Dr Harry Alder is a presenter of international management seminars and a prolific author of books on management, personal development, business leadership, creativity and NLP. Harry lives in Wallasey.
In this chapter:
- Understand the benefits of simple picture power. Access a world of non-words you never imagined existed.
‘I can’t draw a straight line.’ ‘I’m hopeless at drawing.’ These are common enough self-beliefs, which are remarkably self-fulfilling and limiting. One wonders why, as an advanced civilisation, we have not ganged together to put such disempowering statements in their place. Instead, amazingly, acting on such irrational self-beliefs, the average well-educated adult can draw no better than a 10 year old.
It’s a common ability blind spot, even among the best educated people who, strangely, are not ashamed to admit it. It is culturally acceptable. Thankfully, ‘I’m good at drawing’, a less common self-belief, has the same self-fulfilling power with the bonus of positive, unexpectedly beneficial consequences.
Whether positive or negative, it seems we establish these sorts of self-beliefs early in life. For instance, careless, deprecating remarks on the part of well-meaning family and teachers can do a lot of damage in later years: ‘I’ve never seen an elephant like that before’; ‘that’s not a proper circle’, and such like.
Most of us can recall equivalent self-belief killers in early life and know only too well their long-term influence. It doesn’t take much to shatter the hopes of a sensitive young dancer, sportsperson or artist. Conversely, however, little da Vincis with encouraging parents, teachers or mentors go on to a lifetime of pleasure in drawing, art and the worlds they open up. In this case a natural though unspectacular talent may become a pleasurable, therapeutic fulfilling hobby, if not a satisfying career. Just as important, there are spin-off benefits of simple picture power that can affect many aspects of our lives. This book will ensure that you don’t miss out on these benefits, however you presently see yourself as a drawer.
A non-drawer is not at all like a non-reader, a non-driver, or a non-listener. Graphophobia fits into the ‘I’m tone deaf’ and ‘I couldn’t give a speech if you paid me’ categories, which are also high up in the negative self-belief rankings. Like many such beliefs, usually irrational, ‘I can’t draw a straight line’ seems to have attained popular social currency. Strangely, most people are more than ready to reconfirm their limitation, by restating it – usually in a joking way – throughout adult life. Each time they do, they strengthen their negative picture-making self-belief in a hopelessly descending spiral.
Fortunately, individual competence blind spots don’t necessarily mean an overall negative self-image. A low self-image in say, sport or art, doesn’t mean ‘I’m a complete loser’. A graphophobic may well have a more positive self-image in other areas such as mental arithmetic, word games, gardening, cracking knuckles or getting on with people. There are plenty examples of empowering self-beliefs.
These self-beliefs mainly operate unconsciously, which is the way that mental and physical habits are supposed to. There are downsides to negative, habit-based beliefs. We don’t realise the extent to which negative self-beliefs are:
Positive self-beliefs, and ‘habitual competencies’ – doing things without thinking – have quietly ensured our survival and contributed to all manner of unrecognised successes. Ancient cave records confirm the fundamental importance of pictures in this human process.
Some of us blossom late in our aptitudes and talents. Many people, for instance, take up new hobbies and interests in later years and on into retirement. But there is statistically little chance of late blossoming in basic draughtsmanship other than with a figurative whack on the side of the head. Once established and confirmed by self-fulfilling practice (‘I told you I was rubbish’), mindsets of the ‘can’t’ type, however irrational, are of hardier stuff. You have to make the change and acquire the experience and know-how of which the years of negative self-belief have robbed you.
That is not to say that with more positive, childhood nurture today’s non-drawers would all have turned out to be great artists. But nor would many ‘natural’ drawers either. As with any human skill, few reach the very top.
And as well as more or less giving their lives to it, outstanding artists, musicians and sportspeople may well boast a few useful genes that helped them along. Natural drawers are simply more confident in their drawing skills. They are ‘unconsciously competent’. They typically apply their natural drawing skills in secondary contexts, such as a hobby or interest, or perhaps a particular aspect of their main work. Most of all, they enjoy simple visual and graphical skills that many others fear or find embarrassing.
