How can you enhance your ability to retain important information? One of the insights from our recent Masterclass on Innovation was that focusing less, rather than more, may be the answer – and good old fashioned ‘doodling’ (that is, scribbling without purpose) is one way to go about it.
I’m always happy to experiment with new ideas that our Research Team finds when exploring an upcoming Future of Work theme. It’s fun to put theory into practice and I also learn a lot about myself and my working preferences in the process. So, this week, I’ve been doodling… and here’s what I’ve found.
Like many organisations, we here at Hot Spots work in an open plan office, so concentration can sometimes be tricky. For example, when I am on a call, taking notes and thinking about questions while office life goes on in the background is difficult. Of course practice makes perfect, but towards the end of a call my brain just gets tired and the background noise distracts me.
According to our research, however, doodling can help me capture and retain the information I’m hearing and can even help my brain resist distraction.
So, in addition to the usual notes on key points, next steps, and deadlines that I normally take during a call, this week I sketched a mish-mash of words, lines, and figures (see photo left).
The result? I remembered more of the details, and when I looked at the different parts of the doodle, I was able to recall the conversation more vividly. Even more interesting is that I can still remember it, weeks later. My brain was unconsciously and unintentionally more engaged.
The most difficult aspect for me was getting the balance right. Focusing on what I hear rather than what I draw. The line between active listening and unconscious scribbling is a thin a one, but you will know when you get it right. Drawing while actively listening is what helps you remember 29% more of the conversation, according to neuroscience. Dr Srini Pillay, one of the speakers at our Innovative Organisation Masterclass, spoke about how doodling occupies our brain just enough to stop it from daydreaming, improving our focus at the same time. 
As it turns out, doodling has some serious cognitive benefits and can be more effective than conventional note-taking. I must say it felt strange at first: I was going against the idea that taking notes is the only sign of focus and concentration. However, when you see someone pointlessly scribbling in a meeting, they might just be on to something.
I’d love to hear other people’s views and experiences on this. Are you convinced of the benefits of doodling, or is it just a distraction? Add comments below
 Innovative Organisation Masterclass. (2016). Future of Work Research Consortium.
A close friend invited me to this year’s MozFest. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry, you haven’t been living under a rock. It is Mozilla’s annual 3-day event that seeks to drive innovation on the web. It is also a networking opportunity for the hugely diverse and incredibly creative tech community. Mozilla’s vision is that “learning should be hands-on, immersive, and done collectively”. And no doubt, the event itself reflected this vision with a vast array of talks, games, demonstrations, creative group work, and spaces for innovative ideas. One of the main inspirations I took away was about digital badges.
Up until two weeks ago, I didn’t even know what digital badges were. But the more I look into the topic, the more I find that they are actually becoming quite established in the learning landscape. In fact, IBM recently launched its Open Badge Program to attract talent and keep people engaged. At MozFest, a whole floor was dedicated to Mozilla’s Open Badges project, which was launched already in 2012.
In case you don’t know, digital badges are a type of certification for a skill, accomplishment or capability, much like the badges handed out in the military or the Scouts. Universities, online course providers, companies, museums – any learning provider really – can issue badges, which recipients can add to their profiles like LinkedIn and showcase their skills and capabilities to their peers and potential employers. As there are no limits to content or the submission process (at one museum, you can get a badge for cockroach handling), digital badges aim to disrupt traditional approaches by facilitating informal learning, providing alternative learning pathways, and supporting lifelong learning.
Within organisations, badges are already being used to support performance management, drive collaboration and innovation among employees and enhance employee engagement. Unisys, for example, developed an internal platform that provides each employee with a profile where they can display their badges, allowing them to establish a company presence, connect to other employees with similar skills and search for those with specific subject expertise. IBM is also using badges to provide credentials to external talent, for specific learning journeys, and thereby creating a global pool of talent that it can draw upon. Within IBM, employees who felt recognised for learning achievements (e.g. through badges) were three times more engaged than those who didn’t.
In MozFest’s session on Architecture for Learning Pathways, experts discussed next steps for the badge project. How can badges lead to specific jobs, careers, and help people achieve certain goals? How do different badges relate to each other with regard to the types of achievements they represent? How can they be grouped together to create different learning pathways? Do learning pathways always have to be linear? How can high achievers be differentiated from low achievers?
While these questions are certainly relevant for the education sector, they are also relevant for the corporate world. Training and development is already a major factor in the war for talent while new technologies are transforming the landscape of required skills. In this respect, companies must rethink the value of qualifications, alternative career pathways, and continuous learning. Can badges be used to address some of these challenges, for example, to facilitate lateral career moves? This is something high on our research agenda at the Future of Work. Over the next four months we will be analysing the future of employability and learning to find out more about the big disruptors in this area.
Image: Badges from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, UK Antibiotic Guardian, Amazon and Siemens