By acknowledging the limits we face, and tapping into our natural talents, we overcome deficit to find true strength.

When first learning to scribe, I was incredibly intimidated by colleagues who could quickly produce realistic pictures of people, animals, buildings, and objects from memory. Some people have this innate ability, where they pick up a pen, start working at a wall, and everything they make is recognizable. They listen. They draw. Go!

But that definitely was not me…

It took 1-2 years of very dedicated journaling, where I wrote words alongside sketches, to realize that my style – my true voice – was going to have to be something new, to me and to others. It would be some mix of what I knew my hand could shape, and a processing skill unique to my brain.

What resulted was an organic, nature-based approach* that more accurately represented how I saw and made sense in the world. I failed quite a lot in private and public while figuring this out. And my strength – surfacing coherence – only became clear after many, many years of this too often awkward and aching process of experimentation.

And this leads me to the point of authenticity. When learning to scribe, I emulated others. Our teams would literally “wall copy” to document the work, which really is an excellent introductory way of learning.

To uncover our unique gifts and give them shape, though, requires an additional kind of diligence.

We grow when we follow our curiosity – whether it be working with leading thinkers, visiting museums, or gaining exposure to other disciplines and art forms. Our view of things shifts as we take on new vantage points, like walking a route normally driven, or flying above a field of grain we are used to seeing as cereal in a bowl.

Additionally, we settle into our authenticity as we start to listen to our internal voice, the one that says: “This is true. Yes.” To the impulse in the gut: “Okay, go with it.” To the heat rising through the veins: “This matters.”

As we hear these messages and listen to them – like we would take advice from a mentor or a coach – we inhabit our truest self, the one that has been waiting all these years for us to grow up, to show up.

We learn through copy. We advance through integration. We master by tapping into our own source.


* Thank you Bryan Coffman, showing me there was a place for abstraction


openingScribes need to stay open. It’s as simple as that. If we start to close down, we miss what is being said, get lost in our own heads, and disconnect from the flow. Staying open is a key skill to manage, and the challenge to do so – while listening and drawing – is constant.

Referring directly to Otto Scharmer’s Presencing work, there are three key capacities to cultivate:

  • an Open Mind, where we Perceive clearly
  • an Open Heart, where we Join others where they are
  • an Open Will, where we Know what wants to be seen and made visible and from where we Draw

Yet quite often we encounter voices that block the path:

  • Judgment restricts the Open Mind
  • Cynicism restricts the Open Heart
  • Fear restricts the Open Will

During one u.lab[i] session in 2015, the community further surfaced that to relax judgment, we inquire and become curious. To relax cynicism, we find compassion. To relax fear, we activate courage.

Sometimes these voices are sticky, though, and even if we’d prefer a more enlightened approach, we just need to figure out how to keep drawing. Shutting down is not an option when your back is to 10 or 1,000 people eagerly anticipating your images!

What’s at Stake?

Sometimes when I feel very stuck in any of these capacities, I refer back to a ShadowWork exercise learned from Barbara Cecil. When facing a dilemma, a coach will ask: “What’s at risk for you to do this?” And the coachee responds with all the reasons and voices, in body and mind, that feel the risk.

Then the coach asks: “What’s at risk if you do not do this?” Again, the coachee responds with all the perceived risk if nothing were to change. And in playing out the two sides of a stuck situation, the needed move – and appropriate risk – becomes clear.

Sometimes we can move through stuckness and engage a more adventuresome part of ourselves. And sometimes, when the risk feels too high, we need to choose a smaller level of risk on which to act. And either case is completely fine. What’s important is to be honest about how far we can go internally and just keep going, as openly as possible.


For example, if we want to stay open-minded, yet find ourselves in a room of overwhelming judgement – like a room of people with opposing political views who criticize our favorite politician – it might seem too challenging to neutrally represent their conversation. The risk might be between 1) holding firm to our beliefs, therefore somewhat censoring what we hear and write, and 2) suspending our own judgment, inquiring into where they might be coming from, and holding a thread of curiosity for the whole.

Another example… if we end up at a wall, poised to listen with an open heart, and we are deeply troubled by what we are hearing – like ex-sex workers advocating for victim’s rights in the face of perpetrators who are in the very same room – what is the risk? 1) Cynicism that the judiciary system could ever change, therefore our work is futile – why even draw? 2) Revealing bias for the victim and not accurately tracking all parts of the system in play? Considering the safety of the container, and what it can hold, would also be important to consider here.

And another… if we go numb on a stage – like with with a terrifying fear that our minds will blank as soon as someone starts speaking and we’ll lose the thread of meaning and not be able to draw – (no open will), then we can run the quick “What’s at stake?” question to figure out what we can handle to get us over the hump. 1) Draw whatever is understood, even if very little. 2) Don’t draw at all.

In all cases, whenever noise gets in the way of tangible progress, there will be multiple facets informing the eventual freeing up and movement on our path. Choosing between risks is just one option. What i try to remember, at the base of it all, is this:

By staying open we become a channel for what wants to come through. We scribe to be of service for something wanting to be seen. To overcome our inner voices enables that service.


