"Entrepreneurship!" offered one executive.
"Going above and beyond," mused another.
As they spoke, an artist scribbled furiously on an 8-foot-wide whiteboard. Soon, a drawing of a half-eaten apple emerged to represent the company's core values.
This was part of a recent two-day strategy session at Grasshopper, a provider of virtual phone systems that's based in Needham, Massachusetts. Co-founder David Hauser paid a specialized artist (or, as people in the field prefer to be known, graphic facilitator) $3,000 to take notes as Grasshopper's eight-person executive team formulated the company's goals. "It really improved the conversation," says Hauser. Later, the final sketch was photographed and printed on notepads, posters, and the company's website.
Many companies like Grasshopper are relying on these cartoonish doodles to help kindle ideas during meetings. It might seem silly, but these sorts of visuals are effective in brainstorming, says Martin Eppler, professor of media and communication management at University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. "We've found in our experiments that using visuals during meetings creates more ideas, creates better ideas, and increases recall," he says.
Some companies are even hiring graphic facilitators (you can find one at ifvpcommunity.ning.com) to coach workers on illustrating their own ideas. Sunni Brown, a graphic facilitator and author of The Doodle Revolution, often directs "group doodles" in which employees work together--listening to and then sketching one another's ideas.
To loosen up reluctant artists, Brown starts by having people call out objects rapid fire for her to sketch. "I purposefully make my drawings clumsy," she says, "so people see the goal is not to make great art but to get down something of substance." Rachael Brown, a training manager for Zappos, took a two-day seminar from Sunni Brown in 2011, as did a few other managers. Now, Zappos employees regularly use the techniques in brainstorming sessions. "We try to play with the problem graphically," says Rachael Brown. "It helps spark new ideas, especially if we're stuck."
Want to sketch your own ideas? Here are three tips from expert doodler Sunni Brown:
1. Keep it simple. Stick with easy visual metaphors: a forked road to indicate choice, an exclamation point for excitement.
2. Link your thoughts. Draw a box around words relating to one idea. Use arrows and lines to show relationships between ideas.
3. Get everyone sketching. Let your whole team take turns at the whiteboard. As people doodle, "their thinking will change," says Brown. "And that will open up new ideas, solutions, possibilities."