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TED2011

Sunni Brown: Doodlers, unite!

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Studies show that sketching and doodling improve our comprehension -- and our creative thinking. So why do we still feel embarrassed when we're caught doodling in a meeting? Sunni Brown says: Doodlers, unite! She makes the case for unlocking your brain via pad and pen.

- Visualizer and gamestorming
In her book "Gamestorming," Sunni Brown shows how using art and games can empower serious problem-solving. Full bio

So I just want to tell you my story.
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I spend a lot of time
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teaching adults how to use visual language
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and doodling in the workplace.
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And naturally, I encounter a lot of resistance,
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because it's considered to be anti-intellectual
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and counter to serious learning.
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But I have a problem with that belief,
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because I know that doodling has a profound impact
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on the way that we can process information
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and the way that we can solve problems.
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So I was curious about why there was a disconnect
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between the way our society perceives doodling
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and the way that the reality is.
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So I discovered some very interesting things.
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For example, there's no such thing
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as a flattering definition of a doodle.
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In the 17th century, a doodle was a simpleton or a fool --
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as in Yankee Doodle.
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In the 18th century, it became a verb,
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and it meant to swindle or ridicule or to make fun of someone.
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In the 19th century, it was a corrupt politician.
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And today, we have what is perhaps our most offensive definition,
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at least to me, which is the following:
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To doodle officially means
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to dawdle,
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to dilly dally, to monkey around,
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to make meaningless marks,
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to do something of little value, substance or import,
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and -- my personal favorite --
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to do nothing.
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No wonder people are averse to doodling at work.
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Doing nothing at work is akin to masturbating at work;
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it's totally inappropriate.
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(Laughter)
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Additionally, I've heard horror stories
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from people whose teachers scolded them, of course, for doodling in classrooms.
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And they have bosses who scold them for doodling in the boardroom.
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There is a powerful cultural norm against doodling
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in settings in which we are supposed to learn something.
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And unfortunately,
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the press tends to reinforce this norm
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when they're reporting on a doodling scene --
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of an important person at a confirmation hearing and the like --
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they typically use words like "discovered"
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or "caught" or "found out,"
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as if there's some sort of criminal act being committed.
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And additionally, there is a psychological aversion to doodling --
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thank you, Freud.
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In the 1930s, Freud told us all
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that you could analyze people's psyches
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based on their doodles.
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This is not accurate, but it did happen to Tony Blair
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at the Davos Forum in 2005,
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when his doodles were, of course, "discovered"
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and he was labeled the following things.
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Now it turned out to be Bill Gates' doodle.
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(Laughter)
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And Bill, if you're here, nobody thinks you're megalomaniacal.
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But that does contribute
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to people not wanting to share their doodles.
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And here is the real deal. Here's what I believe.
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I think that our culture
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is so intensely focused on verbal information
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that we're almost blinded to the value of doodling.
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And I'm not comfortable with that.
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And so because of that belief that I think needs to be burst,
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I'm here to send us all hurtling back to the truth.
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And here's the truth:
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doodling is an incredibly powerful tool,
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and it is a tool that we need to remember and to re-learn.
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So here's a new definition for doodling.
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And I hope there's someone in here from The Oxford English Dictionary,
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because I want to talk to you later.
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Here's the real definition:
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Doodling is really to make spontaneous marks to help yourself think.
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That is why millions of people doodle.
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Here's another interesting truth about the doodle:
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People who doodle when they're exposed to verbal information
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retain more of that information
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than their non-doodling counterparts.
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We think doodling is something you do when you lose focus,
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but in reality, it is a preemptive measure
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to stop you from losing focus.
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Additionally, it has a profound effect
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on creative problem-solving
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and deep information processing.
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There are four ways that learners intake information
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so that they can make decisions.
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They are visual, auditory,
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reading and writing and kinesthetic.
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Now in order for us to really chew on information
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and do something with it,
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we have to engage at least two of those modalities,
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or we have to engage one of those modalities
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coupled with an emotional experience.
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The incredible contribution of the doodle
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is that it engages all four learning modalities simultaneously
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with the possibility of an emotional experience.
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That is a pretty solid contribution
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for a behavior equated with doing nothing.
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This is so nerdy,
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but this made me cry when I discovered this.
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So they did anthropological research
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into the unfolding of artistic activity in children,
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and they found that, across space and time,
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all children exhibit the same evolution in visual logic
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as they grow.
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In other words, they have a shared and growing
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complexity in visual language
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that happens in a predictable order.
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And I think that is incredible.
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I think that means doodling is native to us
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and we simply are denying ourselves that instinct.
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And finally, a lot a people aren't privy to this,
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but the doodle is a precursor
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to some of our greatest cultural assets.
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This is but one:
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this is Frank Gehry the architect's precursor to the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi.
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So here is my point:
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Under no circumstances should doodling be eradicated
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from a classroom or a boardroom
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or even the war room.
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On the contrary,
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doodling should be leveraged in precisely those situations
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where information density is very high
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and the need for processing that information is very high.
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And I will go you one further.
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Because doodling is so universally accessible
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and it is not intimidating as an art form,
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it can be leveraged as a portal
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through which we move people
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into higher levels of visual literacy.
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My friends, the doodle has never been
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the nemesis of intellectual thought.
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In reality, it is one of its greatest allies.
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Thank you.
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(Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Sunni Brown - Visualizer and gamestorming
In her book "Gamestorming," Sunni Brown shows how using art and games can empower serious problem-solving.

Why you should listen

Sunni Brown is co-author of GameStorming: A Playbook for Rule-breakers, Innovators and Changemakers. She’s known for her large-scale live content visualizations, and she is also the leader of the Doodle Revolution – a growing effort to debunk the myth that doodling is a distraction. Using common sense, experience and neuroscience, Sunni is proving that to doodle is to ignite your whole mind. Look for her second book, The Doodle Revolution, in 2012.

Her consultancy, BrightSpot I.D., specializes in visual thinking and information design. She was trained in graphic facilitation at the Grove Consultants International, a San Francisco-based company that pioneered the use of large-scale visuals in business settings. Sunni co-founded VizThink Austin, which under her leadership grew to be the largest visual thinking community in the United States.

More profile about the speaker
Sunni Brown | Speaker | TED.com