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Update: Developing thoughts further

I’ve been drawing my thoughts for years, on and off. I found some sketchbooks with old mindmaps and explorations. Still, writing was the main way I thought through things, and I made good progress in learning how to outline so that I could think about progressively larger topics. In September, I re-started the habit of drawing through my thoughts – and posting them, thanks to a sheet-fed scanner that made sharing easy.

I tend to draw one thought per page and write about one thought per blog post. I also tend to draw way more than I publish each day. I wondered if I could combine the drawings and the words to “chunk” what I was thinking about into larger topics, so that a blog post could logically group together several sketches. With a mindmap to help me keep track of the sketches (acting basically like an outline, but with icons, easy folding, and quick navigation), I could keep an eye on topics that had accumulated several sketches. Once I’d fleshed out the topic a little, I could write it up as a blog post, include the images, and replace those notes with a link. Working well!

How to think in bigger chunks

2013-09-25 How to think in bigger chunks

I had tried collecting text snippets in the past, but I tended to lose them in my archive. Because the drawings were compact, easy to review, and easy to track in my map, I found it more fun to go over them compared to the text. Unlike the partial thoughts I’d saved in my text archives before, most of the drawings were enough on their own: an answer to a question, a reflection on an idea. It was easy to remember enough context to turn them into a blog post.

So that’s the bottom-up approach: think about several ideas, and then put them together. I was curious if this new approach would also help me with the top-down approach, which is to take an idea and then go into the details.

Developing thoughts further

2013-09-25 Developing thoughts further

I was reading a student-oriented book about writing that reminded me of the idea of developing thoughts. The author wrote that short essays usually meant that the thoughts weren’t developed enough – that the student could go into more detail or explore the implications of the topic. I made a list of some ways that I could develop a thought further. I had thought about this in a text-centric way, but now that I’ve been drawing a lot more, I can see how exploring the details in drawings has been helping me develop thoughts.

Fitting multiple thoughts on a page

2013-10-21 Fitting multiple thoughts on a page

Drawing one thought per page requires a lot of paper, and I have a steadily growing stack of sketchbook sheets piling up on my shelf. Although I’ve scanned the sketches using my ScanSnap, I keep the paper around for extra flipping-through fun. I briefly considered trying to fit more thoughts onto a page, but I think the one-thought-per-page system works well for me. It also makes the images easier to include in blog posts like this.

Wrap-up

I feel like I can think about topics that are 3-4 times as large as I could before, especially if I spread them out over time. I’m looking forward to getting even better at organizing these, sharing them, and planning the next steps. I like the way drawings help me quickly pick up the thread of my thoughts again, and how the map helps me plan where to go next. So far so good!

If you’ve been struggling with developing thoughts over a period of time, try drawing them. You might find that it’s easier to mentally chunk topics that way. Check out my one-page guide for getting started with visual notetaking, and go through these other resources for sketchnote beginners. Good luck!

Daily drawing update: So far, fantastic!

I’ve been pushing a lot of sketches through my evolving workflow. This is fantastic. In the past 20 days, I’ve done 100+ of these thinking-on-paper drawings, about 70+ of which are public. It’s fun to turn the sketches into blog posts afterwards. I find them more motivating to flesh out than headlines or outlines, so you’ll probably see a lot more sketches in this blog. (See, I’m learning more about illustrating my blog after all!)

This is my workflow now:

  1. I draw a thought on paper using black, blue, red, and green pens.
  2. I scan the sheets using ScanSnap and my phone, which can rotate and publish images to Flickr more conveniently than my computer can. (It’s funny how that works.)
  3. Photosync automatically downloads the images from Flickr to folders monitored by Evernote, so they’re imported into my !Inbox notebook.
  4. If I want to colour the image, I use Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and re-save the JPGs to the Evernote attachment folder as well as the Photosync folder, which updates the Flickr image.
  5. Before I move the Evernote item to my public notebook, I tag it, copy the note link, and add the entry to my Freeplane mindmap so that I have a hyperlinked overview (sneak preview of my map: Mapping what I’m learning).

My new sketching and thinking workflow, and mindmap comparisons

One of the nice things about a limited canvas (whether paper or digital) is that there’s a natural end to your drawing. You run out of thoughts or you run out of space. Either way, that’s a good time to stop and think about what you need to do next. In a text outline or a mindmap, I can just keep going and going and going.

image

I’ve been thinking about how I can do things even better. As it turns out, assigning Autodesk Sketchbook Pro as the default application for handling JPGs lets me easily edit images stored in Evernote. Freemind lets me add markers to map nodes, so that’s a halfway-decent flagging system (no electronic equivalent of Post-It flags on the image itself, though). I’m looking forward to turning this kind of focus on something that isn’t related to learning or drawing. It’ll be interesting to see if visual thinking does well for deep dives in other areas too, although I suspect it will.