What gives pleasure to one person brings pain to another, whether in art, sport, music or whatever.
In the mind
But this is not all down to genetics. Beliefs are all in the mind. Thankfully, changing your mind is easier than changing the world around, including other people’s minds. That means you can control the self-beliefs that play such a big part in your behaviour, achievement and non-achievement. You can choose the aptitudes – like simple drawing skill – you would like to foster and perfect. Nothing and no one can stop you.
We tend to enjoy whatever we do well, including doodling or more serious drawing. And the better we get the more we enjoy it. Conversely, we don’t enjoy what we believe we are no good at. So we don’t do it. So we get even worse. Even the most talented people need to practise their skills. Whatever the origin of a negative self-belief, this process explains how all-pervading it will eventually become in a person’s life.
The good news is that what starts in the mind can be changed in the mind. In other words by changing your mind.
Just do it
Another important principle is that we sometimes need to do something before we enjoy it. In other words – and this applies to any limiting self-belief – you have to abandon inhibition and have a go. This applies to all sorts of things, from trying new kinds of food to a new hobby, interest or holiday destination. Drawing is an ideal starting point, for anybody at any age, as it is typical of the sort of talent of which many people feel they have been short-changed. From a painless start in simple drawing you can build up your confidence in many other areas of your life. This makes the power of little pictures far greater than you might have imagined.
It’s important not to feel intimidated or resentful of other people’s apparently effortless skills. Not many great contemporary artists can draw a straight line any way. Nor does it matter. Many crafts, and more surreal painting especially, don’t involve drawing skills. You can use a ruler to draw a straight line, if it really has to be straight. And a coin or a saucer to draw an impressive circle. If need be, you can find a way to do such things, using a computer. The secret is to utilise resources you thought you didn’t have to achieve things you thought you could never achieve.
Drawing is another form of self-expression. It helps you to communicate. But it’s as much an attitude of mind as a manual skill. Most important, you can enjoy the process as well as the benefits of achievement.
This book is not about ‘arty’ art – landscapes, portraits, still life, tone, perspective. Nor about modern art, most of which does not remotely call upon draughtsmanship. Nor do I address drawing in the freehand, ‘natural talent’ sense, such as in portrait or still life drawing. You can get that from a night school course or art college, or a book such as How to Draw Portraits, or How to Draw Animals. This book is about getting to know, use and love lines, boxes, circles, squiggles, doodles, shapes – in short, little pictures. It’s about gaining pleasure and having confidence in all sorts of symbolism beyond words,. It’s about believing you can draw a straight line if you need to and when you choose to. It’s about making the best use of talents you already have – talents we all have – however latent or atrophied. Having said that, with such confidence, the world of visual arts will soon be open to you. And far bigger worlds of achievement will be within your reach.
A lot of people are already inveterate drawers without realising it. They make pictures and shapes in order to concentrate, understand, illustrate, communicate, be creative, simplify, persuade, or remember. These people may be described as natural scribblers, born doodlers, embellishers of every variety. They hardly make a phone call without leaving some doodle on the pad. These unsung graphists draw mind pictures. If paper and pencil are not to hand they will unknowingly depict pictures with their fingers, hands, arms and head in three-dimensional space in an attempt to express the pictures inside. They are comfortable with diagrams, figures and illustrations. Some are not too happy with words or numbers. They will use arrows to direct you, asterisks to remind you and all manner of graphical devices to persuade you. And they do it all ‘without thinking’. All this is fundamental to the ancient art of doodling. It offers plenty of clues for the would-be picture maker.
If this fits you to some degree, you can celebrate your intuitive skills and develop them to dizzy new heights of pleasure and skill. If you envy such people and want to share their inclination, this is just the book for you. Just to be sure, I assume initial drawing skills of about a 4-year-old child. As it happens, a 4-year-old draws more extensively and confidently than most adults.
