My name is Sunni Brown and as you can see, this talk is called The Doodle Revolution. I was inspired to talk because this idea of the Doodle Revolution has been gnawing at me for some time, but also because one of the email invitations for Foo Camp asked me if I was “foo” enough to present an Ignite-style presentation which of course I interpreted as a dare (“Oh. I’m foo enough. You can watch this foo.) So anyway, I’m here to talk about the Doodle Revolution that I plan to start, first in book form and then perhaps onward to a full-scale rebellion.
My name is Sunni Brown and this talk is called The Doodle Revolution. It’s about how people learn, something I’m interested because of a transformative experience I had when I became a large-scale doodler. Doodling is one way I make a living. I doodle at conferences, I doodle at Board Retreats, I doodle in Strategic Planning session, I doodle anywhere someone is saying something that they perceive to be important and worth showing to others. Through my experiences as a doodler, I learned that doodling has had profound effects on me. I also teach others to doodle and I learned that doodling has had profound effects on them.
Every time I finished a session working with groups, I noticed something interestingI had a notable understanding of new information – I could ask intelligent and informed questions about previously unknown content and in many cases, about content that wasn’t even remotely interesting to me personally, like accounting standards and Weeks and even months later I would still recall content and dive back into it without having to re-immerse myself.
I was able to make creative connections and associations between content and even to make suggestions to executives on content that was new to me. And for me the definition of really knowing something is when you know it well enough to create something new with it.My listening skills dramatically improved and I became a master of discerning important versus less-important content. I became what I refer to as “listening ninja” – able to cut the fat and absorb what was relevant.
Throughout my experiences leading and teaching groups using simple doodles and visuals I heard repeat anecdotes about being scolded, reprimanded, or shamed about doodling in learning environments. Doodling is generally not considered to be an appropriate activity in the classroom, in the Board Room, or in the War Room or the Situation Room. There is a pervasive aversion to doodling in schools, businesses and government settings where people are supposed to be taking the information and the people in the room seriously. Many people have their own personal “Ms. Crabapple” whose job it was to
I got curious about why wisdom, common sense and experience with myself and with dozens of individuals and groups was at odds with our cultural definition of doodling, so I started doing some homework. And I found some interesting possibilities as to why this perception of doodling emerged and why negative responses toward doodling continue despite the mounting evidence that this practice is incredibly useful for learning.
But first, some definitions of the word “doodle.” As a noun: The word doodle first appeared in English in the early 17th century and is thought to derive from the Low German dudeldopp or dödel, meaning "fool" or "simpleton” as in the song “Yankee Doodle,” originally sung by British colonial troops prior to the American Revolutionary War. In the 19th century a “doodler” was also a “corrupt politician.”As a verb: Dudel is also the origin of the early 18th century verb to doodle meaning "to swindle, ridicule or make a fool of.” The modern meaning – to draw ABSENT-mindedly or to make errant marks unrelated to the subject matter – emerged in the 1930s either from this meaning or from the verb "to dawdle" which means to waste time or be lazy or utterly mindless.
When the ballpoint pen (1823) finally married mass produced paper made from wood pulp (1843), there was a period of time in society when people were experimenting with loose and whimsical marks on paper simply because they could. This period of adults and children making swirls and flourishes and other calligraphic frippery helped define this period of child-like “foolishness” because at that time it was simply a period of discovering the tools rather than really applying them.
At the height of Freudianism (in the 1930s) there was a notion running rampant that a doodle gives insight into the unconscious thoughts deep in the recesses of the human psyche, that is leads us to some kind of psychic blueprint into an individual’s inner thoughts. And while psychologists and clinicians maintain that the shapes and symbols embedded in our doodles can reveal information about our states of mind, in order to get any useful insight about someone’s doodles, experts often need months and years, a prolific amount of doodles from the patient and the coupling of reading the doodles with ongoing behavioral and psychological study for it to yield anything significant. So, a layperson or a graphologist can’t in any meaningful way decipher anything from a onceover of someone’s doodle. But, because it’s good fun to analyze other people’s warped personalities, this pop-psychology around doodles refuses to die, which naturally makes people wary of and embarrassed by creating doodles and showing them to others. Remember the “Davos Doodle?”
Doodling often gives off the wrong impression. When someone is doodling when someone else is talking there is a perception that the doodler:Is bored and disinterested and attempting to displace their thoughts to somewhere more pleasurablebelieves herself intellectually superior to the speaker and consequently ahead of the speaker’s predictable contentis ignoring the speaker and opting out of the discussionis arrogant and vain (the confirmation hearings of Attorney General Elliott Richardson nearly scotched his cabinet confirmation in the Nixon White House because he was doodling through the hearing)is preoccupied with a topic unrelated to the topic under discussioncontemptuous of the speaker and/or the speaker’s message (Doodling can and has been used as a weapon between warring negotiators when one of them may doodle to infuriate the other.)
Because doodling gives off the wrong impression, there is a perception that when things are the most serious (i.e. when Clinton was “caught” doodling during a meeting of the Nat’l Security Team after Somali militiamen killed 18 American soldiers in Mogadishu, when Tony Blair was scribbling notes and doodling while world leaders were discussing international aid for Africa) for someone to be doodling is for that person to be trivializing the event by “dithering, daydreaming, making little drawings, scratching out idle marks on a pad of paper or otherwise showing a dereliction of duty.” The language is always positioned as this: “While [fill in important event] was happening, [doodler] was scribbling/scratching/dilly-dallying. In our society, leaders of the free world should NOT be doing things as trivial as doodling while people are making life-and-death decisions.
