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We Can All Be Visual Thinkers, Again

August 27, 2009

I never leave my desk without a sketch book and pen.  I’m a visual thinker.  When I’m brainstorming or someone is explaining an idea, I’m sketching it.   I understand the sketches quicker than if I had written pages of text.  Words can dance around an idea for pages before the point is clear.  A sketch can do it in an instant.


We all were very visual in our thinking and understanding of the world as kids.  Some of the best examples of visual thinking I’ve seen are my six year old daughter’s grade one assignments.  She learned that two multiplied by four equals eight by drawing cute little cats, not writing out the numbers.  Sadly, she won’t be encouraged to sketch her history lesson in grade nine.  She’ll be instructed to take ‘notes’.  

As adults, we’re left with atrophied visual thinking skills in an information-saturated world.  Dave Gray , founder of XPLANE, the visual thinking company, talks about the ‘whirl’ of information that is growing as everything is digitized and how visual language or thinking is valuable for sifting through the chaos.  The sooner you revive your once sharp visual thinking skills, the better.

Don’t worry. You can rekindle the visual skills you once possessed.  When someone asks you for directions to a restaurant, instead of writing a list of directions, draw a map. Quickly sketch a stop sign, street lights, a park and the restaurant.  Instead of writing the name of a fruit on your next grocery list, quickly draw it.  Mark a birthday on your calendar with a sketch of a cake with a candle – there’s never enough room to write ‘birthday’ anyway.  As you get more confident drawing ideas, you’ll find that your ability to extract the key message from the ‘whirl’ of information will improve. Who knows, perhaps the day may come when you never leave your desk without a sketch book and pen?

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