented and adapted a variety of useful methods.
Samantha Adelberg just published a three-part series of posts on this topic that I highly recommend. The first one covers the use of Visual Explorer as an interactive tool for assessing leadership challenges and capabilities. (Here is an older post that describes a similar application of VE in Afghanistan.)

An excerpt …


Visual Explorer: Purpose and Possibility (VIDEO)

Red Zebra 3807035_300

quoteThe video clip shows the Visual Explorer process we use. This provides the delegates an effective and easy-to-use tool to explore the concept of Purpose and Leadership Possibility. It enables people to make deep connections to big issues, even if they have had little exposure to this type of thinking before.

Thanks to RedZebra for this video of VE in action!




Transforming Ethiopia’s agricultural sector

Our CCL campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is focused on democratizing leadership development for all parts of society. Their post below links to inspiring stories of societal impact. Notice the use of Visual Explorer, a tool that has proven useful for engaging people across different languages and cultures.

Visioning with Visual Explorer: Empowering Women Leaders to Lead Change in Myanmar

Reposted from Leadership Beyond Boundaries

VE Myanmar 2

Imagine you have a group of strong, committed, bright women excited by their country’s emergence from 60 long years of a military regime; add in a big measure of self-clarity and another of agency and one more of coaching & mentoring, and set them in a network of encouragement and support.  Do you get national transformation?  (more…)

Amplifying Voices: An initiative of CCL Ethiopia (VIDEO)

Addis girls programThis short 2 minute video showcases the powerful impact that happens when you invest in young women. With the support of the British Embassy of Ethiopia, The Center for Creative Leadership, through its Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative, is running a long term program to amplify the voices and to increase agency of female freshmen and sophomore university students across the city of Addis Ababa.

More here.

Review: “Well-designed Visual Explorer tool enables creative dialogue and collaboration”

innovation mgmt

Here’s a review of Visual Explorer, from Innovation Management:


Conclusion [full article here]

I like the Visual Explorer. The cards are of high quality, which means they should be durable tools that you and your team can use to open dialogue and explore new ideas. I like the fact that it isn’t just another card deck that helps you to generate ideas; rather, its primary focus is on facilitating discussion between people, building bridges between differing opinions and yes, even developing new ideas. And, as you may have gathered, I’m a big fan of the level of thinking, organization and presentation that went into the facilitator’s guide. A tool is only as good as the instructions that teach people how to use it. The Visual Explorer’s facilitator’s guide is first class all the way.

If you and your team are facing some difficult issues, or need to develop consensus on your organization’s future direction, or if you simply want to improve team communication and collaboration, then you may want to consider investing in this high quality toolset.”

CCL Collaborates with the European Center for Electoral Support

LBBLogo               European Center for Electoral Support  3

Good news from Barcelona (below) from the European Center for Electoral Support (full story here, and here for the 2012 edition). The ECES has the strategy of supporting “dialogue and mediation for the consensual and inclusive management of political transition and the prevention and mitigation of electoral and political conflict.”


The 2013 edition of the Dealing with Electoral Violence: Leadership and Conflict Management Skills for Electoral Stakeholders took place in Barcelon on 14-18 Octber 2013.

The overall objective of this 2013 edition of the LEAD Training has been to look into ways in which representatives of electoral stakeholders can improve their leadership skills and take on board means for preventing and/or mitigating the escalation of election-related violence and conflict throughout the respective electoral cycles.

The LEAD training is jointly organized with the Center for Creative Leadership: Leadership Beyond Boundaries and the Barcelona International Peace Resource Center. (more here.)

(They post these and other cool photos of the 2012 and 2013 events including use of Visual Explorer, Values Explorer, and Collaboration Explorer, and other CCL Leadership Essentials Tools.)


A different kind of conversation

Here’s a story from Jon: a successful conversation, with his son, on a topic difficult for both of them.

barn burning


I was having some challenges with one of my sons one time and his finances weren’t in order.  I was so bothered by this. I knew I didn’t want to turn him off completely but I had to get some breakthrough. I had just learned about Visual Explorer at a seminar.  And so I took the cards to dinner with the two of us, not even knowing how to use them, and I said something to the effect of, ‘Michael, talk to me about your finances’ and I said, ‘Pick a picture that helps depict what’s going on.’ And it was a barn burning. From there he told me a whole story about how he felt out of control and his whole world of finances was burning. And so the VE deck provided a great enty into getting behind what was the issue.”

Leadership Beyond Boundaries and mediated dialogue

Leadership Explorer tools, and especially Visual Explorer, have been key to our Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative, where they work by putting something in the middle of a creative conversation (mediated dialogue):

quoteImagine our world if we worked to create better leadership. Might we have fewer wars, would there be less hunger and disease, would more people recognize their talents and realize their potential, would we solve problems more creatively and effectively, and would we embrace and leverage the diversity that defines humankind? >> read more about Leadership Beyond Boundaries

Integrating Social Media in Youth Leadership Training

This field report is from Nadja Shashe, team member of the CCL Addis Ababa, Ethiopia office and inventor of the Social Media Station.

YV4P 4

quoteA target group within the Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative is youth. To get their attention and create a sustainable outreach, our team in Addis Ababa is integrating social media in youth leadership training programs.

One example of this effort is the Social Media Station that we invented for the Youth Voices for Peace project in Nakuru, Kenya.

social media station (more…)

Nuggets of Wisdom from the Early Leadership Toolkit

By Brandi Nicole Johnson

quoteLast month, I had the opportunity to attend LBB’s training on CCL’s Early Leadership Toolkit. I spent 2.5 days learning atoolkit-demo-imagebout CCL’s leadership content, practicing a toolkit module (ie. exercises, lessons, etc.) delivery and critically considering how we could apply what we had gathered in other settings to a population of young people. …

Continue reading this post here

The CCL Early Leadership Toolkit features several Leadership Explorer tools (Visual Explorer, Values Explorer, and Leadership Metaphor Explorer).

Video introduction to Visual Explorer

Here is a nice introduction to Visual Explorer by David Magellan Horth.  A deeper introduction is a CCL Webinar called Visual Thinking for Effective Leadership, by David and Chuck.

What Is Visual Explorer?

Visual Explorer uses images to facilitate conversations, creating new perspectives and shared understanding. The tool consists of 216 images, available in letter-size (USA), postcard-size, and playing-card-size formats, and a facilitator’s guide.

Visual Explorer offers the most benefits when a group needs to:
• Find patterns in complex issues and making connections
• Take a variety of perspectives
• Ask new questions, uncover hidden assumptions
• Elicit stories and create metaphors
• Tap into personal experiences and passions
• Articulate what is known to the group
• Practice dialogue

More on Visual Explorer here>>

Click for a small sample of the 216 images in a VE set.

A Peaceful Neighborhood Learning Circle

Sue Wolpert, change agent in Cleveland, writes to us about the formation of a Peaceful Neighborhood Learning Circle. (More on Sue’s work with dialogue and community engagement in urban neighborhoods here.)

The Possibility    People in Cleveland are moved to manifest their own aspirations for healing and peaceful neighborhoods by the stories told and spaces created by a small group of change agents who dedicate themselves to learn, celebrate, and demonstrate peaceful neighborhoods. As we discover new ways to live with ourselves, others and our physical spaces we model, with deep respect, these new ways of being.

The conversation we had was fabulous. The participants came up with so much wisdom that would never have surfaced without the cards.   …   
Every card opened the path for a story, every story revealed an important piece of information for our work.