As far as recorded history goes back, every President from George Washington to our current president of the U.S. has left behind doodles – Reagan was perhaps the most unabashedly cheesy doodler of them all. He left numerous doodles to Nancy referring to her as his “pink honey pot” and “poo pants.” (Republican presidents tend to be more prolific at doodling although they tend to be abstract doodlers while Democrats tend to doodle people and faces and landscapes, etc.)
We repeatedly misunderstand, misrepresent and underestimate the Doodle. There is more to the doodle than meets-the-eye. It is serving a purpose that isn’t readily discernable by looking at the doodler. Our modern understanding of the doodle belies its nature as a tool to help us learn AND create. This is a collective social disadvantage. We need an evolved definition of doodling. In the 1936 film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and in the scene in which the main character has to defend him competency in a sanity hearing, Mr. Deeds describes "doodles” as scribblings to help a person think. (According to the DVD audio commentary track, the word as used in this sense was invented by screenwriter Robert Riskin.) And this I believe to be a more true and just definition of the doodle.
Here’s what I know about the doodle: When I engaged in repeated, large-scale doodling endeavors, I experienced the 4 whoa moments that you’ve seen. Here’s what else I know about the doodle: Jackie Andrade’s research on doodling as focus tool. Doodlers retain 30% more information than non-doodlers. Research has shown that doodling while someone is talking helps us to remember the details of what is said. Doodles harness nervous or expressive energy and helps our brain to concentrate. You can experiment with this on your own by drawing a spiral while someone gives you information about their history. Like following a groove on a record, you’ll find that you remember more of what they said when you are creating and tracing a simple image while they speak.
We also know of a highly pervasive phenomenon called the Picture Superiority Effect, or the PSE. Simply stated, the more visual sensory input is (that we can create with the doodle),the more likely it is to be recognized and recalled. Our brain’s ability to process visuals is truly Olympian in measure. Scientists love comparing comprehension and retention rates of oral and text-based communication with pictorial presentation and the conclusion is always: picture demolishes them both.What do you think the retention rate is 72 hours after info is presented to subjects orally or textually? 10%. What would you guess is the retention rate several days after information is presented visually or pictorially? 90%. One year later retention rates of these same visuals hovered around 63%. Point: Pictures are heavyweights. Text and oral presentations by comparison are wimps. We’d pick on them in the school yard.(Brain Rules, John Medina, molecular biologist).
Doodling allows a person’s subconscious brain to work AND the conscious brain to concentrate as it works on complex problems (while giving the impression that the person is lost in thought or not paying attention to what’s going on around him). Many scientific, mathematical, medical and business problems have been solved through scratching out doodles on paper (StanislavUlam and the Ulam spiral, Southwest Airlines triangular air routes, 3M’s sticky notes during experimental doodling sessions, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone sketches, and thereare countless entrepreneurs and CEOs (Bill Gates) inventors (Alexander Graham Bell), scientists (Einstein), artists (da Vinci), writers (Emerson, John Keats), comedians (Richard Pryor), economists (Arthur Laffer, supply-side apostle of Reaganomics), Statesman (Mussolini), and companies (Google, 3M, IDEO) who make strategic use of the doodle to get products/services and outcomes they otherwise wouldn’t get.
There is an organization called The Hadron Group (that I have to challenge myself to not call the “Hardon group” thanks to one of my friends tweets about the “Large Hardon Collider” near Geneva, Switzerland) that has studied the neuroscience of learning and they know that there are three major pathways through which all humans take in sensory information in order to process and integrate it. Auditory, Visualand Kinesthetic. From their 20+ years of research they’ve discovered that in order to really learn something and lock it in, humans need it to involve at least two of our learning pathways – AV, KA, AK, and so forth.
To engage our Auditory learning pathway = we need to hear information and actively listen, talk, discuss and debate, talk to ourselves and hum and whistle, and to reflect on the meaning of words.To engage our Kinesthetic learning pathway = we need to physically move, have a hands-on interaction through building, repairing and using touch and motionTo engage our Visual learning pathway = we need to see information (images, maps, graphics, symbols), we need to draw or doodle, watch people and learn
You can find out for yourself what your primary learning style is by taking their assessment at www.brainpathways.net and you can also figure out the distribution of the population with respect to V, A and K. So, a neuroscientific segue into why the doodle is so powerful: the act of strategic doodling engages all three learning pathways. It’s visual because, it’s auditory because and it’s kinesthetic because. So doodling has a way of searing information into your brain while it also activates the subconscious and creative aspects of our minds. So if we’re primarily an auditory learner, doodling gives us an opportunity to engage in kinesthetic and visual activity. If we’re a visual learner, doodling gives us an opportunity to engage in better listening.
Sensory and cognitive pathways get stronger with use. That is, doodling with the deliberate intention of listening to and visual capturing content you are being exposed to. The spectrum of doodling goes from “mindless/automatic” to “strategic/intentional” and as we near the strategic end of the doodle, we see very powerful results. We see those same results to a certain even when we doodle unrelated to the content, so it’s worth it to harness the Doodle. The case I’d like to make is that, contrary to popular belief, doodling serves us best in those situations where society thinks it is worst. (In the classroom, in the Board Room, in the War Room, at the World Economic Forum, a confirmation hearing, etc.) I advocate what I refer to as “strategic or intentional doodling” –taking expressive/nervous/anxious energy and channeling it intentionally into a learning tool. A learning tool that keeps us focused and on task, helps us to opt-IN to a discussion and invigorates multiple learning pathways in our brains. Doodling is highly effective in situations where there is high information density and we are responsible for learning and applying and creatively problem-solving with that information. It’s time to revise and even overturn the bad reputation of the Doodle. It’s time to start a Doodle Revolution.