[i] u.lab: Leading From the Emerging Future is an online MOOC (Massive Online Open Courseware) offering through MIT’s edX platform, initiated in January 2015 in conjunction with the Presencing Institute’s ecology, “a global action research platform, and an eco-system of online and offline communities, working to understand and transform the underlying causes of the ecological, social, and spiritual crises of our time.”




On the path to opening, softening, relating, clarifying, DOING.

Orient at core, knowing that all practice calls for root grounding and sky extension.

Being matters, because if we operate from a false self, from a self that turns first towards outer measure and pride, we risk taking on action in the direction of projection. We make decisions based on expected outcome.

Do we draw because we anticipate someone will applaud? And if they don’t, where does that leave us? Deflated, feeling unacknowledged, inconsequential?

If we draw from the mind and hand alone, disconnected from interior knowing, we might represent a perceived reality – yet miss a window to create OF reality, from the inside out.

“Everything has appearance and essence, shell and kernel, mask and truth. What does it say against the inward determination of things that we finger the shell without reaching the kernel, that we live with appearance instead of perceiving the essence, that the mask of things so blinds us that we cannot find the truth?” – Franz Marc, Aphorisms, 1914-15

Caring for our being, we care for the shell and kernel alike.

In form, body, it is a physical tending of overall wellness: skeletal, muscular, of the organs, nerves, blood flow, etc.

Tending to the metaphysical, it is the inner chambers of the spirit (even if you are not a “spiritual” person!) the part of us that holds hope, aspiration, promise, recognizes truth, forgives, accepts – that is spirit.

Cynicism and disbelief cloud this spirit. To shift disbelief, we can instead imagine the possible and act from that place, asking: What could this look like if…

We turn inward to a place of innocence – a place we perhaps guard to protect. And we release the armor, free up the kernel, and invite ourselves simply to be.


To reframe is to see the same thing from a new view.

We take a notion and turn that notion inside out in order to see it differently, and help others see it differently, thus further open the door to possibility.

“It’s raining out! We need to stay indoors…” becomes “The garden is getting watered!” It’s not one perspective or the other – it’s both, each supported by a perspective.

Emotions give us another example. When we feel something strongly – such as sadness in parting with a loved one – we can shift how we relate to that sadness: “I will miss you…” can become “I will look forward to being with you again.”

If I enter a meeting room as the scribe assuming there will be a clear, smooth surface on which to draw, but arrive to find flip charts taped on every surface and no open wall area, I have to quickly reframe my approach. I have to figure out another strategy, such as to set up flip chart easels in a corner or tape paper onto a window. To stay present and carry out the work, I must reconfigure the conditions in my mind. “Full walls” become “Open corners.”

Getting fixated within one frame locks us into seeing only one view, where being able to reframe allows us to see things from multiple perspectives.

Another tangible example comes from a time when I went to scribe at a conference in the oil and gas industry, where there was a focus on fracking (hydraulic fracturing.) Considering myself an environmentalist, having intentionally worked with organizations on climate and species-oriented topics, I somewhat knew what I was getting myself into here – and not…

As I stood on a stage, knowing the drawings would be on display in the main hotel lobby at each break, I knew there was no “out.” And presentation after presentation on increasing sales in this area, and developing local expertise, and increasing safety on the rig sites – all to further increase investment in fracking…I just had a pit in my stomach the entire time. “How can I be supporting any of this?!” I wondered.

However, another part of me – a less judgmental, unbiased part – knew that in order to serve the room and client well, I needed to shed my assumptions, learn a bit, and reposition myself to a more neutral state. I needed to reframe my attitude, pronto.

This is not to say I became in favor of fracking during the conference, or am now. But my eyes were opened by the experience and I saw that – for as passionate as my peers and I are about sustainable energy sources – the people in this room were equally as passionate about growing their business. There was no right or wrong – only two views. And there are probably more.

In recalling this story, I realize that a need to reframe can often link to strongly held beliefs; the times that I’ve had to really switch around something in my mind almost always stem from being high on the Ladder of Inference. In order to suspend my beliefs and assumptions, I’ve had to quickly get a handle on the data of the situation and/or insight into other people’s experiences.

Getting to the data eases the ability to alter course.

Lastly, reframing can facilitate relating. If I can turn something around to see it from your view, I can understand where you might be coming from, and vice versa. If I can do this for others as a scribe, by presenting information in a new way – i.e.; crafting an arc instead of a straight line to represent horizon – the service is getting people on the same page. They have a fresh picture to look at, over which to agree or disagree, and ultimately advance their thinking.

Reframing directly correlates to seeing with fresh eyes.

As soon as we loosen one assumption, we open a window to interpretation and insight.


To frame is to convey boundaries, limits, and openings, options. Frames help divide and compartmentalize and also define areas to bridge through relation. The framing of the physical and the framing of our thinking parallel each other, and understanding one can enhance our understanding of the other. Both are needed in visual practice, as scribes organize information in the mind as we organize words and shapes on a page.

the physical

One understanding of a frame is a protective edge of a 2-dimensional form, such as around a window or glasses. Drawn frames can look like boxes or circles that offer visual parameter. The most outer edge of the paper also represents a frame, as do the four walls of a room or lobby that contain a display of completed work.

