Drawing reduces what you’re seeing to its essentials.
It can be what you’re looking at, or what your mind’s eye is trying to visualize. Putting what you’re seeing down on the page may be like photography (aiming at accuracy) or like poetry (capturing the feeling of the moment).
Drawing has a different objective when you’re trying to “think though” a problem. Then it can be a tool for arriving at place that’s totally new.
Drawing is essentially shorthand. It has been described as low vs. high definition. Drawing generalizes and leaves the specifics until later, that is, until you’ve gotten the basics right—which is usually the hard part of creative thinking.
To draw is often a solitary act, between your thoughts, your eyes, and your hands, holding the paper while you’re making marks on it. Drawing yields its best rewards when it’s like this, a low instead of high tech endeavor. A screen or tablet introduces complexity, requiring the manipulation of software, a mouse or stylus. Hand drawing is at its simplest & more direct when it’s just you, a pencil and a piece of paper.
(Of course, this kind of drawing also gives you the singular satisfaction of crumpling up your mistakes, and hurling them away before starting over again. Nothing you can do on a screen lets you start over with that kind of flourish!)
The directness & simplicity of sketching out your ideas has additional power as a vehicle for collaboration. Its shorthand often suggests different ways of completing what you’ve jotted down. Your specifics don’t get in the way, inviting other people into your thought process to modify the essentials.
Drawing your ideas on a whiteboard (instead of a piece of paper) may be the optimal way to invite others into the creative process. In fact, as a tool for innovation the whiteboard is hard to beat. One technology reporter, Farhad Manjoo, has noted their ubiquity in our so-called “cradle of innovation,” Silicon Valley.
Whiteboards reward bigness: Because you’ve got to draw objects large enough for everyone to see, and because dry-erase markers are too fat to allow you to write too much text, the whiteboard encourages thinking about the highest levels of an idea, and it discourages getting lost in details.
Some of our earliest tool-based memories are often of drawing with crayons in a coloring book or with a piece of chalk on a blackboard. These competencies, repeated over & over again as children, created neural pathways (see Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code) as we first learned how to visualize our thoughts. When you pick up a pencil or marker and start to draw out your thoughts, you are tapping into a basic aptitude that is, in a sense, “hardwired” into almost all of us.
I was reminded of the power that drawing can unleash in all creative activities while reading a recent post by Laura Busche. Wanting to know why the act of sketching her ideas has such a powerful impact on her design work, Busche reviewed the work of neuroscientists, psychologists and others who have explored the possible connections. A couple of these findings bear repeating for those of us—everyone really—who struggles to “open up” their thinking and unlock their imaginations every day.
It may seem obvious, but incorporating drawing early on in your problem solving will have the greatest impact. When you’re inviting others to think through the problem you’ve drawn, creative beginnings may be enhanced even further when key limitations (like a product’s dimensions, or a service’s current cost) are specified. Then, like a thought balloon, the visualizations you’re sketching out are tethered to earth by one or two basic presumptions.
Another key take-away is that drawing your way to new possibilities improves with practice. Busche is particularly eloquent on this point.
What happens when you continually draw and connect symbols as you sketch? What happens when your brain tries to recall shapes that are appropriate to the idea you are trying to externalize? It isn’t hard to see that the better you become at translating imagery from your mind to paper, the more visual resources you will have to draw on and the easier it will be to retrieve them in the future. . . Hand-sketching forces you to access and cultivate a unique visual library in your mind.
Modern life is increasingly automated. Aside from dexterity on a keyboard or touchpad, our cultivation of manual skills (beyond eating, cleaning, driving and maybe playing a sport) is limited. We look at things or listen to them, often passively, instead of changing them or making them.
Our hands can help us to transform old thoughts into new ones. We know how to use them. They’re right in front of you, waiting to be used.
It may be time to start drawing again.