Once upon a time, we all worked a little scared.

You faced termination if abusing a start time or extending a lunch. You had to call in sick to attend a kid’s afterschool play. Goofing off was a taboo byproduct; restricted to smoking breaks or holiday parties.

Now, however, work-life balance is typically encouraged, more people work in offices than stores, let alone in mines, fields, or factories. And few of us office workers have ever encountered a workday that didn’t include egregiously surfing the Internet, mindlessly clicking hours away.

Oh, sure, we’re occasionally busy, and we complain about that on Facebook. But that badge of honor isn’t quite the solemn talisman it used to be. Instead, it’s largely a hopeless effort to respond quickly to device and software stimuli. In fact, some of us toiling in cubes or offices perhaps long for the days of a tougher, less fanciful, less connected  workday. Some of us probably doodle or scribble in occasional attempts to productively plan or even reduce computer screen fatigue. Well, they’ve noticed.

From the Wall Street Journal and via Gawker, firms now encourage employees to doodle, scribble, and generally mark everything up in effort to boost creativity and thinking. Forget doing your job, just explore your inner horse whisperer or whatever.

Firms are holding training sessions to teach employees the basics of what’s known as visual note taking. Others, like vacation-rental company HomeAway Inc. and retailer Zappos, are hiring graphic recorders, consultants who sketch what is discussed at meetings and conferences, cartoon-style, to keep employees engaged.

Are they trying to include your mindless notes as attempt to spy on you further? Or do they need yet another source of psychoanalysis? Better yet, they probably just need more output from your stupid cube, so start using that doodling energy for good, jerk.

Doodling proponents say it can help generate ideas, fuel collaboration and simplify communication. It can be especially helpful among global colleagues who don’t share a common first language. Putting pen to paper also is seen as an antidote to the pervasiveness of digital culture, getting workers to look up from their devices. And studies show it can help workers retain more information

I’m not one to disparage encouragement of creativity on the job. But – who ever needed an extra push to use scratch paper? Or white boards? Doodling just seems, well, silly. And doodling is fine. It should stop at that. Like wearing khakis, or using an umbrella, or replying with a signature, it’s not required nor desirable. It simply is.

Not anymore. Now it’s proof of your corporate prowess in bizarre, backward attempt to motivate your production. Like all things silly, consultants have exploited employers’ (and employees’) desires to detach from flatscreen and scribble happy fun frowny faces, and learn that nervous energy could actually be used for good.

And once again, I’ve found a racket I should have gotten in on. Sixth-grade John got sent to the principal’s office for repeatedly doodling on folders, notepaper, and shoes. The Cubs logo didn’t scare them, the Metallica etching did. And now here we are – doodling isn’t a waste of time, nor sign of a corrupted mind, it’s a sign of genius.

For now. It will run its course. After all, nothing takes the fun out of a mindless activity than attaching it to a productivity seminar. Once you emerge from two days of teambuilding, you’ll have no time for doodling because of all those emails that piled up! I guess that’s a minor problem.

By the way, the Greatest Generation now hates us even more.

  • Firms Push Visual Note-taking [Wall Street Journal]
  • Adults Are Children Now, Bosses Have to Let Them Draw All Over Everything [Gawker]

(By the way, I used Paper by 53 for the sketches. And yes, I’m for-hire as a Doodle Consultant.)