The Visual Turn
Nowadays, we witness ‘the visual turn’: Pictures, images, videos, films, infographics, and artwork are more popular than ever. Similarly, companies producing user-friendly visuals from Pixar to Apple, Netflix to Instagram are more profitable than ever. We live in a golden age of visualization, design, and creativity.
As an instructor, I am constantly in search of visual methods and innovative approaches to make my teaching more relevant and interesting for my students. I believe that we need to create more room for play, magic, enchantment, and dreams in our educational systems. You can see a sample lecture that reflects this aspiration here.
I have developed a new habit to create more room for open-ended discovery, surprises, and emergence in my lectures: I challenge myself to share with my students about 20–30 minutes of exciting and new things that I have learned during the past week. This is what I call a ‘refresher hackathon’ for my teaching. Everything that I share during this time has to be fresh and original things that inspired me in the last few days.
To keep doing this, I have to keep learning new things every day.
I need to constantly tap into diverse sources of inspiration including books, movies, arts, theatre, design, sports, fashion, pop culture, entrepreneurship, self-making, brands, magazines, trend reports, emerging lifestyles, inspiring careers, start-ups, innovators, and technology.
For example, my last hackathon session (i.e. an interdisciplinary creative tour) in class included a viewing of The Vessel that opened in New York, an exploration of CNBC’s Disruptors 50 Companies, a tour of world’s most inspiring libraries, a brief look at the playful enthusiasm of young entrepreneurs via a Shark Tank clip, an inspiring career success story via Oprah’s J. K. Rowling interview in Scotland, a glance at the AI revolution via the documentary AlphaGo, two entrepreneurial success stories via BBC’s Peter Jones: How We Made Our Millions, a peek into London’s Mamma Mia musical, and the exciting space race advanced by Musk, Branson, and Bezos.
Anyway, all of this is from my course titled ‘Employability, Creativity, and Personal Development’. I have been teaching this course at Norwich Business School at University of East Anglia for the last seven years. This course enables students to build their creative assets based on their strengths and passions. The philosophy and values of the module is captured in this doodle below:
I remember the constant frustration of not being able to find a good textbook accompanying my teaching in this module:
“Why is there no textbook for university students or young people aimed at preparing them for their lives after graduation using visual and creative methods?”
All textbooks on employability seem to be soulless and dreadful — not inviting, exciting, or playful. I have decided to address this problem through a small contribution.
I started designing small doodle-based exercises to use in my lectures and workshops; such as the following one (please feel free to spend a few minutes to do the exercise below — it is short, easy, and fun):
Sample Doodle Exercise: Periodic Table of Success
My students seem to have enjoyed these small activities and doodles in my classes, so I started doodling in my free time as a hobby.
Whenever I was feeling tired or uninspired, I started doodling in my diaries.
IN PRAISE OF DOODLING
Doodling turned out to be an activity that is refreshing, therapeutic, and playful for me.
It was a wonderful way to refresh and re-vitalise myself.
Doodling is magical. You can doodle to inspire yourself, to keep learning, to organize your goals, to dream big dreams, and to produce ideas.
My main argument is the following:
“Doodling not only helps develop your creativity, self-exploration, mindfulness, and reflective skills, but it can enable you to find new insights and develop essential skills for your life and career design.”
Doodling might indeed be one of the most underrated and powerful methods for learning, self-development, innovation, and creativity. It might even be a potent tool for entrepreneurship and personal asset creation.
When you doodle, you think like a designer, a creator, and an artist.
Although it is a seemingly simple activity, research shows that doodling activates neural pathways and the medial prefrontal cortex. Doodling is known to help with attention, improve health and well-being, and foster creativity.
Most importantly, doodling is easy and accessible — it is not intimidating. Everyone can do it in an instant.
Nothing has to be perfect with doodles. You can end up with crude shapes, mistakes, untidy pages, ugly sketches, or even a ‘kitsch museum’ of odd drawings. All are fine. Doodling actually works better if you free yourself from perfectionism. You do not need any drawing skills. You do not need arts or sketching courses. You can doodle during late evening hours when you are feeling tired or when you are catching up on Netflix shows.
What matters is capturing your stream of consciousness and fresh ideas as they occur to you. In that sense, doodling is an act of magical creation. Over time, your doodles will then carry the seeds of your personality and traces your own life choices and perspectives.
