Eileen Clegg: Capturing Knowledge Via Visual Insight

When I was asked to present a workshop with all the powerhouse thought leaders and academic bigwigs this past spring at the 6th annual CCFC summit: Consuming Kids: The Sexualization of Children and Other Commercial Calamities, I had one of those insecure twitches of humbled reticence.

How would my lack of PhD pedigree stand up in a room full of whip-smart scholars and rockstar idols of mine like Alain Pouissant of Judge Baker Children’s Center, who is integrally involved with Bill Cosby and the Camille Cosby Girls Program, and Consuming Kids’ own Dr. Susan Linn and the Harvard crew. My “uh-oh” was mostly due to the fact that “commercial free childhood” is oxymoronic to me in this era, and my concern that I’d be perceived as Darth Vader coming from ‘the dark side’ of marketing and media edged me into a bit of a defensive mode.

I wanted SO much to evoke lightness and hope about how media and marketing can be used for powerfully good means to an end, but had visions of this being “a tough crowd.” (I can’t imagine what Obama felt like when he started his campaign!)

So I immediately called Bill Daul, the human glue of our NextNow Collaboratory and asked, “who can help me convey my thoughts visually and rein in this mind-map of multiple projects pinging all over the youth sphere?” Eileen Clegg, of Visual Insight.net of course. Eileen Clegg is the David Armano of our NextNow tribe, able to distill complex information into visual insights that literally storyboard the thinking process into a cohesive, structured, logical flow of data…

“But Eileen works in real time,” I protested to Bill. “I can’t afford to pack her in my suitcase…I’m a NON-profit!”

“How am I gonna distill all of these kids’ data nuggets and examples of GOOD things going on into one little workshop when I’m overflowing with information?”

“Just CALL her,” Bill admonished…”She’ll know what to do. She solves anything.”

And she did. We didn’t have time to meet in person this round, and she came up with the idea of a phone session, where she’d take notes about my mission, interview me from afar, and transfer the content percolating in my head into streamlined form and function.

In essence, we did a ‘data dump.’ (my words, not hers, she’s much more genteel, that’s Eileen in the front in stripes with the Visual Insight crew, including other NextNow wizards, Betsy Burroughs and Valerie Landau on the far right)

I’ll be writing about all of them soon as they’re ALL involved with the Program of the Future Conference this December,  which is a separate post in itself!

On the 40th Anniversary of Doug Engelbart’s “mother of all demos” Eileen Clegg will be using HER visual insight to record the conversation brainstorming new tools that improve collective intelligence. (The line up already includes visionaries like Alan Kay, Thomas Malone and Hiroshi Ishii of MIT and the Media Lab, Google Director of Research Peter Norvig and Brown University’s Andries van Dam, stay tuned for a follow up post)

Anyway, as I started pulling together my disjointed thoughts about the CCFC Consuming Kids workshop aloud, I could hear papers ruffling on the other end of the phone as if Eileen were rapidly scribbling down my words.

I was a bit incredulous that she could actually ‘do this from afar’ since Visual Insight is renown for capturing large scale ideas in ‘real time’ and in person, on a global scale.

“Eileen, this is my chance to convince some very smart people that media and marketing DO have a place in kids’ lives in benign forms…it’s all about the content of the messages, and positive uses. I can’t blow this.”

“You’ll be fine,” she reassured, “Just speak with the same passion you just did with me.”

Um, yah. I don’t even remember what I said. Guess what? It didn’t matter. She did.

I know I wanted to convey that Web 2.0 is transforming the kids’ conversation into a participatory, collaborative learning experience and that Shaping Youth strongly believes there doesn’t have to be such a dark side/light side polarity in perception between media and marketing pursuits in the childrens’ sphere.

There are a lot of positive picks out there! And I DO recall saying that Shaping Youth is about bringing those ‘forces’ together and using the power of media for positive change…

…Rather than some “Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader galactic battle of sabers fighting AGAINST each other.”

