Working Visually to Communicate the Next 50 Years

Subscribe to Working Visually on LinkedIn to get the newest monthly edition delivered straight to your inbox!

In this special edition of Working Visually, Senior Business Strategist Liz Gaither interviews Throughline’s world-renowned geopolitical strategist, Thomas P.M. Barnett, on how working visually is imperative to educating younger Americans and leaders alike on the three major shifts in globalization—climate change, demographics and middle-class consumption—and how we can plan for the next 50 years.

Thomas is the New York Times bestselling author of The Pentagon’s New Map. Throughline recently partnered with Thomas to publish and illustrate his latest book, America’s New Map: Restoring Our Global Leadership in an Era of Climate Change and Demographic Collapse.

What inspired you to use visualizations to communicate modern globalization?

I grew up reading and re-reading the 16-volume series "New Illustrated History of the United States" put out by American Heritage in 1963 (the year after I was born). The photos and paintings throughout were fabulous, but what really caught my eye were the political cartoons.

No alt text provided for this image
Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) WWII propaganda cartoon.

These images were my great introduction to American history, a glimpse of how mass media throughout the years interpreted political developments through simple illustrations designed to be highly accessible to a mass audience. Coming from a family of dyslexics, the graphics definitely resonated with me, imprinting in my brain an American creed that motivates me to this day.

Nineteen years after my last book, The Pentagon’s New Map, Throughline Founder Scott Williams approached me to create a geopolitical book in the business book style of short segments, illustrations and data diagrams.

My initial thought: traditional publishing houses rarely publish a hardcover book that uses visuals to communicate geopolitics. With Scott’s curiosity and persistence, combined with my background in the publishing world, we changed that. BenBella Books understood why using visuals was critical in reaching the younger generation and clearly communicating with established leaders. As such, I finally got a chance to generate my version of an illustrated history of America and globalization.

At Throughline, we emphasize three phases of creative work: Explore, Envision and Execute. How did you and Scott Explore and Envision America's New Map?

Our journey began with Scott and the Throughline team exploring my brief. During this session, Scott identified three key themes:

  • Climate change turning our "horizontal" (east-west) perspective into a "vertical" (north-south) perspective
  • Superpower brand wars over the allegiances of an emergent majority middle class
  • The looming collision between the irresistible force that is climate change and the immovable object that is the demand of that majority global middle class for a better life.

Once Scott identified those three themes, I knew we had a book. We then brought the story to life with the help of world-class illustrators, Jim Nuttle and his daughter Sara Nuttle.

No alt text provided for this image
Thread 22 - Go, China. Go! Beijing's Methodical Approach to Geopolitics. This illustration is one of many in the book created by the innovative minds and proven talent of Jim and Sara Nuttle

During our Envision phase, I shared my desires:

  • Capture history as it relates to foreign policy and globalization.
  • Help leaders visualize how the converging forces of geopolitical realities, climate change, technology and demographic shifts will affect every field and industry over the next century.  

These two desires led to organizing the content and visuals around seven global research-based phenomena, which we dubbed ‘throughlines.’ These throughlines analyze the current geopolitical landscape and decode the complexities of today’s world.

In the end, we included 52 illustrations in the book that evoke a style reminiscent of Dr. Seuss and others like Herblock and New Yorker political cartoons. Additionally, Throughline’s long-time designer, Juraj Mihalik, and Senior Business Strategist, Tom Zorc, built 24 data visualizations that communicate my data-backed insights.

No alt text provided for this image
Throughline Two - Climate Changes Everything: A Horizontal World Made Vertical.

In the book, I open a dialog about a vision of a future world for leaders who grew up in a visual world full of animation, superhero movies, comic books and anime. What we’re going for is an updated version of what those illustrated histories once provided me: a visual lexicon of how America, the world and America’s role in that world have evolved over time and look to change in the future—a visual translation of my core political, economic and security concepts.

What's next for America's New Map?

Today, we are executing on America’s New Map—the release date is September 26, 2023! We are engaging with universities, the U.S. military and government agencies, corporations and associations across the country to provide speeches, workshops and scenario planning using insights in the book.

I’m excited to say that we have already engaged with Deloitte, Syracuse University and the Massachusetts Army National Guard. We’ve also convened a focused group of 40 readers to gather reactions. They have universal feedback: the drawings are spectacular and visually capture how to think about modern globalization to succeed in the next 50 years.

My favorite endorsement garnered so far: “A graphic novel for futurists” from an academic fearful I would be insulted by the notion. My reply: “That’s exactly what we were aiming for!”

For more information on the book and Thomas, check out and subscribe to our YouTube Channel, America’s New Map, for exclusive video content! To pre-order your copy today, click here.

Until next time,

Liz Gaither

Senior Business Strategist