Heather Willems is a professional doodler. Like many artistically-inclined people, it was just a habit she had--she'd sketch on napkins and any other scraps of paper on hand as a way to think. These days, she's more likely to be found doodling on a giant whiteboard located inside the offices of Fortune 50 companies such as Google, NASA, and Pepsi.
Willems, along with a classmate from art school, Nora Herting is the co-founder of ImageThink, which they describe as a graphic recording business. ImageThink works with companies to "map out" their brainstorming sessions visually.
Herting, Willems, or one of the company's five other graphic recorders will sit in on company meetings and use both images and words to record what's being said during the meeting on a giant whiteboard. They say that not only does a team wind up with a more beautiful memory of the meeting, but it also helps people brainstorm in a more effective way due to this "cross-cognitive" form of capturing information.
"It helps to increase memory retention, because you're engaging the brain in so many different ways," Willems says.
Seven years after its founding, ImageThink is on track to generate more than $2 million in revenue in 2016. And on June 21, the pair are releasing their first book, called Draw Your Big Idea, which contains 10 chapters' worth of drawing exercises that are designed to help readers brainstorm more productively, think more creatively, and fine-tune their ideas.
The two spoke with Inc. by phone to share tips on how anyone can harness the power of doodling to become more creative (even if you don't have a graphic recorder on hand during your meetings).
1. Start with some simple doodles to refresh your artistic abilities.
It may have been a while since you last picked up markers or colored pencils. If so, you'll want to start by doing some simple daily drawing exercises, such as recalling two objects you spotted during your day and sketching them out.
This is what the first chapter of Herting's and Willems' book covers. They say that even if you're not trying to use doodling to come up with a specific solution to a problem, it's a nice way to help you work your mental muscles in a different way.
"People are so inundated with information, that it's nice to be able to give our minds a break," says Herting.
2. Ask yourself 'big picture' questions--and don't be afraid to put down your craziest ideas.
Herting and Willems say that one of the benefits of drawing your ideas instead of writing them out is that it allows you to be a little more silly--you don't have to worry about writing out completely articulate sentences.
Therefore, take the time to draw out any ideas and aspirations you have that might seem too far-fetched to become a reality. Sketch out what you want your dream career or life to look like, even if buying a yacht or getting cast on Broadway seems forever out of reach.
"We were talking to somebody earlier and they were like 'I want to be Oprah,' but they said it in a way that they were almost ashamed to let anybody know. That's what our book is for--to put down all of your crazy ideas," says Herting.
3. Identify your purpose or problem.
Next, use drawing prompts to take stock of your current state of being: write and sketch out your strengths, weaknesses, and values. If you're doodling on behalf of your business, this might take the shape of drawing out what your current customer or competitor looks like.
Herting and Willems say that being able to take in information visually, rather than verbally, can help you think about it in a different way. For example, if you have a whiteboard that's split into two sections--one side contains your company's strengths, and the other contains its weaknesses--and the side with weaknesses has more entries than the side with strengths, you most likely have a company culture problem that needs to be addressed
4. Map out your plan of action--and make it visually pleasing.
If you've decided that there's a specific idea you want to brainstorm, or a problem you want to solve, it's time to come up with concrete ways to turn that dream into reality. That may involve drawing a pie chart of how much time you want to allocate to each task that needs to be completed to solve the problem, or how you are going to use your strengths to attack it.
Here's where you can get really creative. Spend time making it colorful and beautiful, even if at first it seems like a waste of time. Herting and Willems say that if you focus on mapping out your plan in an inspiring way, you'll be motivated to come back to it time and time again.