There are seven kinds of organizations, each of which uses a specific set of tools:

1. Startups: The simplest kind of coherent organizations arise from combining a bright idea with someone who will pay to realize it. To enable this, an entrepreneur needs a good story, often described within a business plan. The most important thing at this stage is to have the personal ability to win the confidence of potential stakeholders. The process of developing a business plan is what can lead to this kind of presence since it serves as evidence that the plan has been thought through. Startups need names, business cards, websites, and leave-behind materials that tell their stories in a compelling way. Some visual tools that a startup might use include logos, visual business plans, introductory videos, and marketing-oriented websites.

2. Growth organizations: Growth organizations require a focus on lead products and services, and channeling the “anything goes” energy of a startup into a focused, aligned effort. Good strategy tools are necessary because leaders understand the market and personal capabilities that make a good match. Growth-stage organizations are often lean and action-oriented, focusing on new product releases and letting key events drive organizational activity. Momentum, commitment, and drive are valued. Success often flows from catching a wave of interest and paddling hard. Some tools that can help these organizations that are aiming at rapid growth include visualizations of environmental factors in context maps, market segmentation maps, and the sales processes as a whole.

3. Specialized organizations: As an organization matures, it will develop strong leaders who will have their own areas of creativity. Successful growth will also attract competitors who will push the organization into diversifying. At this stage of organization, executives must set strategies for their units and count on competent managers to run suborganizations, some of which might be startups. The central structures are often minimal, but tools that help include strategic vision maps for the organization as a whole, graphic templates for annual business planning, visual meetings that clarify roles, and organizational concept maps for guiding alignment.

4. Institutions: Any of the prior organizational forms can develop into institutions if they figure out how to create regular returns on investments. This requires having strong information systems, legal and financial arrangements, leadership development pipelines, talent management programs, succession planning, and a host of other processes. Visualization usually becomes essential as things get more complex. Institutions develop a great deal of inertia and require creative efforts to challenge thinking and create spaces for fresh ideas. Visualization can also help leaders conceptualize critical infrastructure services in which stability and quality are more important than creativity. Tools that are particularly useful for institutions include visual meetings to improve engagement, systems thinking, and group memory. Graphic histories can help to renew everyone’s sense of purpose, while strategic planning templates can be used to identify drivers of change. Visual investment portfolios are useful for illustrating resource allocation. Business model templates illustrating how the organization makes money or grows constituents are especially useful for institutions.

5. Regenerative organizations: At some point, people may want to bring growth energy back into the organization, tackling new markets and bringing forward new products and services. An organization that learns how to replicate its processes and throw off new enterprises is one that can move beyond just being a stable institution. A regenerative organization is more like an ecosystem than a large machine. It will retain elements of each of the other kinds of organizations in different functions, but add the ability to replicate itself in other areas. The total quality movement is all about helping organizations become aware of their processes so they can streamline and transfer them to new units. Regenerative organizations can benefit from using tools like communication platforms that allow visualization at a distance, graphic case studies, and internal video sharing to spread organizational know-how.

6. Co-creative organizations: People need fresh input to stay creative, and it is very hard to do this within a single organization. Co-creative organizations work in collaborative networks. Being able to form critical alliances and have a network of partners is the key to this kind of organization. To maintain its identity and direction in this environment, an organization has to be strong in its own culture. Tools that aid this include special meetings with partners to explore joint strategic visioning, social networking, video exchanges, robust web conference platforms, and mobile communications.

7. Transformative organizations: The final form of organization is one that is interdependent with the prior form in that it needs its functionality to operate but has a different aspiration — to bring about lasting, paradigmatic change. Transformative organizations are networks and movements that work with visualization. Because shared awareness is really the bottom-line constraint of a real movement, aligning this is a continual issue, and compelling visual metaphors and visions help. Some tools that are distinctive to transformative organizations include graphic visions and videos that tell stories of possibility, graphic articulation of guiding principles, and symbols and icons of change.