Shaping Youth is about leveraging alignment. Responsibility. Accountability. Ethics.

Next thing I know?

Eileen Clegg had distilled my talking points for the program into a formalized outline that she e-mailed me with a set of follow up questions, posing things like, “did you mean…can you clarify…how can we best…could you give an example of…why do you feel…” etc.

Wow. Visual Insight. Put into an e-mail form.

Probing. Candid. Forceful and focused. The ‘shape of thought’ translated into a wire frame foundation for visual execution.

And yes, she even solved the “portability” problem to carry it with me on the plane! (complete with ‘how to hang it without ruining the hallowed halls of Wheelock College; talk about thorough!)

Since Eileen has a gift of uncanny Visual Insight herself, she’s able to sift and sorts the deepest touchpoints in a powerful way to help others literally “see” what you are saying. Kind of like a human probe for solutions-based thinking.  (here’s a peek inside her working process)

She was able to take the strategic combination of words and images (visual language) and sketch them into a large scale banner graphic that I could use live at the meeting, scribbling on it myself!

She even left big holes for me to brainstorm with the audience on the spot, in crowdsourcing style. AND? She did this from afar. On the phone. Not an ideal creative channel…but a workable one.

Her ability to capture knowledge and skill sets I didn’t even know I had left me a bit awe-struck.

I thought I knew myself fairly well, but I keep finding intelligent people that see things that are right in front of my face. (Like when Robyn McMasters tapped into my post on kids needing to ‘use all 8 intelligences’, and tabbed my core as being about nature, whereas I’d always defaulted to ‘verbal.’ Fascinating) Eileen Clegg is one of those people. She’ll amaze you while you end up amazing yourself.

Anyway, Voilà ! Here’s the visual outcome with ‘brainstorming holes’ to customize!

I need to take photos of the ‘after’ as I’ve used it again in some other talks, and it continues to distill thinking into data nuggets that are fresh each time, so I paper over the ‘open spots’ to ‘do it again’ in recycle mode!

When I finally had the chance to thoroughly look at Eileen’s Visual Insight strategy it all seemed to make sense, for she did exactly what her site SAID she’d do, using techniques that seemed ‘off the top of her head’ but that I now see were very psychologically valid and journalistically sound. (all this time I kept thinking, ‘Eileen should’ve been an investigative reporter, she’s deep dives to cut to the chase in a heartbeat, and ‘gets it’ faster than anyone I’ve seen that hasn’t been exposed to Shaping Youth’s ongoing work)

Visual Insight explains Knowledge Management as being “…a key concern of most companies but many are realizing that traditional systems are static, difficult to access, and unpopular with the employees who most need to use or contribute to institutional memory.

We take an old-fashioned journalism approach to debriefing your best thinkers to capture their most valuable asset: knowledge that is so second nature to them that they fail to articulate (or even to recognize they have) key insights and experience.

We develop “institutional memory banks” for corporations who understand the value of their employee’s tacit knowledge. We have several techniques including customized templates designed for managers to tap into and record employees’ knowledge.”

Whoa. So all that time I kept thinking she was so intuitive and instinctive, it was actually very strategic data extraction and conversion into usable form?

Eileen, can you come to ALL my meetings?

My number one vice is that I ‘take on too much’ and am ‘all over the place’ quite literally. And though I can’t ‘drop a ball’ to save myself, I really DO need ‘a keeper’ to narrowcast some of the thoughts into digestible forms in order to keep from overwhelming. I get that about myself. Eileen has the wherewithall to rein in creative facets and leverage the assets productively!

It’s truly a gift being able to rein in and open up minds at the same time…

I wonder if we can recruit her for the Kids Online Unconference next week to capture some of the thoughts of leaders from different emphasis areas attending. (Anne Collier, Nancy Gruver, Scott Arpajian, Izzy Neis, etc.) SOME corporation must have it in the budget to bring her in for that?

