Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Doodling your way to great ideas

I’m a longtime fan of that most powerful of icons, the smiley face. I use one every now and then to give an emoticon nod to a smart idea. There’s something so direct about that little face. It expresses not only approval for a job well done or a brilliant idea, but personal appreciation as well. I think of the smiley as part of the doodle family; a doodle that decided to settle down and get a real job. To me great doodles track a direct line from the subconscious, where ideas and creativity come from, right onto a page, a margin or a paper napkin. I caught up with Edward de Bono last week at our World Changing Ideas evaluation. He often presents his ideas as a continuous doodle on long strips of paper that are then projected onto the wall. It becomes like a stream of consciousness, and as his audience, we feel privileged to see it happen in front of our eyes.

Visuals give you a fantastic way to capture an idea and, sometimes, they can change the way you think. When Saatchi & Saatchi’s Chairman Bob Seelert and I sketched out the Love/Respect Axis for the first time (on a table napkin of course), it wasn’t a model or a diagram. Now there’s a book dedicated to such sketches, tables, doodles, diagrams and the like. Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures identifies some of the visual inspirations that have helped shape businesses in new and surprising directions. One of his examples is a doodle by Rollin King, the founder of Southwest Airlines. The picture? A triangle that connected three circles with the names San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. A great business start-up story told as simply as possible, but no simpler. Yes, another Einstein quote, but what a fantastic one.