Two years ago Michelle Histand, Director of the Independence Blue Cross Innovation Center in Philadelphia invited me to participate in a design challenge facilitated by the innovation consultancy ?WhatIf!. The ?WhatIf! facilitators, Jason Cha and Anika Patel, inspired me so much with their use of low fidelity sketches to explain design thinking principles (no death by Power Point from these two!), that I promised myself to try and draw something every day.

Despite being a Dan Roam devotee of visual literacy, this was an ambitious goal for me and I admit that I did not keep my promise on a daily basis. That is, until 3 months ago, when I was on a flight from Philly to Chicago and sat next to a woman who was drawing the most beautiful and intricate shapes on a pad of paper.

We struck up a conversation and she showed me the ways she uses Zen Doodle as her prompt and inspiration for doodling. It turns out, that if you can draw a dot, a line, a circle, a square, etc., and recombine those shapes repetitively, then not only will you create beautiful art, but you will begin to exercise your mind in ways that unleash inspired thinking and, frankly, an inner calm.

That is why I was thrilled that at last week's Pennsylvania Conference for Women there was a breakout session called "The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently". Of course, I went! This workshop was led by Sunni Brown, aka Dr. Doodle, who believes that she can change people's lives by getting them to chill, act a bit more silly, and most importantly, doodle. Her new book, The Doodle Revolution, is full of explanations on the science behind the power of games and doodling, as well as easy to follow exercises.

Sunni writes in chapter 1 that "doodling is thinking in disguise" and goes on to exhort us all to build more visual literacy in our work environments- and then shares practical guidelines on how to do so. For example, when asked by one woman at our workshop about how to engage resistant colleagues in doodling and games, Sunni has three practical directives: "Meet them where they are; find allies in your organization; and start small!"

Sunni led about 200 women, most of us complete strangers to each other, in a workshop where we played 3 interactive, silly games: Gibberish, Slugworth and How to Change Your Mind. All three games forced us to improvise, engage in lateral thinking and doodle.

I took away the following 7 wonderful insights from Sunni about the science and art of doodling:

  1. Concentration- Doodling elevates focus and concentration. That person in the meeting doodling away in the margins of her notebook and seemingly not paying attention to the speaker? Well she is actually more attuned and clearly focused on the points being explained!
  2. Memory- Doodlers remember more and have a higher capacity for information retention. Thus, we should really be encouraging this practice-from childhood through adulthood- and especially as adults where in our everyday worlds we feel stressed and overextended.
  3. Exploration- Doodling deepens knowledge exploration. The brain synapses that are distinctively ignited when you put pen to paper in a random, meandering sort of walk- parallels the type of exploratory thinking we need to do to innovate on a consistent basis.
  4. Problem Solving- Doodling allows a different access to problem solving and insights, because it is not linear, but rather associative. It actually helps with the abductive thinking process that is key in design thinking.
  5. The Big Picture- Doodling encourages awareness of the big picture. This is an essential skill set in developing strategy- whether for a corporate takeover or figuring out what to cook for dinner.
  6. Think Beyond the Expected- Doodling helps us to break away from habitual thinking patterns. Sunni reminded us that the brain prefers stable patterns: for example we want to know what to do with a doorknob each time we see one- not tinker with it! The downside of habitual thinking patterns is that when we get too comfortable with patterns or stereotypes we get really bad at recognizing subtle nuances.
  7. Creativity!- Doodling exercises our pure imagination and therefore our creativity. Specifically, something Sunni calls perceptual creativity gets enhanced; that is, our ability to recombine and see the familiar in new, reorganized ways.

My commitment to doodling at least 5 minutes everyday has been ignited and affirmed. As Sunni writes in The Doodle Revolution, "Doodling has given corporations unimaginable insights into their businesses. It's given individuals new leases on life." So pick up a pen, grab a piece of paper, and get to Doodlin'!

You can follow Sunni Brown on Twitter @SunniBrown.

Published on: Oct 20, 2014