Why Sketch? Why Do You Think!

Sketch six

An expanse of dazzling white paper lies still. It’s right there in front of you. It’s empty.

But that doesn’t stop it from shouting at you. It’s frightening, like prison must be, but without the freedom or visitors. There’s an evil lurking in its stillness because you know from past history that it’s going to bite your ass.

Making that first mark is like slicing the throat of your first born. A kitten then.

Those visitors that you hope for are ideas. At worst they’re distant relatives with suggestions, possibly a conversation or two that might help an idea take shape – but they don’t appear. Loneliness. Fear.

Sketch FiveYour mind is blank.

That first mark on the paper draws blood. Now and then it feels good and you hack another deep gash onto the page. If you’re lucky with more and more strokes it starts to resemble your idea.

The problem most of us have is that we’re not good at trashing lots of paper. Couple that with a complete lack of balls to just make those marks. We are not used to cutting more throats. We did when we were kids. What happened? The whole concept most of us have about sketching is 100% wrong.

We simply don’t get why it’s one of the most valuable things we don’t do.

Sketching with aimless abandon can create the most valuable images and ideas. The energy and creativity we can achieve just by doing it is unbelievable.

Sketch Four

And so it is with how we need to think.

Why Think? How Sketching Works

Your mind is a blank, a vacuum of blacks and grey, empty. But that doesn’t stop it shouting at you. It’s frightening, like prison, but without the freedom or visitors. There’s an evil challenge in its vast emptiness because you know from past history that it’s going to be the death of you. Horror. The stench of failure.

Sketch 10

Thinking resembles an ache that you can’t touch. No visitors. Some tumbleweed, dead kittens.

Thinking is something that seems hard to think about. The more you grab at an idea the less you know it. An idea can be nothing and as it takes shape even more nothing appears. Black swirls around into more grey. Try thinking about thinking.

Your mind is blank.

That first thought is blood. Maybe sweat. Certainly Fears. The fact that something flows at all feels good – you feel alive so you hack another image into view. If you’re lucky it might even class as an idea. It probably sucks. Nothing swirls around it and then when you least expect it an idea comes.

The problem most of us have is not being prepared to think coupled with a lack of stimulus or consciousness of how to.

The entire concept most of us have around thinking, as with sketching, is 100% bizarre. We simply don’t get why it’s one of the most valuable things we don’t do.

Thinking through sketching is the same thing. Sketch and it forces thinking. Think through sketching and it will clarify what you couldn’t grasp in any other way. They both need each other and the very act promotes a balance of freedom and structure. Armed with this idea and some practice everyone can create valuable ideas.

The energy and creativity we can achieve just by doing it is unbelievable. Let it fly.

And so it is with why we need to sketch.

Sketch One


With massive thanks to Bella and Freddie for the inspiration and their amazing artistry.

8 Reasons Why You Should Sketch


Nighthawks. Sketchsmiths.

I’m always getting asked why drawings and the act of drawing makes such a difference. For me whatever I’m doing and wherever I may be doing it – it’s major. And because I’ve been breaking bad I’ve thought a bit about it. Even did a sketch.

Worth saying up front that the quality of drawing is irrelevant to the power of what follows.

We’ve all witnessed the power of that childlike scrawl – a crayon on a table top in a meeting – napkin in the restaurant. It has a charm. Often the one iconic moment of breakthrough in a tough situation – destined to become part of folklore. “Ah – Jessie’s Hedgehog Drawing! – It’s been our strategy for years…” Forever immortalised.

