Using picture cards as a tool in workshops: Caleidoscopio Cards

November 2015 I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop around innovation where the Toolbox for Innovation by Kessels & Smit was presented. I found out about the workshop by Frauke Schmid-Peter whom I know via the betahaus for a quite a while, Frauke works as a trainer and coach with K&S. The toolbox itself would also be worth an article, however, what impressed me the most were the visual methods Frauke uses and introduced to us during the workshop. Therefore let me give you a short impression of her picture cards: the Caleidoscopio Cards.

Evoke new links and associations via pictures

So far I didn’t use picture cards in my workshops. That might be due to the fact that I’ve never experienced it so far and also never tried it myself. But now, since this workshop my method toolbox includes a further visual tool. It already started during the introduction round. I am not a big fan of those classical getting-to-know-each other set ups where everyone, one after another, states who he is, what he does and so on and so on. Such a start into a workshop is not energetic at all and prolongates the tiredness in the morning.

„Present yourself and pick a picture which describes what you enjoy doing“. Introducing yourself via a picture already created different ideas and thoughts in my head. It stirred me away from my standard introduction text I usually state in such setups. Using a picture, I could kind of play the game indirectly.

I shared something about myself and while doing so, I was referring to the picture, making a connection. It was so much easier to say something about myself – I think that was due to the fact I was holding something in my hand which I could relate to. In this specific case it was a picture of crayons which triggered the idea to share my passion for Blackout poetry.


Pictures as a frame for discourse: Images guide thoughts

What is even more important, is the power of pictures to guide thoughts and feelings. Statements which are purely based on cognition focus on me knowing what I want to say: Think my thoughts first, then share these thoughts. When working with pictures, I can be guided by the pictures. They create feelings or evoke associations. I connect the images to my feelings and opinions or a question that keeps pondering in my head.

Images are like a window into one’s own personality and the whole background of experiences. You see an image and at the same time you look through the image, into yourself. And you discover aspects which fit with your own biography or a difficult situation you are facing in a current project.

For example when getting to know each other: You invite the participants to choose two pictures: one which expresses who you are – and one which shows what you are definitely not. At least with the second question I would have had extreme difficulties to find an answer without any visual support. Luckily there were quite a few images which made it very easy for me to discover something which was not me at all. Something which for sure I would not have shared in another introductory round.

60 Picture Cards To Use in Trainings, Coachings and Workshops

The set consists of 60 cards, postcard size. All the images have been taken by the two authors themselves. I use the second edition which was released in 2015. The images are beautiful and rich in meaning. It is good mixture of people, objects, landscapes. All of the images evoke something, depending on the person looking at it often different associations. The cards are not only helpful in getting to know each other set ups but also for feedback, creativity techniques or team development. The set includes a booklet in which the authors offer suggestions for the different areas.

Enrich a topic with personal aspects

In setups with the need to find solutions to strengthen the cooperation within the team, I very often hear sentences like “We need to be more transparent in our cooperation”. The discussion focusses on content level. Especially in those moments where it is all about getting engaged and being involved as a person, about taking over responsibility for things changing, it is crucial to include the personality of the actors in the game.

There is a huge difference whether you work around the question “How can we enhance our cooperation?” or if I as a facilitator turn the question into a personal one: “What I myself do to enhance the cooperation in our team?”. To turn an abstract question into a personal one, strengthens the motivation. It changes the level of discussion from the abstract “Someone should…” to a personal level. To answer this question indirectly via choosing a picture is – compared to pure verbal statement – a very smart way of doing it: “Look for a picture which expresses for you personally what you can add to enhance the cooperation within in the team”. I don’t believe in interpreting the pictures of others, such as: You probably chose that picture because…


Smoothen critical feedback or create new ideas

Being open and honest is usually a good thing, however sometimes you do not want to be too direct. For some people it might be very difficult to articulate criticism without making it personal. “Choose a picture which illustrates your opinion about this idea”. With such a task you work indirectly. Participants can articulate criticism via describing a picture without attacking the person behind the idea. This can be of good help, especially in sensitive workshop constellations.

Jörg already introduced in our blog the Context-Combinator as a tool for innovation workshops. Picture cards can be of additional help to get participants into new ways of thinking. Either you display the cards and hope for the participants to be inspired by the muses. Or you distribute one or more picture cards randomly and ask: “What does this card tell me about the topic?” Or: “Which new perspective does this picture offer for my first ideas?”

My conclusion: Work more with pictures

This insight into the use of picture cards has helped me very much. The work with pictures can be included in a workshop spontaneously and without extra time needed, since it is low threshold approach which addresses the personalities of participants instead of exclusively their expertise on a content level. Comparing it to methods like lego or exercises from impro theatre – which in the eye of some clients feels very alien – working with pictures is not so far-fetched.

I can recommend this visually very appealing set of picture cards to everyone who facilitates workshops regularly. The Caleidoscopio-Cards can be ordered directly with Kessels & Smit or via Amazon. I look forward to hearing your recommendations and experiences around the use of picture cards in workshops.


This article is being published with the friendly permission of Dirk Bathen. It’s original German version has been published on April 6th, 2016 at