Guide on the Side – The Story of Storyboarding – Part 2: Displayed Thinking

Marie Wallace made the transition from an academic to a private law librarian in 1971 and continued in the private sector until her retirement in 1995. She continues to be active in continuing education for private law librarians, and has been a moving force behind the creation and maturation of three programs:

*Practicing Law Institute’s programs and Course Handbooks on Private Law Libraries, 1977-
*Southern California Association of Law Libraries Annual Institute on California Law, 1972-
*TRIPPL (Teaching Research Instruction in Private Law Libraries), 1990-

She has written about private law library management in numerous journals.


In the 1970’s, Mike Vance, in charge of Idea and People Development for Walt Disney Productions, Disneyland and Walt Disney World, saw that motion picture storyboarding could be modified and used to facilitate group thinking. He called the derivation Displayed Thinking, registered the trademark and began marketing a portfolio of highly successful training materials and seminars. Subsequently, others built on his ideas for group dynamics. Today there is a thriving industry in this type of storyboarding.

Displayed thinking is used here as a generic term for an overview of the family of concepts that grew out of Mike Vance’s vision. The techniques can save hours of meeting time, facilitate problem solving, expedite implementation of decisions, and improve communication. Displayed thinking is in growing use in the legal profession because of the frequent need to communicate expert, technical and scientific knowledge.

Although each displayed thinking storyboard system has individual refinements and terminology, by and large, they all contain the same thinking and deciding elements:

  • A facilitator
  • Group interaction
  • A specific process or format
  • Brainstorming
  • Idea capture
  • Work product is a visual image
  • Spatial display of the thinking becomes a story.

Things people have said about the displayed thinking concept:

  • A technology to facilitate the thinking process

    To support concurrent windows of thinking

  • A visual-spatial display of relationships and connections

    To show whole actions with multiple agents

  • A structure to make sense of a lot of data

    To show patterns and sequences

  • A highly interactive group process

    To reach and show consensus

  • It separates and then combines

    Creative and analytical modes of thinking

  • Turns group thoughts into actions
  • Displays collaborative results

    In an easy to follow and comprehend story

  • Uses brainstorming to generate and germinate ideas

    Captures ideas individually on index cards

    Expresses ideas in words, drawings or pictures

    Ideas can be quickly moved, combined or prioritized

  • Encourages piggy backing and hitchhiking of ideas
  • Changes the group model

    From a relay team

    • Where the baton of responsibility is passed sequentially one lap and one person at a time

    To a

    • Basketball team model where the whole team continuously focuses on getting the ball into the basket.

A metaphor for displayed thinking

  • Displayed thinking is to ideas what word processing is to words.
  • Speeds the process
  • Improves the results
  • Allows for rapid correction
  • Provides an array of new options
  • Connects related components
  • Can be merged and sorted
  • Is easy to store and retrieve
  • Provides a template of operations
  • Offers a navigation palette
  • Sets a new standard

What does a displayed thinking storyboard look like?

It looks like an outline of ideas on a wall. Completed storyboards are at:

Storyboard Planning Center

Storyboard Overview

It resembles familiar communication displays:

  • Airline emergency procedures cards
  • Architectural blue prints
  • Comic strips and cartoons
  • Musical scores
  • Front of many family refrigerators
  • Scheduling boards
  • Sports play diagrams

The PLL-SIS Strategic Plan was generated with a facilitator using displayed thinking techniques.

Attorneys have used thinking displays for courtroom exhibits, forensic animation, negotiation, dispute resolution, charting damages, settlement, and beauty contests.

Professor Joseph A. Grundfest, Stanford Law School, recently combined technology and displayed thinking by submitting court documents with hypertext links.

Displayed thinking would be ideal for a interdisciplinary team working on intranet requirements or a team converting existing training into multimedia.

How old is displayed thinking?

As originated by Mike Vance, it is only about a quarter of a century old but throughout history thinking has been recorded and displayed in a variety of media:

  • Cave walls
  • Clay tablets
  • Animal hides
  • Papyrus
  • Blackboards
  • Flipcharts
  • Grease boards
  • Copy boards
  • Smart boards
  • Electronic version of grease boards
    • Accepts text, data, voice and graphics
    • On the fly from anyone connected to the smart boards
  • Software
    • Three x Five

Who are the leaders in displayed thinking?

These pacesetters have refined and individualized displayed thinking type of storyboarding to include a variety of tools and techniques:

  • Dedicated displayed thinking places
  • Creative planning centers
  • War rooms
  • Decision rooms
  • Annual storyboarding conferences
  • Planning Center Methods
  • Portable storyboard walls
  • Compression model
  • Storytelling
  • Group graphics
  • Grid system using post-it notes for designing presentations

What kinds of organizations use displayed thinking concepts?

According to storyboarders Jim Norman and Jerry McNellis, the list is long and impressive. Many are Fortune Five Hundred companies, such as:

  • General Motors
  • General Electric
  • Federal Express
  • Exxon
  • General Mills
  • American Red Cross
  • City of Dayton
  • City of Phoenix

Is displayed thinking used in libraries?

Many of the cornerstones of how information is organized involve elementary forms of thinking displayed: classification, cataloging, indexing, subject bibliographies, footnotes, alphabetizing, shelving books by call number, online menus, and home pages–not to mention law digests, tables of cases, annotated codes, and citators.

Today law librarians have a golden opportunity to build on this solid foundation and to make their value and expertise more visible by systematically weaving advanced displayed thinking into their operations and communications.

What does the displayed thinking process involve?

  • Space and facilities are specifically arranged to facilitate group interaction
  • Team is oriented to the project
  • Ice breaker or trust building activity to create group rapport
    • Established relaxed atmosphere
  • Team goal and role is clarified via both creative and analytical modes of thinking
    • Topic selection
    • Problem identification
    • Current situation description
    • Possible problem causes
    • Possible solutions
    • Solution selection
    • Resources and restraints
  • Implementation – the briefing board
    • Who will do what, when and in what order
    • Do, Doing, Done, Hang-ups, and New Input categories
  • Solution preserved in a public place
  • Ideas are never rejected
    • Even though they might not be on the topic
    • Stray ideas go into holding categories in the storyboard
      • Parking lot – Important but not for this issue
      • Data dump – Need to know but not at this time
      • Hang ups – What is stalling us out
  • Debriefing, evaluation, and celebration

How do I learn the procedure?

  • Follow the first rule of research
    • Find a person who knows–an expert, such as Jim Norman
      • Sponsors annual conferences in Phoenix
      • Focus is on research and education
      • Experienced in law applications
  • Get hands-on experience with displayed thinking
    • Attend a seminar or storyboarding conference
    • Invest in a displayed thinking seminar or product
    • Participate in a displayed thinking event
  • Practice it informally with friends
    • To solve a common problem
    • To explore a political issue
    • To think “out of the box”

Principles of displayed thinking:

  • Think it, see it, do it
  • Synergy happens when you are having fun
  • Simplicity, clarity, and elegance
  • Tell a story and it will be remembered.

Where can I learn more about displayed thinking?

See Bibliography (last month)

Related sites

A Performing Medium for Working Group Graphics

Story Boarding Is an Art (PDF)

Storyboard Technology

StoryBoard Partnering

Thunderbolt Thinking Glossary

Next month Storyboarding – Part 3 – Wayfinding

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Meetings, Storyboarding