Since creativity can be manifested in countless ways, discussions of creativity can run both deep and wide. One goal of the Practice Profile series is to reveal, over time, the richness in those discussions by highlighting individuals’ personal practice. Every Profile is unique, as no two individuals share the same creative habits. This month I am excited to feature C. Todd Lombardo, whose creative habits happen to be rooted in visual thinking. The more familiar I become with visual thinking, design thinking, studio thinking and handmade thinking, the more clearly I understand the benefits of each.

Recently, C. Todd shared with me his thoughts on the value of visual thinking:

“I am a sketchnoter, which is a fancy word for notetaking doodler. I like to visualize things as I hear or think about them. This could be in a meeting, at a lecture or a conference or even when I am just thinking about something. At its simplest, it’s boxes and arrows. It is not about being a great artist, nor being “good at drawing,” rather establishing relationships with concepts in a visual manner. I sketchnote for myself, but I have found that other people find value in them, so I post most of them to Flickr. This doesn’t change my practice. In fact, because it is for myself I give myself permission to really screw up (read fail!). If I was doing this for others I’d feel more pressure to elevate the level of quality, which wouldn’t allow me to discover what many like to call “happy accidents.” This is helpful because some are really amazing. I think “wow, I did that,” while others are pretty terrible.”

Posting sketchnotes to Flickr makes his creativity accessible for others to observe. The images, drawn by hand, become an opportunity to learn about the ideas or concepts depicted in the drawings. Topics range from Glen Kelman’s presentation “Where do Ideas Come From?” at the Harvard Innovation Lab to “Human Centered Design, Methods for 21st Century Challenges”. Each pictorial rendering is dense with information, with only the most essential details communicated.

When asked how sketchnoting informs his professional practice, C. Todd explained: 

“This practice of visualizing helps me think about anything, and gives structure to my thought process. The story below shows a great example of how it helps with communicating in my professional life. I also think that there’s a kinesthetic value actually doing something with my hands and creating helps solidify concept in my brain so that I can recall them at a later date or even better, when I refer back to the image I can tell the story just as vividly as when I first heard the concept. I also find that it pulls out things that others may not have noticed or thought about. For example, I took notes at a talk given by Hacker Chick (Abby Fitchner) and she mentioned something about “leap and a net will appear” which she dismissed as something unimportant, but when she saw the notes she realized that it was quite integral to her talk and was surprised that picked up on it.” 

Finally, I asked for a memorable example that would speak to the relationship between his creative and professional pursuits.  His reply:

“A few months ago, I had a phone call with Eli Stefanski from BIF. As we chatted I started drawing out our conversation on the whiteboard and circled areas I wanted to circle back on and dive deeper into. I took a photo and sent it to her as a record of our conversation. Last week we were on a phone call with a few others and she was explaining something to the group. I repeated back to her what I understood the concept was and her reply was something to the effect of:  “Yes, that’s exactly correct, can you send me the picture you’re drawing that explains that? I’ve been trying to distill this for a while.” I chuckled because indeed I had drawn it and she rightly called me out.” 

C. Todd’s stories about sketchnoting speak to the value of visual thinking, with the examples posted to Flickr demonstrating that value further. With the promise of deeper comprehension and better retention (not to mention the possibility of the occasional happy accident!) I am certain to be putting pen to paper more often.


C. Todd Lombardo, often known as “CTodd,” has over 15 years of experience creating change in the corporate world and is very comfortable navigating ambiguity. When it comes to creativity he believes the power of three simple skills: convergence, divergence and withholding of judgment. He can be found working on a variety of project types such as user experience (UX), communication, design and strategy. In addition, he serves on the adjunct faculty at Madrid’s top-ranked IE Business School where he teach courses in design thinking, innovation and communication. His sketchnotes are often found online, and he believes chocolate chip cookies are one of the secrets to creativity.

© 2013