How can I think on paper more effectively

Ooh, wouldn’t it be nice to have an easy way to resize, upload, and synchronize images so that I can save new versions and have previous blog posts updated? Someday…

Anyway, here we are! I should do a video about all the different pieces – the workflow’s pretty sweet, actually. As awesome as my digital sketchnoting workflow? I don’t know. They’re great for different reasons, and I’m glad I’m adding more tools to my toolbox. =)

Thinking about speaking topics

Holly Tse invited me to speak at Lotus Blossoming, an upcoming virtual summit for Asian women. We’re negotiating what my topic might be. I’ve challenged myself to speak mostly about things that pass the following criteria:

  • must be something I want to learn more about,
  • must be something I have experience in, and
  • must be something people will find useful (not just interesting, useful)

I’m picky because I’m not selling anyone stuff. No coaching services, no e-books, no here’s-the-secret-to-happiness. This means I’m not speaking to get exposure or to do marketing. It also means that speeches have to be worth the preparation time I’d take away from other things. Is the speech something I can’t wait to work on, or is it something I’m going to end up procrastinating until the last minute? Is it something that might result in a good blog post and a presentation  I can share? Is it something that can help me grow in terms of content or technique?

I invest time up front before committing to a topic so that I can enjoy the preparation and delivery more, and so that the talk will be more useful for people who invest their time in attending. I know I can be energetic and interesting even when I’m annoyed with the situation or when I have strong doubts about the topic, but I really don’t want to make that habitual.

The great thing is that negotiation teaches me a lot about what I want to write about and explore. For example:

  • I’d like to share more stories and tips for other immigrants, particularly people moving by themselves, but I need to do some more work in this area to clarify things that are still prickly for me.
  • I want to write about happiness in the corporate world. So many blogs and books treat corporations as desolate wastelands and portray self-employment or startups as The Way.
  • I’m less interested in social media for personal networking and community building, and more interested in writing your life as a way to practise continuous improvement. I think the ability to connect with more people more deeply is icing on the cake-pop – it’s not the reason I blog, but it does help me learn a lot more.

Hmm, there’s an interesting thing there. You see, people often ask me to do social media presentations. I prefer to focus on individual behaviours instead of trends because I want people to be able to do something. I dislike all this emphasis on personal branding and social networking, because it’s so much like scare-mongering. “You MUST be on Facebook/Twitter and your own blog or else you’ll be invisible and irrelevant.” Social networking is fine, but I want to be really clear that it’s not about getting friends/followers/readers/comments.

I’d rather encourage people to take these two approaches: develop their interest in other people and use social tools to make it easier to cultivate those relationships, and start that journey of self-discovery and find something they can share with other people.

The first one is a bit harder if the people you care about aren’t active on social networks, but you can also learn a lot by looking for people who inspire you. When you find people you resonate with, you can learn a lot about them, life, and yourself. For me, blogs tend to be better than Facebook or Twitter for being inspired by other people, because people put more of their thoughts and their personality into their blog. For example, I love the way my mom tells stories and what I learn about her and our family. The way Mel Chua shares her passion for open source and life (we’re not related, but I’d have loved to be) teaches me more about how to let my enthusiasm shine through. I enjoy reading Roger Ebert’s journal and learning about culture and growing old, and I like Penelope Trunk’s vivid stories. People tell me they enjoy reading my blog, too – the way I practise continuous improvement and optimism, the joy I take in life, the things I learn along the way.

As for finding something worth sharing with other people – that’s an excellent place to start, especially for introverts like me. Writing helps you learn a lot more effectively. It gets things out of your brain and into a form you can look at or share.

Come to think of it, I take more of a self-centered approach to social media compared to most of the other presentations or blog posts I’ve come across. It’s not the quick hit of here’s-how-to-make-the-most-of-Facebook-and-Twitter. It’s more about becoming yourself and helping others. Hmm… Will flesh this out some more.

Coaching people on how to give better remote presentations – Thinking out loud

We need better web presentations. There are so many opportunities out there. I think I can help more people learn how to speak, and I can help people learn how to speak better.

If I were to coach someone on how to give a better remote presentation, what could I help them with?