We frame content to give it contextual coherence. We cluster like-ideas and enclose the grouping with a closed line. But framing is not only about boxing things in, or fitting things together in a way that’s merely convenient.

Framing is ultimately about setting up conditions for choice.

With the proportions and proximity of what we include and exclude, we provide a limit that informs the participant-viewer what is in, what is out. With that information, people can make decisions about how to place themselves relative to the meaning the picture conveys.

If we look back at some examples from 20th century art, we can see a variety of framing devices that each set up the viewer for different interpretive outcome. This is useful as a guide for how we can consider physical framing with increased intentionality.


The photographer Diane Arbus placed her subjects completely central to the picture, almost forcing our focus to one object, regardless of background. The painter Mark Rothko layered large floating rectangles of deep color, somewhat frame-less, as a means for transcendence. And then Sol LeWitt plays with the frame to break it; rather than complete drawings by his own hand, the artist created “rules” that an installer could use as instruction to draw directly onto the interior surface of any physical environment. One example is “All architectural points connected by straight lines.”[i] The wall is the frame, but the frame changes with every installation.

the conceptual

Framing is also about the lenses we use to organize what we hear and intuit. 

I might be listening to a conversation on strategy, for example, and notice data that indicates a conservative approach, a leaning to stay close to existing conditions. People could be saying things like: “Why fix something that isn’t broken?” “I don’t know… things seem to be fine from where I sit…” “We don’t have the capacity to produce 100 additional widgets this year…” What do I interpret from that? An inclination towards safety, preservation. In my mind, I call this frame “current reality.”

And, based on experience, I make the attribution that there might also be low aspiration represented in the room. But there is not yet data to confirm that, so in my mind I prepare an empty frame called “vision” to hold a place for that to come in. It’s like setting out a plate for a meal that is still cooking – because the plate is there, the incentive to fill the dish might increase.

I often bring in models as scaffolds for my thinking. And in this case, Robert Fritz’s Creative Tension model comes immediately to mind.[ii] Often drawn with Current Reality on the bottom, Vision on top, and the middle section representing the creative – or structural – tension between the other two. Fritz states that “tension seeks resolution” and that “one major skill of the creative process is forming structures that resolve in favor of the creation.”

With this in mind, I confirm against the initial client calls and planning that there is actually a stated desire somewhere in the system for a creative outcome from this meeting. If so, in my mind I will hold this kind of framing as a backbone for how I listen:


I will choose within my physical frame to allot a certain amount of the board towards Current Reality, a certain amount towards Vision, the space between for any tensions that surface, and probably space for the New Reality as well as the Next Steps required to get there.

I will have additionally, almost unconsciously, made a quick call to up the ante on the group and place the strategy conversation within a larger cultural context, and listen with that attunement as well.

MG Taylor charted a model called Vantage Points[iii], where Strategy exists close to Culture. Upon hearing the initial leaning into safety from the first few comments, I might have also started to assume some cultural stuckness around vision. I might be asking myself, “Does this group even want to entertain a new reality, a new approach or way of being?” Again, I keep this in mind knowing it’s an attribution, and listen closely for confirming or disconfirming data, before drawing too much in any one direction.

So basically would I overlay two models to help me approach the conceptual framing. In my brain it looks like this:


Granted this is a more facilitative approach to scribing, where internal organizing explicitly influences tangible, visible output. And to pull it off takes some genuine sensing into the tolerance / appetite for growth of a group, combined with careful application of a scribe’s tacit knowledge.

The more sessions we scribe, the more models and theories we are exposed to. It’s a huge advantage in our profession, often traveling as we do between a wide variety of programs, to have this learning luxury built into our work. Take advantage of it and increase your knowledge base! Seek out those whose ideas you admire and do whatever you can to be in the same room. Sketch on a napkin if you have to while they talk. Absorb what you can, whenever possible.

Likewise, study the masters of two-dimensional art to further educate yourself about layout and physical framing options. My dearest college professor, Eleanore Mikus, once gave me the following advice: “Travel alone and get lost. You learn so much. Head for the museums and churches in every country, just keep on going.”

Our path, including how we approach it and how we organize it, is ours to define.

(But that is just my framing on the whole thing!)


[i] LeWitt, Sol. Wall Drawing #51, 1970. “LeWitt’s instructions for Wall Drawing 51 dictate, “All architectural points connected by straight lines.” Using the simplest and most technically precise means available, Wall Drawing 51 comprises hundreds of blue lines of varying length stretching from one architectural detail to another, including door frames, columns, fire alarms, etc. Employing a chalk snap line, a contractor’s tool that is used to create straight lines on flat surfaces, this drawing focuses the viewer’s attention on the architecture of the space.”

[ii] Fritz, Robert. The Path of Least Resistance. Chapter: “Tension Seeks Resolution.” Fawcett Books. 1984.