Maybe this used to be you. If your skills are latent and unfulfilled, you will enjoy rekindling childlike creativity and pleasure as you extend communication beyond words. If little pictures don’t arouse emotion either way, have an open mind. See what you can learn and the benefits you can derive as you read on. Wherever you imagine you fit in the graphological scheme of things, this book will help you to use your natural aptitude more pleasurably and to greater benefit. By adding conscious thought and a bit of know-know, you can capitalise on your standard mental resources.
Sticking to the verbal knitting
Maybe you are the sort of person who prefers to stick to words – lists, headings, captions, slogans, paragraphs, quotations, abstracts, executive summaries and the like. You may be equally adept at spoken words. You too can benefit a lot. A little picture can sometimes save hundreds of words, and takes less time and effort. However many words you use, and however carefully constructed your message, in some cases a diagram or drawing is essential if you want to be sure of getting your message across.
With appropriate visual images you will engage your readers and hearers, and make your message memorable.
That’s just the way your brain works. Using your skills in this way, you will be persuasive and influential and make even the most difficult things simple to understand. That will prove to be an invaluable asset in this information age.
Non-drawers will find this book a painless introduction to a world of non-words you never imagined existed. As you open your mind you can benefit in all sorts of ways. For example, you can:
Take just one application of graphical communication: getting good ideas – being creative. Not pipe dreams, but the creativity to turn your ideas into reality and put them to practical use. To solve an intractable problem, improve a skill, achieve an important deadline, outsmart your business competitors and so on. Success in so many situations, especially those that involve people, depends on creative, original ideas. That’s the currency of success. Many proven creative techniques incorporate the graphical methods you will meet in this book. Even the simplest spatial format can stimulate your creative brain far more effectively than words alone.
Drawing on success
Some big companies sponsor tens of thousands of their people in so-called creativity training, having proven its effectiveness and benefits. Successful products and services exist all around us because of such processes. One simple graphical technique – and you will learn several – might generate 20 to 30 ideas, any one of which could be a winner.
Many people have doubts about whether such brainstormed, ‘eureka’ ideas will ever be actually put into practice. ‘Creativity’ in their minds does not extend to implementation and satisfactory, nuts and bolts completion. In fact the techniques you will meet will help you to overcome unforeseen obstacles, solve each problem as it arises, choose from alternative options and make sound, feasible decisions. Creative insight adds even more value when ‘implementation’ includes persuading bosses, clients or colleagues to go along with your ideas.
Problems and opportunities alike involve people, but people don’t usually conform to logical assumptions or act rationally. You need a fresh, creative mind at every stage. The visual communication methods you will learn will play an important part and may well make the critical difference between success and failure.
Besides companies, highly successful individuals use similar techniques to help them in their careers, hobbies and self-development. Most of them think their drawing antics and visualisation skills are perfectly natural and they don’t understand why everybody doesn’t use similar methods. However, few of these people would call themselves artistic, or even ‘good drawers’, or recognise what they do as a skill, let alone a talent for drawing. Fewer still can explain how and why they do it, so they can rarely pass their talent on to others. They simply use their innate visual skills in a more useful, meaningful way because they were never taught not to. Moreover, few confine their personal pictures to mindless doodles on a telephone pad. They tend to be prolific in using lines and shapes generally and reap the sorts of benefits we met earlier.
Visualising doodlers comprise successful executives, influencers, leaders, top communicators and entrepreneurs. They are smart people in all walks of life who have learnt to think better by using their right brains more effectively. The techniques these people use involve more than just words – whether spoken or written. By adopting the simple skills that highly creative people and top communicators use intuitively, you can unlock your own creativity and persuasive power.
What is so special about drawing and pictures as opposed to words and language? First, we could talk about the two sides of your brain. The left side seems to like words, language and other symbols like numbers, and all the logical, sequential thinking that goes with them. The right side works holistically, and reveals an awesome private world of imagery, colours, shapes, ideas and feelings that language cannot cope with. That’s the side that is so under-utilised in western culture, especially in our educational and government institutions. In computer terminology, each hemisphere acts like a different operating system. Staying with the analogy, the hemispheres work in parallel. Properly used together your dual brains can rise to just about any level of human achievement.
