An Ignite-style presentation from O'Reilly's Foo Camp 2010 on the value of doodles as a tool for learning.
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. Im foo enough. You can watch this foo.) So anyway, Im 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. Its about how people learn, something Im 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 interesting
I 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 wasnt 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 ddel, 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 individuals 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 someones 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 cant in any meaningful way decipher anything from a onceover of someones doodle. But, because its good fun to analyze other peoples 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 pleasurable
believes herself intellectually superior to the speaker and consequently ahead of the speakers predictable content
is ignoring the speaker and opting out of the discussion
is 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 discussion
contemptuous of the speaker and/or the speakers 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 Natl 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 isnt 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.
Heres what I know about the doodle: When I engaged in repeated, large-scale doodling endeavors, I experienced the 4 whoa moments that youve seen. Heres what else I know about the doodle: Jackie Andrades 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, youll 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 brains ability to process visuals is truly Olympian in measure. Scientists love comparing comprehension and retention rates of oral and text-based