The most powerful way to plan your strategy

An introduction to Planning With Pictures


In a speech given at a business function in March 1911, business executive Arthur Brisbane (pictured below) stated: 

“Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”

This statement became the precursor to the globally popular quote:

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

What did Brisbane mean with his statement? Quite simply, when you want to explain important ideas and information, use a picture.  It’s far better than trying to convey something with many words.  That is the power of pictures.

Picture power is one reason why businesses hire graphic designers to design logos.

Picture power is why top sports coaches use whiteboards and playbooks to illustrate “plays” to their teams.

Picture power is why Microsoft PowerPoint is so popular as a presentation tool.

You getting the picture?

When children learn to read, one of the best ways for them to learn is through picture books.

And when someone is lost and needs some direction?  The best way to get direction is to use a picture in the form of a map.

You see, pictures are very, very powerful.

Why try explaining something with a thousand words? Use a picture instead.

Add picture power to this extremely important skill 

There is one extremely important skill which you can dramatically improve with pictures.

What is it?  Strategic planning.

Yes indeed.  When you add picture power to strategic planning it will help you to:

  • Better see the forest from the trees
  • Analyse situations far more effectively
  • Make better decisions
  • Develop more robust and easy-to-understand strategic plans

That is the power of planning with pictures.  Also known as visual planning.

Actually, the concept of visual planning is not new, and has been used in a number of domains for many years, from the military through to sport. Here is an example from Operation Desert Storm, the famous military battle that took place in 1991:


And this example is of an attacking “play” or tactic from the sport of rugby.

In both these examples, a visual process has been used to lay out the plan for beating the opponent.  Further, because the plans are visually focused, they are easier to read and understand.

Again, that is the power of planning with pictures.

Bringing planning with pictures to business

The process of strategic planning has long been practiced as a complex exercise.  In business for example, many leaders rely heavily on using complex, left-brain planning techniques and in writing long-winded strategic plans.

Those times have changed.

This is highlighted by Daniel Pink’s best-selling book, A Whole New Mind, published in 2005:

“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind— computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

Put another way?  Complex, left-brain strategic planning doesn’t cut it.  You need a different approach to strategic planning.  Which is where planning with pictures comes in.

Introducing the Planning With Pictures Method

Master strategist, Ben M. Bartlett, is a pioneer of strategic planning with pictures.

Ben attended his first visual strategic planning course in 1994, where he learnt visual planning techniques used by NASA in the development of its space programmes.  He also holds an MBA, with a specialisation in strategic thinking, from the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Since 1994 Ben has been a dedicated researcher practitioner in applying pictures to planning.  And to advance the discipline, he created The Planning With Pictures Method.

There are three keys to the Planning With Pictures method.

  1. Design Thinking For Strategy
  2. Strategy Models
  3. Strategy Rules and Principles

Let’s have a closer look.

1. Design Thinking For Strategy

Planning With Pictures requires a specific type of thinking. It is the type of thinking that is more associated with creative occupations such as graphic design and architecture.  As opposed to the left-brain occupations of accountancy and finance.

Formally, this thinking is known as design thinking for strategy.

As highlighted above, design thinking for strategy is design-dominant strategic thinking. It is a creativity-led approach to developing strategies and solving problems. Design thinking for strategy applies “whole brain” thinking that integrates creativity and ideation with analytical thinking processes.  The result?  Design thinking combines art and science to create innovative concepts, strategies and solutions.

The concept of design thinking has evolved over the last 20 years and has really come of age since the mid 2000s.  Large companies that utilize design thinking include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Google and Coca Cola. Even some major universities – such as Harvard and Stanford – teach design thinking to their business students.

2. Strategy Models

As any good tradesperson will tell you, there is one essential asset they need to perform their role.  Indeed, without this asset their performance will suck. 

The asset? A set of good tools. 

For a builder, must-have tools include a hammer and drill. For a mechanic, important tools are the socket set and compression tester.

At the end of the day, good tools are essential to properly performing any role and completing any task.  Building a house. Performing heart surgery.  Designing a logo.

Naturally, this simple principle also applies to the task of planning and executing strategy. 

Meaning? Whenever you perform strategy work, you need good strategy tools. 

The fact is this.  Good strategy tools will help you to be better – much better – at developing and executing strategy.

The awesome power of strategy models

There is a specific term strategists use for their work tools. They’re called strategy models.

Strategy models defined?  Strategy models are visual-based tools that are used for analysing, developing and executing strategy.  Put another way, strategy models are to a strategist what a hammer and drill is to a builder.

The key word in the above definition? Visual.  You see, strategy models include visual tools such as pictures, designs, blueprints, roadmaps, matrices, infographics and prototypes. 

Before you commence any strategy project, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is, “What strategy models do I need?”

Or, if you’re thinking of hiring someone to help you with strategy, a key question you need to ask that person is, “What strategy models do you use?”

The Planning With Pictures system uses strategy models that more effectively engage the brain’s right hemisphere.  