Then we could talk about ‘sensory preference’. Some people ‘think’ mainly in pictures, others in sounds and words, while others need to touch, feel and ‘experience’. Visualisers are more at home reading a book than listening to an audiotape. They respond to pictures, diagrams or anything visual. The visual sense, besides being the dominant thinking ‘modality’, is by far the most important sense for everyday communicating. In everyday communicating, you won’t get far without it.
Visualising is also strongly associated with inventions and historic, scientific breakthroughs, artistic virtuosity and extraordinary feats of memory. But even everyday skills like spelling depend on visual ability. When matched by equivalent logical, left-brain skills, right-brain imagery starts to take on the characteristics of genius. In this sense genius, although rare, is no more than using both sides of your brain and all five senses to their potential. Most of us don’t do that because we lost the habit as little children. Orthodox education is left-brain biased. Visual skills, such as drawing, help to redress this imbalance so that we can gain more mileage from a 3lb, bicameral (two-part) brain.
We use our three main senses and both sides of the brain all the time. The trick is to use your brain and your senses better. Anyone can do that, whatever his or her brain dominance, sensory preference or however he or she was labelled in the past. Changing the way you think is feasible. It makes sense. At worst it means changing your mind – not easy, but possible. The benefits I listed earlier make it very worthwhile.
At one extreme the kind of drawing I will cover in this book is disgustingly simple. Here’s a taste. Look at the random words from a dictionary on the next page.
You will remember the circled word. Try as hard as you like, you cannot not think about the word with a circle drawn round it. The non-word symbol makes the word
special, meaningful and memorable. You register it in a second or less, before you can even begin to digest the other words. That’s the power of simple graphics – in this case a roughly drawn circle or oval shape. It’s a quick, cheap and most effective way to communicate – in this case one word you want to bring attention to.
There is nothing special about circling a word. I could just as easily have underlined it three times, put a box round it or an asterisk next to it, or used a coloured highlighter pen. The point is that the circle adds something. Importantly, it adds more than extra words such as ‘notice especially’, ‘which is very important’, etc. In fact, a whole paragraph explaining the significance of one of the words would not have the impact on memory that the simplest non-word would have.
At the same time the non-word, because it sticks out, detracts your attention from the other words. But that is fine in this case. First, you probably wouldn’t have remembered the other words in any case (we can’t handle more than half a dozen things at once), so nothing is lost. Second, it was the writer’s intention to attract the reader to what he or she considered important. The little circle served a purpose. And that’s the communication bottom line: a communication is only effective to the extent that it gets what it intended. This may be to inform, warn, persuade, motivate or whatever. In this case the intention was to bring the reader’s attention to a particular word, from which to produce some effect in the mind of the reader.
This was accomplished with just an apology for a circle. By adding a whole new graphical armoury to your language you can achieve what you want much more effectively.
A simple picture does something in the brain that a word on its own cannot, or doesn’t seem to do well. Having said that, different graphic symbols have a different impact in different situations, and with different people. One symbol, number or shape – just like a word – may be more effective than another. More effective, that is, in helping you achieve your communication outcome. The skill is in understanding when and how to use the rich variety of lines, shapes and symbols at your disposal. If you are already a doodler, what you learn here will add a little science to your intuitive art. Most important, you will gain practical know-how in both formal and informal communication, and you will have practical ways to generate ideas and solve problems.
More formal examples of pictorial extras might include flowcharts, network diagrams, matrices, graphs, pie charts and such like, most of which are familiar even though you may not use them all yourself. Even the simplest examples can reveal or clarify all sorts of interrelationships, characteristics and functions that might require volumes of unwieldy prose. However complex the ideas you need to get across, a few simple, graphical ‘extras’ can make communication simpler and better, and replace thousands of words.
