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Creative Career Path

Sketch Your Ideas2010.07.13

    There is a movement afoot, or perhaps afinger, which is reviving an ancient and powerful form of communication, sketching ideas.


    This goes way back to when human beings first inhabited caves and painted the walls, and as our early ancestors sketched out maps and symbols on sand, clay, and other natural surfaces.


    Yet at some point drawing and writing seemed to take divergent paths. As each evolved to more and more sophisticated levels, writers and artists stopped talking to each other. This was an unnatural parting of the ways, though it certainly served the needs of each group to specialize and protect their crafts.


    Now when the two do mingle, it is usually in the form of illustrations or photos sandwiched in between the blocks of text. Poetic text is sometimes superimposed on an art photo, but each are rendered separately and stacked as layers. Writers use visual metaphors, and artists play with word art, but the place where the two media mingle best is in the notebook.


    Two of the great geniuses of history, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Alva Edison both kept extensive notebooks. Michael J. Gelb has made a study of both, through his best selling books, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, and Innovate Like Edison. Gelb compares the styles of both and draws lessons for innovators today in an interesting interview by Adrian Ott at


    While the standards of genius are high, the notebook is still the most affordable and accessible thinking tool there is. It costs very little, is available nearly everywhere, comes in all sizes, and is lightweight and portable. Yet few people regularly log their thoughts in a notebook at all, much less make sketches to represent their ideas. Most people have ideas, but seldom bother to write them down.


    The problem is that ideas are effervescent. They tend to go as easily as they come. If you don’t write an idea down, there is a strong probability that you will forget it. If you don’t keep your ideas in one place, such as a notebook, you may not be able to organize or find them when you need them. Logging your ideas in a notebook is not difficult, but it does require discipline or commitment until it becomes part of your natural routine. When was the last time you complained about having to brush your teeth?


    But even if you do write down your ideas in words, it is worth making the small extra effort to also illustrate them in pictures, symbols, and diagrams, as did da Vinci and Edison. If you are out of the habit of writing your ideas down, chances are you are even more out of the habit of illustrating them. Drawing is seriously neglected in schools, and seldom encouraged in companies.


    For drawings to stimulate your thoughts, the craft of beautiful drawing could actually slow down your thinking, even as it heightens your perception. For the kind of drawing we are talking about here, stick figures and cartoon sketches are not only adequate, they are faster and better at conveying ideas.


    To help you over the hurdle of illustrating your thoughts on a daily basis, I recommend the books and resources of Dan Roam, author of two books on solving problems and selling ideas with pictures, The Back of the Napkin, and Unfolding the Napkin, with generous previews of both on his website at:


    While traditional tools such as pencils, pens, and sketchpads are all you need to awaken the genie within, technology is catching up fast in touch screen technology. The iPad is the game changer, and in its wake will come a vast fleet of touch screen devices, from handheld devices to digital whiteboards.


    These are a reincarnation of an ancient practice. Today we draw in digital sand. The difference is that the messages can now be shared instantly and globally with a tap of the screen. The early adapters of this approach will gain an important advantage in communicating their ideas, and will greatly surpass the non-notetakers.


    Try it for a month, and you will see what I mean. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer the traditional analog approach of putting pen to paper, or the new digital approach of putting finger to screen. What does matter is that you start sketching your ideas, daily if possible and as a natural complement to writing them down.


    William Reed


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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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