  • Finding something to talk about: testing your ideas through blogs, shared presentations, and webinars
  • Refining your message: figure out the next steps, the key message, and any supporting points
  • Supporting your story: planning how your slides will support your talk, and revising them to be more engaging
  • Pitching your talk: tweaking your title, abstract, bio, and picture; finding venues
  • Planning for interaction: how to make the most of webinar tools, how to engage the audience
  • Technical setup: familiarizing yourself with the system, getting your webcam going, cleaning up your background and lighting; testing everything beforehand
  • From presentations to conversations: getting used to the back-and-forth of backchannels, working with a host/moderator
  • Dealing with Murphy: What to do when things go wrong
  • Asking for feedback: Running surveys and learning from them
  • Reaping the rewards: Capturing assets, scaling up through sharing

In addition, I can help give feedback on their presentation content and delivery. Personally, I prefer focusing on content and organization rather than just ums and ahs, so you’ll get more substantive editing from me than surface editing.

Hmm. I think that might be interesting to explore. I’d learn a lot, other people would learn a lot, and I’d write up and share that with even more people. It might be some time away, or it might be an extracurricular thing if I can clear it with IBM, or plans might change. =) I’ll probably start with just one student first.

Would you like to hear from me if I do set up something like that? What would you like to see in it? Leave a comment or contact me and tell me what you think!

Visual organizers

I love visual organizers. 2×2 matrices, mindmaps, fishbone diagrams, even more interesting ways to structure and organize ideas… Just as a wider vocabulary helps you express more when you speak, a wider visual vocabulary helps you express more when you think and draw.

Here are some sources for inspiration:

Also interesting – tools: http://www.visual-literacy.org/pages/maps/mapping_tools_radar/radar.html

Backlog: Viz workshop last Friday

I went to David W. Gray‘s workshop last
Friday to learn more about visualizations because of my research
interest in tracking, visualizing, and supporting technology adoption
in large companies. I expected a Tufte-esque critique of the ways data
are presented in graphical form, with practical advice on presenting
complex information easily. Instead, the workshop turned out to be one
on visual thinking and brainstorming. Not quite what I expected, but
still good.

My key take-aways from that were:

  • When communicating with people, think of attention, retention, and transfer. I particularly like how he emphasized that this spells “art.”
  • Always carry a pocket-sized digital camera. Always. You never know when you’re going to see something you can use for your presentation. Hmm, my current camera is just a little too large for this, although if I always carry a zipcase with my essentials (wallet, cellphone, Moleskine, camera, business cards) then I can take it no matter which bag I bring.
  • Tom Wujec demoed a *totally* awesome sketching / electronic-index-card tool that makes me wish I had a tablet PC. I might not even mind going on Microsoft Windows for it. It totally rocks.

A number of other participants thought that one of the most powerful
points was the idea of writing thoughts on Post-it notes or other
easily-rearrangeable media, one thought per note. I was familiar with
the idea because of my interest in tools for thinking (mind-mapping,
brainstorming, etc.), productivity, and communications, and that kind
of thinking comes naturally to me now. I do my speeches, thoughts, and
even my school papers on, well, paper form before I get them into the
computer, although sometimes I’ll start with a blog rant.

Hmmm. I think what I really wanted from the workshop were more
examples of how to support communication by presenting complex
information beautifully, like the way his company presents business
processes. There were a few examples very quickly glossed over as part
of his corporate bio, and I really wish there were more. Another
powerful addition could be an exercise where we’d take data and figure
out how to present it, perhaps working in groups and presenting it to
the class. That would have been tons of fun, and it would have made
the most of Dave’s presentation consulting experience with Xplane.

Oh, and it would’ve been nice to see more of Dave’s sketches. =) He’s
a fun visual artist, and the sketches would’ve really punched things
up. Granted, it’s a lot of work to do that with the Lessig method of
one gazillion little slides, but an occasional gapingvoid-style thing
would be terrific.

I gave him some feedback on the workshop and on his presentation
style. He’s trying to get the hang of the Lessig method—fast-paced,
lots of slides. This takes a fair bit of work to pull off, but it’s
great when you can speak ahead of the slides instead of reading off
them – there’s such a difference between using slides as cues and as
punchlines! I haven’t given a mind-blowing Lessig-style presentation
myself, although I remember my operating systems students’ feedback
that my lectures felt a lot like ads (in a good way!) when I was
teaching them about OS history. I remember listening to a Lessig
presentation and noting how his speech was slightly ahead of the
slides, and I also remember being impressed with Michael Geist’s
presentation. They are teh c00l.

Dave seems more interested in doing instructional design and packaging
this as a workshop that other people can give, so he didn’t want to
bring too much of himself into it – which is a pity, really, as he’s
an interesting character and infusing more of the workshop with his
personality would liven it up. =) I think he’ll do well in
instructional design. He’s particularly interested in video. Might be
cool.

The main value of the event came from the conversations that it
sparked, I think. I met a lot of people there whom I’d like to keep in
touch with, including Dave Gray.

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