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Redefining the Doodle: Business Communication for the New Age

Back in school, a teacher once dropped a stack of workbooks on my desk and demanded my attention. “Stop doodling,” she said. If I catch you doing that again, you will be punished. Understood?”

Doodling was—and is, somewhat—frowned upon by many, from teachers to parents to senior coworkers, who see it as an absentminded practice. “To draw something without thinking about what you are doing” is, in fact, in the very definition of doodle as a verb, according to Merriam-Webster.

In recent years, however, doodling has started to get some fair recognition. Not only as a hobby, but as a business tool. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the definition of doodling as we usher in a new age of creativity.

What a Doodle Should Be

Rather than mindless scribbling, doodling can be viewed as a legitimate method of internalizing information and presenting it graphically. In fact, the positive effects of doodling are already being championed by Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution and founder of a visual thinking consultancy. In her book, Brown introduces the term “strategic doodling,” which includes making information more contextual.

According to Brown, people are naturally more attuned to visuals than they are to language. Doodling is a way for the body and mind to engage.

The Benefits of Doodling

A study conducted in 2009 by psychologist Jackie Andradeexamined whether 40 participants could hold their attention during a two-and-half minute rambling voicemail. When the results came in, half of the participants could remember 29% more information from the call than the rest. What set them apart? They’d been doodling while listening.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, doodling is a type of fidgeting. It’s a mechanism that the brain uses to keep itself awake and maintain interest instead of shutting down. It may even help relieve psychological stress.

A child psychologist once told me, “When children can’t find a way to express their thoughts or emotions, they get frustrated and, in turn, frustrate their parents.” The solution? A crayon and paper.

Drawing helps children cope with their feelings—vent their frustration, distract themselves, or simply self-entertain. However, drawing is also a method of communication. When children struggle to share their thoughts through the use of words, parents and teachers can examine what the child is drawing to better understand.

I remember learning how to use mind maps to plan essays in school. Later, when I was doing my MBA at GLOBIS in 2015, I took Business Presentation with Darren Menabney. He advised us to go “offline” and draw out our ideas before we attempt to create presentation slides. While mind maps and slide sketches aren’t exactly doodling, they are examples of visual tools that can put things into perspective. Sketching out slide ideas, for example, helps create a visual summary and prioritize information, which ultimately helps audiences focus on the point. It also helps us visualize what we want to say and put it into perspective.

Doodling can act as a bridge in this way, helping individuals become comfortable with drawing, which may then lead to a more visual expression of thoughts or ideas. This usually manifests in the form of sketches—a more purposeful form of doodling that can help a lot when words fall short.

Doodling for Business

Recently, graphic facilitation has gained a lot of traction as a tool in meetings. Using this method, the facilitator records a discussion through a series of drawings and words. It’s often effective for visual brainstorming. Graphic facilitation and recording are both used in design thinking sessions to promote creativity.

When I worked in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) line, we had to work closely with marketing and clients alike. The initial phases of a project almost never involved computers. Instead, we used a lot of paper and white boards to sketch out ideas. At the end of the first meeting, the marketing agency would collect all the sketches and show them to an in-house designer, who would then use those sketches to create something more visually solid.

Graphic facilitation has helped companies in all sectors transform offices from inactive spaces to interactive ones. One company that has tapped into the value of graphic facilitation is ImageThink, a New York-based company started by a waitress-by-day, artist-by-night whose paintings were essentially interpretations of everyday conversations. Fast forward a few years, and ImageThink is working with companies like LEGO, Viacom, and Google on turning thoughts and ideas into pictures. The hands-on exercise has helped teams move away from conventional thinking, foster cohesiveness, and collaborate creatively.

Diversity in Doodling

Doodling—in any of its forms—is a good way to get our creative juices flowing. It’s meant to be imperfect because the point is simply to communicate ideas and focus on what’s most important.

Having said that, remember that everyone has different learning styles. No one method is above another—including doodling. Whatever suits you should be your go-to method, as long as you remain open to the fact that others may learn differently. If you sense that someone is judging your doodles, take it as an opportunity to inform them of the benefits. You may just win them over!

Michelle Lim

Creative Consultant, JCE Japan Creative Enterprise GLOBIS Faculty An experienced trainer and graphic facilitator, Michelle is currently collaborating with local and international professionals in Japan on digital communications, advance human capital and organizational development practices, and business architecture projects. With JCE Japan Creative Enterprise, she also supports Japanese organizations in global business expansion to Southeast Asia, specializing in facilitating understanding and cross-cultural sensitivity. Michelle holds an MBA from GLOBIS University, as well as a BA in Mass Communication from UCSI University, Malaysia.

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