Take 5 with Maki: Sunni Brown

Guest post from Jeff Maki

Sunni Brown is a person. She is a very creative and intelligent person often mistaken for an artist. What she really is is an entrepreneur, author and Revolutionary. She spends her time organizing people and projects so they can then disorganize and disrupt things later. She’s an expert visual thinker and she also writes books. Her last book, Gamestorming, changed lives. Well, it changed her life. Her next book, The Doodle Revolution, will change yours.


1. You’ve got a new book coming out called The Doodle Revolution. What is it about and what are you trying to overthrow?
I’ve noticed that I enjoy overthrowing things for overthrowing’s sake. There’s something very healthy about taking a concept or an idea and purposely dismantling it. So The Doodle Revolution is an intentional kick in society’s pants for disregarding a major element of human learning, which is our capacity to think visually. Through my work with people all over the world, it’s become clear that we’ve lost our capacity for visual literacy. The Revolution is about getting that back. And for the record, it is not a snipe at teachers who don’t allow doodling in the classroom. Teachers were raised like we all were – in a culture that, as a general rule, ignores the contribution and application of visual language.

2. One of my favorite things about my job is that I get to work with amazing artistic people, but I can’t draw worth a crap. Is doodling and visual recording for a guy like me?
Doodling, my dear, is particularly helpful for people who can’t draw worth a crap. Doodling is instinctive. It’s user-friendly. It’s practically free. And yet it unleashes cognitive powers that even Professor Xavier would envy. My message is that we’ve got to eliminate this notion that “drawing” requires some kind of precious, rare talent. It’s preposterous. Drawing and sketching are about knowing and understanding the world around us. And anyone with hands and eyes should have access to that. For that matter, so should people with no hands and eyes! I myself have questionable artistic talents and I don’t give a damn, because I use visual language to THINK, not to make something pretty (not that there’s anything wrong with pretty).

3. I understand you’re also really into gaming mechanics and how they can affect brands. There are a lot of 100-year-old brands out there that are still slow to accept that we’re in a new millennium. Any advice on giving them the nudge they need to get on board?
Uh, yeah, their ass is going to get kicked in the marketplace. Stagnant brands make me nuts because they’re missing something major, which is that embracing change is an inevitable part of organizational life. Imagine trying to tackle modern warfare with a bow-and-arrow. Maybe that would be okay for Encino Man. But today’s companies need (a) a willingness to be uncomfortable and (b) games. Visual thinking and innovation games give companies really powerful tools to rethink, redesign, revive and rescue what they’re good at, or shift their focus altogether to keep up with the young upstarts. Games support change without all the extraordinary time-wasting, politics and bad ideas that often suffocate what’s possible. Give me or my team two hours with an old-school firm and I guarantee a positive outcome through the game experience.

4. You’ve spoken at TED, were named one of Fast Company’s top 100 Creatives and somehow managed to snag this spot as Take 5 With Maki’s first interview. What’s left on the Bucket List?
I’m glad you asked! Bucket List next hits:
* Changing the definition of doodling in the Oxford English Dictionary.
* Producing a large-scale, interactive public art project for the Doodle Revolution with Rob Bliss of LipDub and Paper Airplane. (Here’s hoping we can get the City of Austin to work with us.)
* Making Bruce Mau my friend since we’re on the same Advisory Board.
* Learning to make soup, particularly pozole. Oh, and getting married. My fiancé would be offended if this didn’t make the list.

5. You grew up in east Texas. How east are we talkin’ and how did growing up there influence what you do today?
We are talkin’ far to the east. Huntsville, TX is about as close to Louisiana as you can get unless you’re in Newton, which I don’t count as a city because they don’t sell my favorite flip flops there. Growing up in Huntsville had very little influence on what I do now, actually. I credit Huntsville with giving me a healthy dose of country-ness (read: a strong constitution) but it could have only influenced my work today through its absence of creative mojo. No offense to Huntsvillians, but I left as soon as possible. I suppose I had too many things to overthrow in the city.

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