It pays to get to know the power of simple pictures. Everyone can use and benefit from them. They seem more natural to some people, but that comes more from using them habitually (especially if part of your job or hobby) rather than inheriting special genes. The secret is to be at home – confident, conversant, and familiar – with non-verbal written communication of any kind. That way you will be able to better understand communications of the sort that appear all the time in newspapers, books and magazines, or reports at work. At the same time you can use graphical techniques such as mind maps to record and recall a meeting or seminar. Or you can use them as part of any communication, whether informally explaining a point to a colleague or in a formal presentation as visual aids.
The techniques you will meet will help you to use your brain to the full, and to get your message across to other people’s brains.
Once you accept the principles and acquire the know-how it doesn’t require any conscious effort on your part. You just need to harness your natural brainpower, applying the ideas and techniques you learn.
Creativity and better communication are not the only benefits. I will show you how you can enjoy the wide range of benefits I listed earlier, from solving problems and improving your memory to organising your time better. For many, this will uncover a whole world of understanding and expression that translates into day-to-day benefits.
Chapter 2 describes the roles of lines, shapes and simple graphics that we meet every day and can all use for better communication, creativity and achievement. The brain relates to both words and pictures for understanding, remembering, motivating and so on, and this chapter highlights the visual, spatial, ‘right-brain’ side of things. You will meet the sorts of forms and shapes we meet all the time in graphs, diagrams, hierarchies, flowcharts, matrices and illustrations of all kinds. These turn up everywhere, such as in newspapers, magazines, instruction manuals and on the television. This will give you an idea of the large repertoire of simple visual devices you can use. You will have met these before. But you probably have not used them to the full in different contexts of your life, in new, original ways and to maximum benefit.
Chapter 3 is about getting organised, which covers anything from rearranging your files to locate them easily, to organising a wedding or doing more with your limited time. Chapter 4 is about getting ideas. Creativity is an important feature of the human brain, and non-word symbols and shapes have a special part to play. Chapter 5 illustrates a few well-known problem-solving techniques that incorporate some graphical element. With the right mental approach and some technical know-how you can solve even the most intractable personal problems as if by magic. It’s a matter of stimulating your brain to do its job through the sorts of spatial and graphical techniques you have already met. In Chapter 6 we address one of the most common blind spots, even of top managers and many otherwise ‘successful’ people: giving a speech or public presentation. Most people need all the help they can get in this area. You need never be lost for words if you don’t depend on them. Specifically, you can use more of your natural visual and graphical abilities to do a better overall job of communication. Chapter 7 covers memory, and how you can make the best of yours by understanding the role of graphical ideas and techniques.
Do it yourself
It’s all DIY, so you don’t need more books or to attend seminars. Moreover, you can try out what you learn immediately. Thereafter, the more you use the skills, the better you will get. You will soon start to apply what you learn to more important, critical parts of your work and life and clock up real benefits. Our lives are mostly run by habits – useful ones and not-so-useful ones. You will acquire the simple skills I describe as habits by doing rather than just knowing. That means doing again and again, rather than knowing more and more. Pictures and imagery are a natural and vital part of how we all think, understand and learn. Best of all, you will find a lot of pleasure in extending your mental and manual skills.
I have tried to cater for everybody across the ‘drawing a straight line’ spectrum. Seasoned drawers or doodlers will, I hope, pick up some useful tips, extend their skills and, especially, make greater use of them. Others may think it is all a bit too simple, strange or stupid and I have tried to anticipate your doubts.
I frequently meet people who initially had no time for a certain sport or pastime, poetry, a particular town or country, an author, artist, entertainer, book, religion or person. Today they are the biggest advocates of what they once rejected or ignored – what was once foreign to their ‘map’ of the world. That’s what comes of giving things a try. It is the way learning should be, as in the process all our maps get richer. The visual representation techniques you will meet in the coming chapters will help you to understand other people’s mental maps, enrich your own, and build a rugged bridge between. Just have an open mind, sharpen your mental HB and give it a try.
Here’s to:-), world class doodling!