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I’ve been illustrating my thoughts a lot more often at work – in meetings, for presentations, and even for clients. And I’ve started to notice a funny thing happens. It seems to simplify the discussion, and gets people to listen and respond, leading to better conversations. However, it also takes time and effort which can be expensive. I wanted to know if there’s any evidence that being paid to doodle is worthwhile.

So I decided to do some research.

It appears that visual thinking in business is a growing trend, with support from Silicon Valley and Stanford Business School. Large organisations the world over are turning to art to help engage, clarify, inspire and innovate. MBA courses are teaching drawing to help students “clearly communicate complex ideas and project plans.”

Art in the business world helps us “find our authentic voice” and “envision better futures and make wiser decisions,” according to creative consultant Linda Naiman. Forbes lists “15 ways leaders can promote creativity in the workplace”. And in Fortune magazine, Hitachi CEO Barbara Dyer outlines why creativity is “absolutely crucial in the workplace”.

“This is what I call a revolution,” says Giovanni Schiuma, chairman of the Arts for Business Institute and professor in innovation management.

“When we talk about the arts in organisations, we are not just talking about bringing in some artist, or some artworks, that make things fun or nice for a while,” he said in a speech at the British Library. “We are talking about using arts as a management tool. This means applying the arts across our organisations in a strategic and operational way, not just in a one-off way.

“Only by integrating the arts in our DNA can we create what I consider the true 21st century organisation.”

“All organizations have creative people and they should be encouraged,”  Barbara Dyer from MIT Sloan says. “But there is an important distinction between welcoming the occasional out-of-the-box idea and cultivating creativity as an approach to doing business.”

Dr. Christoph Hienerth teaches ‘Visual Thinking for Business’, which involves learning elementary drawing, as part of one of the world’s top MBA courses. He says that practitioners as well as researchers have realised that the more complex, dynamic and electronic the business environment becomes, the more important it is to be able to master such complexity via visualisation in meetings, presentations and discussions.

The Drawing Effect’ is a reputed series of studies that tested whether writing something repeatedly or drawing it would make it more memorable. The researchers found that people recalled more than double the number of words they had drawn compared with words that were written. Furthermore, they found that drawing worked better than writing descriptions of the meaning of words, better than just looking at the pictures, and better than visualising the words.

So, it seems there’s a case for doodles in the workplace. According to the experts, whether you want to boost your own memory, grab people’s attention during presentations, convey complex ideas in the increasingly invisible workplace, or just get people to open up and engage – drawing seems to help.

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