Here’s the list of things – the reasons that sprang to my mind:

  1. A Mental Work-Out – The act of drawing forces different parts of your mind and your body to work. This activity causes new patterns and ideas to form. That’s always good.
  2. Rapid Idea Exchange – It’s a really really seriously fast way to get an idea across to someone and in a way that words often don’t seem capable of doing.
  3. Seriously Engaging - I’ve not found a better medium to engage others by. At the end of a meeting when we sketch there is a significantly higher order of relationship. And later the recall of the meeting skyrockets.
  4. Value Exchanged – A sketch is a transportable thing. These days even a smartphone capture – voice over next day or week – shared somehow still means major progress in whatever context.
  5. Forming New Inventions – Even without an audience a sketch can help you structure those loosely formed ideas in your head. Even without any idea in your head at all – that blank sheet and a pencil or marker can fire up the imagination causing amazing ideas to emerge.
  6. An Agreement Machine – Making a visual rather than text based ‘thing’ creates a far faster tool for agreement. Because people can see something they can agree or disagree far quicker. That allows for real progress.
  7. Waste Disposal – Removing the clutter from all the idea is at the heart of what happens when you are forced to turn it into a sketch. This means that your sketch strips away everything that needing be there.
  8. A Union Of Mankind – Creates a level playing field for a conversation that goes beyond the words – sketching seems primal and causes a more visceral attachment to the ideas.

Whether it’s aimless fun or serious application it’s a tool for countless applications. Dive in y’all.



An Act Of Pure Visualism


Visualism, like vandalism is about doing the thing.

So being the vandal, so being the visual – living and breathing the fire of it. Going around places with an attitude and just doing it. The act of it. The art of it. The deliberate force and passion of it.

I’ve created a whole site in honor of it here.

I’ve built the site as a poem.

It’s about ideas and energy. It’s not destructive. It’s constructive. It’s the belief that it must be done and lived in that moment. It takes no prisoners. It is an animalistic act of power and will.

OK so I’ve made the word up but that’s because it didn’t exist. I felt it wasn’t good enough to be visual. We have to know it carnally. We have to let the chemicals into the mind and the body. There can be no half measures.

The Poetry Of Visualism

Breathe So As To Think
Think So As To Learn
Learn So As To Speak
Speak So As To See. Live

That Artful Contemplation
Surfacing Thoughtful Connections
Firing Illumination
Actual Creation

Mischievous Curiosity
Catalytic Imagination
The Demise Of Same Old
At The Edge

Positive Disruption
Constructive Activism
The End Of Same Old
Weaving Stolen Goods

Building Holy Grails
Fresh Blood
This Valued Conflict
An Utter Fascination

Nothing off limits. Nothing.
A Grace Of Facilitation
New Wonder From Optimism
That Naked Truth

A Forensic Abstraction
And Nothing Is Real
Spirited Selfish Passion
That Flesh Of Reality

Absolute Expression

Stimulate Me World. Go On.


Visit Africa, The Middle East, China – anywhere but your everyday rat runs and you’ll be constantly surprised by new ideas, colors and stuff.

New input, stimulus – inspiring. You feel immediately better. This lack of commonness feeds us and if it were to be lost we would be far poorer. And we are in danger of it in many ways but my hope is that we all become ‘designers’ in some way. There was a stage in my life when saying that would cause projectile nausea.
Let me qualify a little.

I’m not suggesting that everyone can make a good job of laying out a page, designing a web-site or creating a new piece of furniture but we are fast attaining the visual sense for what works. Conscious of the look and feel that’s right. We are very quickly responding to the visual nature of the machines and screens that are influencing us. However subconscious that may be.

The trick now is curating this in our minds and staying different – using this stimulus for good and in the pursuit of getting our ideas across to those we need to.
“Globalisation has made us more vulnerable. It creates a world without borders, and makes us painfully aware of the limitations of our present instruments, and of politics, to meet its challenges.” – Anna Lindh

Everywhere you look when abroad – different signposts, music, typography, nature, weather, position of the moon, attitudes, smiles, skies, products, faces, properties, landscape, clothing and wildlife. Excitement. And although there are increasingly familiar aspects it’s mostly always a visual feast and recharging of our brains.
It causes us to rethink so many things. It keeps us fresh and it sharpens the visual brain.

It helps everything.

