April 2, 2015

In Defense of the Doodle

Photo courtesy of the author.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Long disregarded as the byproduct of a boring meeting, the doodle is getting its due as a legitimate and productive approach to problem solving.

According to the Wall Street Journal, recent research shows that doodling helps the brain with memory and creative functions. In one study, people who doodled while listening to a list of names being read remembered 29% more of the information later on a surprise quiz. In another, architecture students who doodled as they brainstormed came to design breakthroughs faster than their peers, with some doodles even influencing their final designs.

I’ve long believed that visual exploration applies widely and unexpectedly across professions and practices. Recently I was trudging through a hefty dataset, trying to make sense of complex themes and how to communicate them. In a moment of Excel exhaustion, I took out a pencil and paper and let my hand guide the exposition of data in a different way. Fairly quickly, this approach gave me a breakthrough: A rough chart that explained my data in a beautiful and interesting way, no doubt influenced by a magazine diagram I had come across earlier (the image above shows the chart’s evolution into final form). Drawing my way through the roadblock allowed my brain to process information in a different way and ultimately provided a solution the computer couldn’t.

No matter your role or industry, next time you’re stumped, give doodling a try. You might just scribble your way to genius!