May 1, 2012
If you think your boardroom doodles are merely a sign of boredom, think again. They may be making you a better worker.
According to The Wall Street Journal, employers across the country have begun to embrace and even encourage workplace doodles. Facebook, for instance, has installed whiteboards, chalkboards and writable glass throughout its Palo Alto workspace, an invitation for workers to jot down ideas or relay information visually wherever they are, whenever the urge strikes. Several companies have even held training sessions to teach employees how to take notes visually. At companies like HomeAway, Inc. and Zappos, the trend has given rise to a whole new profession: graphic facilitators -- consultants who teach workers how to use doodles, visual shorthand and sketching during meetings and conferences.
So why are employers investing so much time and energy to encourage an activity once thought of as a sign of sheer boredom? Because, according to The Wall Street Journal, they believe it can generate ideas, fuel collaboration and even help workers remember information better.
Research concurs. The Wall Street Journal cited a 2009 study published in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, that showed that doodlers tend to retain more information than their non-doodling counterparts. The theory, according to study author Jackie Andrade, is that doodling takes up enough cognitive energy to stave off daydreaming. She notes that the brain is designed to process information constantly, which can be a problem in an environment lacking stimulation.
"If you look at people's brain function when they're bored, we find that they are using a lot of energy -- their brains are very active," Andrade told NPR. "You wouldn't want the brain to just switch off, because a bear might walk up behind you and attack you; you need to be on the lookout for something happening."
Doodling, it seems provides just enough stimulation to keep workers thoughts in the meeting room and out of fantasyland. Andrade is not the only person who has noted the cognitive benefits of doodling. According to Life Inc., Sunni Brown, co-author of GameStorming: A Playbook for Rule-breakers, Innovators and Changemakers and the leader of the Doodle Revolution, presented a Ted Talk on doodling in the workplace last year.
"Doodling has a profound impact on the way that we can process information and the way that we can solve problems," she said during the speech. "Under no circumstances should doodling be eradicated from a classroom or a boardroom or even the war room. On the contrary, doodling should be leveraged in precisely those situations where information density is very high and the need for processing that information is very high."
Still, some experts believe that doodling in the workplace has little value at best or, at worst, could be harmful.
"At the end of the day, if you have to make a serious presentation and have to have serious output in most situations you're not going to present a doodle," Organizational Psychologist Cassi Fields told Life Inc. She also notes that these drawings could give rise to inappropriate content, such as an unflattering doodle of a boss or co-worker. "This could become the next inappropriate thing on Facebook," she said.
Compiled by Aimee Hosler
"Bored? Try Doodling To Keep The Brain On Task," npr.org, March 12, 2009, Alix Spiegel
"Doodling for Dollars," online.wsj.com, April 24, 2012, Rachel Emma Silverman
"What Does Doodling Do?" lamalla.cat, 2009, Jackie Andrade
"Your Boss Wants You to Doodle," lifeinc.today.msnbc.msn.com, April 26, 2012, Eve Tahmincioglu