For me – visualising conversations, words and thoughts. Making them real and palpable. Critical to create change.

I draw on what I see and hear around the world. Capturing the essence of intangible things like visions, operational models and business strategies as they get thought. I’m always adding that thing from Asia or Scotland. Indeed we use the visuals we create to force the very thoughts themselves.

We need to bring out our inner designer use this ‘visualisation’ capability to change how we think and work.

Belief In Quotes


There Can Be No Change (Little Progress), Unless We Change The Way We Think And Work.Corners15

“If your vision doesn’t include my motivation – then your mission excludes my passion.” 
Cornerstones“The Major Problems Of The World Are The Difference Between How Nature Works And Man Thinks,”
Corner ONE
“Let’s Avoid Solving The Wrong Problems Really Well”
Corner TWO
“Business Must Stop Confusing Growth, Profit And Returns With Ambition, Value, Meaning.”
Corner THREE
“The People That Need Us Most Are Often The Ones That Can Afford It Least. We Balance Our Business In A Way That Enables Us To Help Those That Want To Create Value For Society.”

Living With Our Inner Designer


We’ve all lived through the Apple revolution.

Everyone of us (openly or secretly) has to admire the way they make everything look. Inside and out. All Apple’s competitors have had to scramble to imitate the ‘cool’ utility of what they’ve done. As a result we now have a global benchmark for visual acceptability and it’s an increasingly high bar.

“To clarify, add detail. Imagine that, to clarify, add detail. Clutter and overload are not attributes of information, they are failures of design. If the information is in chaos, don’t start throwing out information, instead fix the design. – Edward Tufte

The whole world has a new visual standard for acceptability. We’ve developed a far more expert opinion of what makes a good product, service and experience. We know what stuff has to look and work like.

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.” - Charles Eames

We’re talking a massive shift. Every business in every category needs to transform how it thinks and works. And that means transformation at all levels.

For business to survive it needs to bring design utility to how it thinks and works.

It means Design, Engineering and Efficiency.

Without great engineers where would we be? No movement across nations. No security or safe housing for the people. No methods of communication.

Strange then that so many firms still spend proportionally little time thinking, designing – creating the best plans. There remains little effort defining inspiring visions against which to build. There is little institutionalised appetite for design thinking. Strategies that would ensure that the resources and people building it are willing to put their shoulders behind it seem to be a random and ad-hoc activity.

“There is no design without discipline. There is no discipline without intelligence.” - Massimo Vignelli

There seem few processes that create the value between the design and the engineering of new thinking around product and service.


These things are complex right?

Well maybe. But isn’t this what makes anything great? Designers and engineers working together? Are we lacking the conscious leadership, the recognition of this new world of the design savvy – or do we lack the capability – the internal confidence and talent to think and plan, design and engineer the journey to a completed construction. It may just be that we lack the right mentality.

“People ignore design that ignores people.” - Frank Chimero

Commit, Plan, Structure Towards Design Efficiency
resilience arch snap2
Efficiency. Put simply that’s a big idea trapped in a mere word.

Designing for efficiency actually means thinking about the whole system and then making critical decisions and understanding all the trade offs, Then making the best possible use of all the resources as a direct result. It means really thinking about it and engineering it that way. On purpose. It means ensuring that everything is being done for the best and most ideal outcome. Creating the desired impact at all times. And in the eye of a constant storm.

This all rests on knowing the critical pieces of the puzzle really well. And they often get left out.

Are you thinking like this?

  • Thinking About The Business As A System?
  • Understanding The Organizational Energy Required To Win?
  • Dynamically Connecting The Business To Its Full Context?
  • Creating An Active Operation?
  • Getting To The Meaningful Information?

“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” - Joe Sparano

Non trivial then. But it’s not an option.


Just Thinking

johncaswell @johncaswell
John Caswell  @johncaswell
RT @simonsinek: There is an entire section in the bookshop called "self-help." What we really need is a section called "help others." 

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