I’m trying out a new hobby: Sketchnotes. I think they’re used most often for capturing events: Creating concise, attractive, pop visual representations of talks at IT conferences is like a kind of sport for visual designers. As in jazz improvisation the masters are doing it in real-time, using pens not pencils, often wrapping up their works as the events themselves are concluding and Instagramming them out to attendees. In any case, the products of this are beautiful, useful, and help in a general way make sense of things.

Designers also create sketchnote drawings and animations of archived video lectures of the talking head variety in order to boil down a lot of information about, say, macroeconomics or the writings of John Stuart Mill into something sharable. RSA Animate is a master of this and where I became aware of it. Robert Reich is also an amazing sketchnoter of his own sometimes-abstruse points, for example in this YouTube video “The Truth about the Economy”. Above all Sacha Chua, whose very personal mix of diligence and curiosity and tech and art has been a real inspiration to me, esp. in the area of open visual thinking.

My goals for sketchnotes are smaller and more personal:


What I’m trying to get at is something like this:

  • Sketchnoting seems valuable to me mainly as a practice and not as a product. It’s sketchnoting, not sketchnotes. The virtues of this practice are:
    • Recollection & understanding: At a practical level, being able to distill something into a sketchnote means that you have understood it, and probably that you will remember it very well.
    • Re-presentation: I want to make a practice of publishing more, of “putting it out there”, and treating the things I write and make as if they will be published, which is a way of shaping them and taking care with how good they are, how they function.
    • Visual art: I used to draw a lot as a child and still doodle. My dad was an artist. Maybe sketchnoting can be a way to get back into something deeper, something more deeply pleasurable and immediate, something I’ve maybe dismissed. Or missed.
    • Slowness itself: The main practice here is…returning to things. Reviewing your own work. Being present. Trying to understand yourself, to slow down and understand.

I started my latest longhand journal with some tests of simple ways to make my tasks and notes to myself reviewable and crisp.

sktch1 sktch2

It’s fun and slow and above all, as I said above, a great practice, a way to take your own internal dialog more seriously. Let me know if you do it or want to talk about it.

Blog: Catching an entrepreneurial wave at IBM SmartCamp in Wilmington, NC

Just wrote this post on the blog about an IBM Smartcamp we held last week at tekMountain:

Just look at the list of cities that are hosting IBM’s SmartCamp this year: Austin, Dubai, Mexico City, Riyadh, Sydney. That’s an auspicious group. Global. Urban. Connected. Then, down at the very bottom of the list, weighing in at ninety-eight pounds, our own scrappy, Wilmington, NC for the Southeast US!

Read the blog

Rick Astley and Nirvana

What is irony? Maybe the most pragmatic thing to say about irony is that it allows us to experience and enjoy things without risking ourselves. We seem to need irony right now: How would we post-moderns enjoy the bubbly incandescent pop of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”, or the old world zen of mustaches and cucumber pickling, without irony as a guide—or a shield?

Isn’t it also irony that has shown us this new, real truth: the bubbly incandescence of Nirvana! (See Astley/Nirvana mashup below.) We thought Nirvana was the opposite of pop, man! They destroyed pop with their anarchy-sweater-wearing cheerleaders and chromatic bass lines, didn’t they? Wasn’t that how it went down??


Nirvana vs Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give Your Teen Spirit Up

Some say that irony is a feature of decadence, of 1920s Berlin before the rise or the Third Reich, or the end of the Roman Empire, or our own current era. Expended, we turn back on ourselves and use the instrument of deprecating irony to hide in an environment of public display and weary, thoughtless indulgence. In decadent, exhibitionist periods—or maybe any period—irony protects the fearful and the sensitive and the ashamed. And aren’t all of us all of these things?

Irony allows us to enjoy more of the world. It’s like a heat shield that permits us go into the burning houses of cheezeball pop or our own nostalgic burning hallways and pull out the things that speak to us, which we’re otherwise afraid to represent.

Thank God for irony! How could I admit to you how much I like the music of Level 42 unless I leave open the possibility that you may interpret me to be speaking ironically. We lack the forthrightness to explore things outside of our experience, or things lodged deeply in our experience, to remember them publicly, and so we use the subterfuge of irony to get to these places in some socially acceptable way.