We might all be natural doodlers as kids, but by the time we reach adulthood, most of us will have dismissed it as a childish time-waster. Sunni Brown wants us to see doodling for the remarkable tool it is and learn to use it to its full advantage.
Brown, founder of a visual-thinking consultancy who was named one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company in 2011, is out to teach the world to doodle in her new book, The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently.
The Austin, Tex.-based author shared with us how doodling can change your thinking for the better, and how to go from chicken-scratcher to supreme doodler.
Five ways doodling improves thinking
Focus: "In modern society, [distraction] is a problem of the utmost import," she says. "People have very fractured attention." Doodling "gives you the gift of focus. It's just you and the line and you're just making a mark."
Information retention: When people are only listening to auditory information, it's easy for their minds to drift, but doodling while listening helps to better absorb information, Brown says. One study, published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology in 2009, found that doodlers retain 29-per-cent more information than their non-doodling counterparts. "Most people are not auditory learners."
Creative problem-solving: When people are talking something through, such as in a brainstorming meeting, "our creativity can tend to rely on habitual patterns," she says. "When you doodle, you allow yourself access to parts of your mind that are not available otherwise, and that leads to insight."
Information integration: Studies have shown that children who are presented with visual information have a better understanding of the subject matter. "But they have more of an understanding when they actually create their own visualizations of what they learned," Brown says. That is, people are better at connecting the dots when they literally take a pencil and connect dots, or doodle whatever comes to mind when thinking about a topic.
Emotional: Doodling can have significant emotional and psychological benefits, she says. "A lot of people have found a little bit of sanity and energy that is not available when they are not in a visual-language space."
Five ways to become a better doodler
Recognize the value: "Most of us are not acculturated to appreciating visual language," Brown says. Your doodles don't have to be artistically brilliant. In fact, that can interfere with doodling's purpose – to distill and communicate information clearly and efficiently. Don't think it needs to be fancy, and don't dismiss it as childish. "The first step is recognizing there is a value" to doodling.
No judging: "Don't judge your output," she says. "When I teach people, they can very easily get shut down if the critic comes up." Especially when you are starting, picking apart your work does not help your evolution as a doodler.
Learn the visual alphabet: What's the visual alphabet? "That is essentially 12 forms and fields that are the DNA of any visualization," Brown says. The alphabet is made up of point, line, angle, arc, spiral, loop, oval, eye, triangle, rectangle, house and cloud. "With the visual alphabet there is the potential to create any visual representation that you want. And it could not be less intimidating."
Explore metaphors: Doing a visual of a coffee mug is easy. But if you want to talk about global leadership or something more abstract, like justice, "people get real intimidated," she says. "I like it when people experiment with metaphors to see what can match up with a word concept. Because when people do, they realize that a flower can be representative of 100 other linguistic concepts." Experimenting "helps you understand the fluidity of visual language."
Start small: "Don't go for Everest," Brown says. "If you put an expectation on yourself that's too high, it will block your progress. You'll find that just as you learn to read and write, you will naturally get better."