What is the value of sketching? The act of sketching, of using hand and brain in a coordinated effort, leads to clear thinking. Literally, we can “grasp” ideas better once we’ve sketched them out.

Since I firmly believe in the power of drawing to clarify concepts or processes, on a recent client project, I asked individuals and teams to illustrate their work processes using diagrams and sketches. I emphasized that drawing will help reflect upon their work processes, and handed each person a bunch of colored pencils.

To take away the fear of drawing, I stressed that they could use lines, arrows, and simple shapes to visualize their work processes.

Most of us believe that drawing is something better left to artists and architects. Although we all start out drawing in kindergarten, few of us continue to draw after leaving school. Many of us are uncomfortable sketching out an idea or a process. My experience is that with a little bit of guidance, most people perform just fine.

Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin, is convinced that we are all born with a talent for visual thinking, and that we can learn to quickly visualize an idea. This is true, he believes, even for those of us who think that we cannot draw. More info on Dan Roam’s approach on Vizthink.

During the drawing activity on my last client project, I noticed time and again that people had important insights into their work processes while they were drawing. Often, the drawings became difficult or nearly impossible to read because of all the information that was added in during the drawing process.

Therefore, it was helpful to document stages of the drawing with a digital camera and to take notes on what people said during the process. During the debrief of the drawing exercise, team members explained and discussed the process and the insights they gained.

At the end of the day, the drawings themselves were less important than the results they achieved. People gained insights into their work processes-insights that led to ideas and actions for improvement.

Further reading

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
by Dan Roam

Image: FOWA Sketch by Kai Chan Vong licensed under CC BY 2.0