As a child, I filled the margins of my notebooks with scribbles – spontaneous swirls and words written in funky fonts. My teachers reprimanded me for my doodles, at times removing my notebook from my desk.
It turns out what they viewed as pointless child’s play was actually a valid way to stay engaged and learn. Sunni Brown, a graphic facilitator and author of The Doodle Revolution, says some of history’s greatest thinkers — from Steve Jobs to John F. Kennedy and Henry Ford — have engaged in doodling as a pathway for unlocking creativity, enhancing recall and lighting up neural networks that allow for cognitive breakthroughs. Brown has worked with high-profile companies, including Dell, Disney and Zappos.com, teaching them how to use visual language in their companies to encourage greater creativity and productivity.
Here’s why you should encourage doodling in your office:
1. Doodling isn’t mindless. While my teachers viewed my doodling as a sign that I was zoning out, Brown says doodling is actually a great way to engage the mind in a way that helps the doodler think and process information. There’s proof that doodling can enhance cognition. A 2009 study from the University of Plymouth found those who doodled during a recorded phone call recalled 29 percent more information than those who didn’t doodle.
2. It helps you focus. “We think doodling is something you do when you lose focus, but it’s really a pre-emptive measure to stop you from losing focus,” says Brown. Rather than diverting attention away from a topic, Brown says doodling can serve as an anchoring task, helping us to stay present during a meeting, a conference call or a solo brainstorming session.
3. Doodling can help you find new solutions. Doodling supports serious intellectual thought by stirring the neurological pathways of the mind, allowing the doodler to look at information from new angles. “Even if you’re just scribbling in the margins, you’re lighting up different networks in your brain and when you do that, you’re engaging different information,” says Brown. By making these spontaneous sketches, you can give yourself a greater capacity to find a solution to a problem. “Most people are visual thinkers and kinesthetic thinkers (those who make spontaneous movements with their bodies),” says Brown, pointing to Steve Jobs as an example of a successful doodler. Jobs was known to go for long walks to think and regularly used a white board to sketch out possible solutions to problems.
“To doodle is to engage in an intellectual, creative and physical act that recruits many neurological networks simultaneously. This makes it a strong force for change and a portal for imagining and inventing preferred realities,” writes Brown, in The Doodle Revolution.
To take advantage of these benefits of doodling, Brown encourages organizations to promote a whiteboard culture, giving permission to employees to doodle during meetings, at their desks and in public spaces, promoting the idea that work can take place beyond the boundaries of the desk and the computer screen. “My hope is that [doodling] becomes a competency and a literacy that becomes universal. Just as you learn to read and write, you will also learn to sketch and doodle. To me, they’re synonymous with a capacity to think,” says Brown.