In the system there are more than 100 models. Most of these have been personally developed by Ben, while others are well known models used widely in business strategic planning.

One of the key models in the system are OnePager plans.

As the name suggests, OnePager Plans – also known as OnePagers – are visual plans, models and roadmaps that are designed and placed onto a single page.

You can liken OnePagers plans to travel roadmaps. Travel roadmaps are visual, and let you quickly and easily see how to get from where you are now to where you want to be.

One pager plans work exactly the same way.  They are visually based, with a completed plan fitting on a sheet of paper.

By making the plan visual, like a roadmap, OnePagers have many advantages over traditional, text-heavy plans. Some of these advantages are:

OnePagers convey information very quickly

Who wants to sit down and read a complex strategic plan?  Most people don’t. Many busy business owners operating in highly competitive industries often want information conveyed quickly, with a focus on the key points. OnePagers do that perfectly.

OnePagers are easier to understand

OnePagers are much easier to understand.  There are no complex words and the pictorial nature of the plans means that the pictures used will explain a thousand words.

OnePagers can be seen

Rather than being stuck away in a filing cabinet or somewhere in a computer folder, OnePagers can be placed on a wall for everyone to see.  That way people are constantly reminded of the vision, goal and plan.

OnePagers can be enlarged

You really want people to see your strategic plan?  Well, OnePagers can be enlagred to fit the size of a boardroom or office wall.  That way they can’t be missed.

OnePagers extol the virtues of KISS

The KISS acronym stands for Keep It Simple Stupid.  In the context of strategy and planning, it simply means that you need to develop and communicate a strategy that adheres to KISS.  OnePagers are KISS plans.

OnePager Templates

The starting point for OnePagers are OnePager Templates, which are blank canvas templates you can use to develop and complete a visual plan.

Templates come in a variety of types including pathway, pyramid, stairstep and umbrella. And they are extremely useful in facilitating the planning process.

Business Strategy OnePagers

Business strategy OnePagers are perfect for business owners to present and communicate a business strategy, plan or business model. The benefits of using OnePagers and visual playbooks for business are many and include:

  • Resulting plans and models are more concise and easier to read – with a completed plan that highlights your strategy and key actions on a single A3 to A0 page.  And the best part is, they can be better understood by everyone in the organization – from CEO to the cleaner.
  • Perfect for owners of small to mid-sized firms.  If you’re the owner of a smaller firm – say with fewer than 50 employees – forget the traditional, complex planning approaches taught in business schools and books for large corporates.  The One Pager approach is far simpler…and it is perfect for the little guys.

When creating one page plans for businesses we ensure these elements are included:

  • Your strategic goals
  • Your vision
  • Your 5th point of the compass
  • Your strategy

3. Strategy Rules and Principles

When it comes to analysing situations, making important decisions, and designing and developing strategy, there are specific rules and principles you must follow.  These are timeless rules that are applied by the best strategists in the military, elite-level sport and in business.

The Planning With Pictures system applies these rules which we call The 12 Rules of Strategy.

Applying the 12 Rules of Strategy will not only ensure you develop the best strategies and strategic plans.  You will also excel at executing your strategies.

How to access The Planning With Pictures Method

The Planning With Pictures Method and its models, tools and techniques are available these ways:

Planning With Pictures Workshops.  These workshops range from 1/2 day workshops to multi-day training programs and are part of The Strategy Lessons education program.

Strat Sessions.  Sessions are one-off strategic planning and consulting sessions used for solving an immediate or one-off problem.  They can also be used for short-term strategic facilitation, brainstorming and strategy reviews.

The Planning With Pictures system is integral to Strat Sessions.

Strategy Projects.  The Planning With Pictures System is a key ingredient in all strategy consulting, facilitation and planning projects. Use of the models for consulting work means that clients have access to the best tools for the job.

The Bartlett Reports. Published periodically, The Bartlett Reports are paper and ink research reports dedicated to showcasing the power of Strategy Models.  Primarily a report will highlight a model in the system and readers are then shown how to apply the model.

The Bartlett Reports are available only as paper and ink documents.  There are no downloadable copies.  At up to US $395.00 per issue, the reports are pricey, especially when you consider that each issue is only 10-20 pages.  Mind you, you are not paying for the pages, you are paying for the knowledge and techniques on the pages.

The Strategy Lessons Briefings and Lectures. From time to time Ben conducts lectures and briefing on strategy by design thinking and various tools in the toolkit. Many of these lectures are free, while some have a nominal charge.  To be notified of upcoming lectures, subscribe to The Strategy Lessons Newsletter, the ultimate newsletter on strategic management.


So there you go.  The Planning With Pictures Method is the “go-to” system to analyse, develop, explain and showcase a a strategy.  It puts the “picture is worth a thousands words” principle to great use.

To learn more about the Planning With Pictures Method, email ben (at)  And make sure to request some free samples of OnePager templates.