The Story Economy Blog

On Ideas That Bubble and Not Paying Attention

car drawing 1My siblings and I have become detectives. Sleuths peering into heavy filing cabinets and cluttered garage corners.

We are searching for our dad’s military discharge form. Apparently, it is a piece of gold that no veteran is ever supposed to lose. And we’re sure it’s not lost. We just don’t know where it is. (But if we want to apply for veteran’s benefits for our dad’s care, we need to find it.)

We have found the file of Very Important Papers. Not there. The box of military pins and dog tags and European currency from the 1950s. Not there. Sigh.

Of course we want to find it so we can get this red tape rolling. But truthfully, I’ve had a ball searching, because every drawer has some sort of treasure. It’s an abundance of stories. A few days ago, I found all of his college notes, organized meticulously in file folders by subject. Naturally, I flipped to the literature ones. Instead of brilliant musings on John Donne, I found drawings of hot rod cars. Doodles of cars all over the page. Nice, dad. Way to appreciate 17th century poetry.

Actually, these car sketches are all over everything of his from his early years—in the margins of other stuff, and on pieces of torn scrap paper. There are even detailed hand-drawn schematics for ideas he had about building cars. I always knew my dad loved cars. But this outpouring . . . this doodling when he should have been paying attention to lectures . . . this focus here when logic dictated it should have been there: this feels familiar.

Perhaps because it’s my struggle, just with a different name.

A Doodling Soul

Logically, there are a dozens of things I should be writing about in this newsletter instead of what I discovered in my quest to find a missing DD-214 form. I should write more straightforward “service” posts about the things people hire me to do, like building your brand story, coming up with tag lines, writing your “about us” page, creating a voice for your web site copy, crafting your elevator pitch, and using stories in your presentations. After all, I pour all of the knowledge and skill I have regarding these things into my client work. I love doing it. And I’m pretty sure I’m good at it. So I should write about it.

Except I don’t want to. Not in this moment at least.

Some weeks, I open a Word doc, intending to write one thing, and these stories about my family and my experiences and my observations just come out instead. Like doodles of cars during the lecture.

I definitely believe that what you focus on grows. So, to grow your customer base, you need to focus on your customer needs. To get your story to spread, you need to focus on telling it. To bring people into your tribe, you need to focus on making connections. We can all see that, right?

So what do you do with a soul that wants to doodle?

I think the answer is actually simple: you give it a pencil and relieve it of the burden of should.

What looking at those drawings made me see is that there is difference between between diverting your focus because you’re not committed to something (or you hate it), and indulging a thing bubbling inside of you because you suspect is has everything to do with the thing you’re committed to and love. My dad loved learning. He knew how lucky he was to be able to go to college. Should he have paid more attention in lectures? Maybe. I don’t know. But I think doing those doodles of fast cars was just his way of articulating ideas like freedom and possibility. Things not unrelated to getting an education and growing up.

When I let my soul doodle and be free to explore ideas, it makes me so much better at my job. Painting pictures and telling stories keeps my work on a human scale—and without a space to dig into the nitty-gritty of storytelling, I might forget that it’s all about making connections with people.

So, in this business you love (because I am assuming you love your business: if you don’t, that’s a whole other discussion), between the list of what you should do and the list of what you’re pulled to do, what if you just let yourself be pulled? For an hour or a week or 10 minutes? What if you just indulged your doodling? Not because you’re lazy or procrastinating or looking for an escape, but because it will make you better and your company stronger.

The idea that I’m taking away this week—the idea that will make my business stronger—is the concept of abundance. I didn’t see junk in those file cabinets. I saw abundance. Abundance of story matter.Abundance of history. Abundance of life. That’s definitely an idea worth following.

What idea is waiting for you? You won’t know until you doodle.


  • Carolyn

    Posted by Carolyn on 04/17/13 2:35pm

    Thanks for another great article Judi! It's early morning as I read this, and although I have a long to-do list right in front of me, what I really want to do on this cold morning is get in a hot bath and read a book that has been beckoning me. Thanks for giving me permission to do just that! My to-do list can wait a little longer :)

    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 04/17/13 7:14pm

      Carolyn, I'm thrilled to have given permission! I truly believe that distraction (when used artfully) is an important part of being awesome at what you do!

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