You can also use doodles to visualize your reflections over a book you have read recently; such as Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind.
I have never seen myself as a talented drawer or painter. You will see that the doodles on this page are not faultless. I try to embrace and sometimes come to like my ‘faults’. I think the functional benefits of my doodles (such as engaging the mind, solving problems, visual thinking) are more significant than their artistic value.
Doodles are very precious to me — they capture my plans, passions, emotions, disappointments, and anxieties. As I put them on paper, I benefit from a free session combining self-therapy, relaxation, inspiration, and productivity. Doodles help me to focus on what is important ahead of me. They help me capture my raw ideas and emotions. They help me integrate and clarify my thinking. During the journey, I might even end up innovating or inventing new things!
The best part about doodling might be the thrill of starting a white page.
What am I going to do with this white page?
The first principle of doodling is the following: Do not be intimidated by the blank page!
You will just go with the flow and enjoy where the journey takes you.
You will end up in unexpected places — you never know how your mind operates.
You will end up making mistakes — it is part of the journey to relax and enjoy your mistakes. Perhaps you will experience happy accidents, twists, and turns.
Empty space can be refreshing. Empty space is our life — it is up to us on how to fill it (with meaning, dreams, goals, vitality, joy, and passion).
Empty space is freedom. How will you fill it?
EXERCISE: DOODLE YOUR LIFE METAPHORS
Here is another small exercise for you:
Which metaphor(s) or picture(s) would you choose to depict your life?
Is your life represented by a path hidden in the woods?
Is it more like climbing a mountain?
Is it like trying to juggle several balls up in the air?
Is it a caterpillar? Is it about transformation?
Is it a majestic tree full of sweet fruits? What are those fruits?
Is it an ant on its way to far away destinations?
Is it a bit like flying?
Please doodle them on a blank page (I would personally prefer a completely blank page as I find lines restrictive.)
Doodle it: Experiment and try out options.
Draw or write or depict as you like.
You can spend about 10–15 minutes to do this exercise (make it shorter or longer as you like).
What did you learn from the process?
Did you discover or create something new?
Did you realize something that you have not realized before?
Would you like to practice more doodling for ‘open-ended’ learning, experimentation and discovery?
Please share your experiences and reflections below if you would like.
WHAT IS NEXT?
So, you can use doodling in order to:
*Think about the meaning of your life
*Ask yourself questions about your goals, values, and interests
*Discuss with yourself: Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses
*Try to work out and solve problems in your life
*Make sense of things, events, and observations around you
*Produce and capture diverse ideas using right brain capabilities
*Plan and dream about future possibilities in your life
The possibilities are endless.
You can start your journey by developing small habits you can easily incorporate into your daily life.
NEW HABITS FOR DOODLING
*Have a pencil/pen and a notebook available at all times
*Write down ideas and doodle them as they come to you
*Don’t worry about aesthetics or perfection
*Be willing to make mistakes and fix them by improvising
*Be imaginative and experiment with different methods
*Look up at sample visuals, drawings, artwork for inspiration
What could you be doodling on during your next meeting with ‘your creative inner self’?
Thank you very much for being a part of my doodling journey and experience.
Of course, the journey does not stop here.
Doodling has recently enabled me to create my own textbook titled “Self-Making Studio: An Inspirational Doodle Kit for Self-Discovery and Employability”; which will now accompany my courses.
This book encourages you to participate in a series of practical, visual, and creative exercises aimed at developing your own voice.
It is designed as a visual learning diary and a playful workbook to disrupt and re-make your career and life options — one doodle at a time.
It also helps you to develop what I call ‘inspirational capital’ — the individual capability for wonder, enchantment, curiosity, learning, self-disruption, creativity and skill development.
These capabilities are becoming more and more important in the workplaces of tomorrow.
Everyone is expected to keep learning, create value, adapt to changing circumstances, and innovate at the speed of life.
The rate of change and innovation has become so scary that we all need personal anchors, principles, and systems in place.
The practice of doodling will help you to develop such personal anchors, principles, and systems.
The journey of self-making is difficult and complex. Doodles make this journey easier, more engaging and memorable.
I believe in the magic of doodling as a path to learning and creativity, and I hope to spread it to the world.
Doodling is a simple and small seed; but it is very powerful because you can use it to create enterprises, brands, learning, and skill development.
I know it, because I have done it.
I hope you take the ride with me and enjoy your own journey of doodling.