There are many ways to learn. Let’s pretend, for the sake of this review, that there are two kinds of learners: those who take note and those who don’t. That was fun. Now let’s think about the first group (sorry non-note-takers; this is your exit cue). Note-taking can be something we take for granted, something we don’t think about, often because we tend to treat it much like we’d treat tying our shoes or brushing our teeth: it’s simply an activity you do in order to facilitate some result. You take notes in order to help maintain attention during a lecture, or else to have some visual and/or conceptual reminders of what you heard. After a lecture or a conference, you page back through your notes and the little bits and pieces that you see on the page will hopefully help you to reconstruct the big ideas that were communicated during the event.
Fortunately for you note-takers, the presumption that note-taking is a banal, mechanical process that does not bear analysis is entirely wrong! And by now, you likely know that I will be directing your attention to Mike Rohde’s new book The Sketchnote Handbook. You might in fact be familiar with Mike’s work already: he illustrated two of my personal favorites from the past two years: ReWork and The $100 Startup. His style is notable, and The Sketchnote Handbook offers a peek behind the curtain, and more importantly, it offers a powerful application of that style that can be useful to almost anyone.
This ‘illustrated guide to visual note taking’ delivers on its promise: it not only demonstrates techniques for sketching quick and easy images that will enhance your notes, but Rohde also delves into some important peripheral topics. Chapter 3 is all about how to improve your listening technique, so that you can take (sketch) better notes. Chapter 2 establishes the argument for sketchnoting, wherein Mike cites Alan Paivio’s dual coding theory. Long story short: sketching (or ‘doodling’) helps you remember better.
OK, non-note-takers are back on stage. The added beauty of The Sketchnote Handbook is that it might just be the kick-start that non-note-takers need. If you might have previously thought, “I have nothing to gain from taking notes”, you might want to reconsider your position. Simply writing words in a notebook page can definitely provide a challenge with limited payoff. Rohde’s sketchnote approach provides a genuinely fun activity to everyone in the audience, with the very likely benefit of actually improving retention of the key concepts.
If you’re thinking you might be into sketchnoting, but you’re worried because you ‘don’t know how to draw’, you’ll be relieved to find chapter 7, which details all kinds of techniques that you can practice to improve your skills. The demonstrations Mike provides are literally so simple that you’d have no excuse to shy away from the book on the basis of skill. And returning to one of the key concepts the book communicates (in the introduction), “ideas, not art!” You don’t need to be an artist to sketchnote; you simply need to be good enough to sketch something today and recognize it tomorrow. This point is illustrated (literally) in the book when Mike shows two sketches of a dog: one is good and the other is bad. But as he says, “either way it’s still a dog.”
Check out the video below for more info, and visit Mike’s own book page for even more (including a free sample chapter PDF).