I’m going to ask the conference organizers pronto, though they may already have visual insights handled. She’d be perfect for the Unconference format, with her ‘Writing on the Walls’ approach…

Below is one of many, many examples of her work, and perhaps the most challenging one, since murals are 2D and Doug Engelbart is clearly a 3D visionary out to raise the collective IQ tackling global, massive issues. That said, the visual below is a perfect springboard to get young brains rolling for the Project for the Future Conference…

I’ve already sent the PFF notice to readers like Steve Shoap who have proposed youthful innovation on his site with inventions to fight climate change, such as his fuel efficient Kei Cars. (check out his site at Safer Small Cars.com and forward to any engineers that can wrap their heads around some of these promising ideas!) So feel free to send this invitation for innovation MASSIVELY to all your youth innovation gurus, collegiate, primary, or otherwise!

At left: Doug Engelbart’s Vision in Venn

Eileen sums the work of the visual thinking imperative quite well on her site (kids are classic ‘visual thinking’ masters, so I love this language!)

“In a time of accelerating change that requires nimble thinking and the ability to quickly shift contexts, words alone don’t work to enable creative processing of new ideas…

With visual language, people can use their right brain to brainstorm and develop new ways of productive work. We work with companies to facilitate groups to collectively build a new “big picture” that reflects and synthesizes evolving ideas.”

That’s it. I’m going to go after some mini-grant seed money to see if I can fund Eileen’s involvement in Shaping Youth periodically in our work with kids.

Any corporate visionary want to sponsor this creative thinker to come aboard our team to consult for awhile?

We need Visual Insight. And whether you know it or not, so do you.

The writing is on the wall.

At Left: Eileen on ‘creating the future’ (kids, learning and education –click to enlarge)

By the way, today is Eileen Clegg’s birthday, and though I wanted to send her a ‘Facebook cake’ from afar…Give her a long overdue present for sharing her vision and friendship…

…And get the dang SpaFinder certificate I’ve had on my desk to give to her since April…

I figure the best way I could pay tribute to this amazing lady is with words. This is a blog-birthday tribute on behalf of all the learning institutions and kids’ causes Eileen has generously helped over time! Thank you so much for sharing your gift of Visual Insight

Happy Birthday, Eileen!

So glad you were born on this day…the world is smiling. 🙂



  1. Amy,

    Congrats on a great blog and thanks for the wonderful work that you are doing for the youth of the world. You mention that “Shaping Youth is about leveraging alignment. Responsibility. Accountability. Ethics.” There are some great insights in this combination of words and principles.

    I was particularly taken by this blog about Eileen Clegg and how she uses visual insight to get her point across. Dr. Kathy Cramer of The Cramer Institute and I have written a few books that take the power of positive thinking to new dimensions through Asset-Based Thinking. (www.assetbasedthinking.com) The books relay heavily on visual insights expressed through photography to communicate and motivate. Our third book, coming out in April, Change The Way You See Everything, Teen Edition was created to help teens change the way teen view themselves and the world through Asset-Based Thinking and takes the power of visuals to a whole new level.

    We also came across a great project that your readers would find interesting. It’s a program and website called Read Kiddo Read http://www.readkiddoread.com created by the best selling author, James Patterson. Jim’s passion is to instill the postive passion for reading in kids at an early age by encouraging parents, grandparents, teachers and kids to make reading a huge and healthy part of their lives.

    Positively influencing the next generations is the key to our future.

    Keep up the great work. We’ll be creating a post about Shaping Youth on our blog shortly. (http://assetbasedthinking.com/blog/)

    Hank Wasiak

  2. I am a single father and I am concerned about what the media throws in front of my 12 year old every day. I use http://www.readkiddoread.com to help me in getting my son to read and not play X-Box 24 hours a day. I went to http://www.assetbasedthinking.com and checked it out. What a great website and wonderful way to approach life. I can’t wait for the teen book to come out. I am going to get it for my son. I just ordered Change The Way You See Yourself from Amazon and look forward to reading it.


    Beverly Hills, CA

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