Focus on the fundamentals

Publication date: 04 March 2019
Article type: Blogs and Articles

Spirit, soul, mind, and body make up the framework of our nature, but how can business leaders pay attention to all four at the same time to achieve focus? David Sibbet and Gisela Wendling investigate.

focus on fundamentalsFour flows of process

The Four Flows framework describes process patterns that are universal in nature and have been described in different ways throughout history. In everyday language you may have heard people talk about spirit, soul, mind, and body as all being important. Common diagnostic tools looking at personal preference, like the Meyers Briggs assessment, based on the work of Carl Jung, distinguish intuition, feelings, thinking, and sensing. Even cartoonists have figured out how to represent these levels in their visual vocabulary.

While life is always happening on all of these four levels, we don’t pay attention to all four consciously at the same time. Understanding where your clients and groups are focusing themselves is, however, a fundamental concept in process consulting. We are going to describe each flow, and invite you to bring your own understanding into the process.

Being aware of attention

A useful metaphor is to think of your attention like a flashlight. You can have a narrow or broad focus, and can point it inwards at yourself or outwards towards your surroundings. And your attention can move up and down these flows. We argue for developing flexibility in this regard, and knowing how to pick up the clues of what your client is paying attention to.

Awareness is more inclusive than attention. And what is included in our field of awareness predetermines what we pay attention to. Some think of awareness as the ‘witness’ or the ‘watcher’. While impossible to define clearly, it does exist. Expanding our awareness helps us see more of the whole and helps us see where we need to put our attention.

Attention is more accessible and can be observed. There are some clues, like where people’s eyes are focused, how their bodies are being held, and where they are showing up physically and in virtual space and where they are not showing up. Remember that your understanding will always be a guess, and you need to stay in inquiry.

While attention is mapped into the top line flow, the awareness that underlies it plays a part in all the other flows as well. We pay attention to feelings and movement. We pay attention to information. And we pay attention to operations. But being aware of how you pay attention is an inner process.

When facilitating meetings, attention is managed through practices like:

  • Framing potential outcomes with a story or image.
  • Preparing yourself through mindfulness practices to be centred and aware.
  • Distinguishing inner intention from overtly stated goals.

Tuning into the energetic flow

 The dynamic process of feeling and experiencing what is happening in a group process is metaphorically like listening to music, participating in a dance, or feeling the flow of the water when you are kayaking. In visual consulting, it involves the following:

  • Noticing the pacing and speed of activities.
  • Tracking the pulse between converging and diverging.
  • Feeling times when something is threatening people, and they are closing up.
  • Listening for what has heart and meaning when people talk.
  • Staying aware of your movements as an energetic factor.
  • Understanding the difference between ‘pushing’ a group and ‘pulling’ them out.

Emotions, according to neuroscientists, aren’t objects, but names for various energy movements in our body states. Movement has direction and intensity, and can be felt directly. Emotions and experiences are rich and thin, strong and weak, accelerating and slowing, and ebbing and waning. This is why being at home in your energetic, feeling body is so important in this work. It is the ‘tool’ by which you track this flow.

In visual facilitation, your own body is both a sensor and a sender of signals to the group. It is important to keep in mind that...

  • The physical miming of what you are hearing can be as important as what goes on the chart.
  • Where you as a consultant stand and move in relation to a graphic recorder directly affects the field of attention.
  • Your tone of voice may have more impact than the content of what you say.
  • Setting a trustworthy rhythm is fundamental to change. The overall shape and flow of a change process is a bit like an opera or a musical performance. The pacing and rhythm, intervals and textures are as important as the words and concepts represented in the songs and librettos.

Understanding the information flow

Information points at our human ability to represent the world through symbols and representations – in graphics, text and numbers most often. This is the material our rational, conscious minds use to ‘make sense’ out of the world. Visualisation is one, enormous part of this flow.

Information technically is data that is ‘in a form’ of some sort—textual, graphic, or numeric. In visual work, the forms are actually display formats or graphic templates, pictographs and ideographs. In text and language, the forms are grammatical structures, like subject-verb-object. In numbers, the forms can be charts and graphs, sequences, and formulas. Cartoonists know these forms and represent the four flows with them, as we noted before.

Learning to be aware of and manage the flow of information also includes seeing deeper patterns of meaning, and understanding how humans make higher order sense out of the information in our conscious minds. This would include understanding patterns of discourse that advance or subordinate certain ways of thinking, with discourse including what is okay to talk about, write about, propose about, and acknowledge in reward systems. The information flow would include the kind of systems-level awareness supported by big picture thinking on large wall charts.

What is true of any form of representations, no matter how specific or general, is that these representations are not the material world itself, but representations of it. The symbols themselves aren’t energetic patterns, unless they are embedded in vocal or performed speech. And these symbols aren’t the same as what we are paying attention to, though they provide clues. This is the reason it’s helpful to see all models, no matter how complex, as different kinds of ‘maps’ whose validity has a lot to do with how well they represent the ‘territory’ of whatever they are pointing towards.

From an interior point of view, these maps and models are metaphorically sometimes called ‘lenses’ or ‘filters’ when they are embedded in our conscious mind. Understanding these is essential to being a good visual consultant, and for helping clients with the many confusions that arise from people becoming over-attached to their representations and ignoring the real territory they represent. The fact that different representations of how to deal with change have arisen in the fields of visual facilitation, dialogue and change is one of the confusions we are attempting to rise above through some careful connection-making and visual representation in our frameworks.

Managing operations

Operations concern the physically manifest world of real tools, mechanisms, resources, and infrastructures.

This is the ‘body’ level of group process. These all have existence in material form. Included at this level, for consultants and facilitators, are decisions that operate on these mechanisms to achieve results. Because physical tools and mechanisms are objective and subject to the laws of cause and effect, these can be learned and managed to achieve real control at this level. For visual consulting it includes arranging for and managing things like:

  • Collaboration backbones, including staff and technology
  • Visualisation tools – pens, paper, chart stands, sticky notes, and tablets
  • Digital equipment for documenting and reproducing visual material
  • Communications technology, including video conferencing, mobile, and projection technologies
  • Sound technology.
  • Meeting environments, including tables, chairs, dividers, and charts
  • Budgeting for change projects
  • Reproducing large charts
  • Shipping of supplies
  • Room setups
  • Food arrangements and impacts

You can add to this list, because the real, material world is where we live and work. Change is inevitably reflected there too.


This is an edited extract from Visual Consulting: Designing and Leading Change by David Sibbet and Gisela Wendling (Wiley, 2018)