Two years ago, Jason Barron decided to go back to college to get a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). But rather than write voluminous notes in notebooks or in digital documents like most of us would, he drew visual notes – sketchnotes – to maximize his knowledge retention and understanding.
This approach worked so well that Jason has decided to share his sketchnotes with us, in the form of a book. He’s now conducting a KickStarter campaign to cover the cost of publishing the The Visual MBA. I was so fascinated by this idea that I reached out to him to learn more in an email interview.
Chuck Frey: When you went back to school to get your MBA, what made you decide to take visual notes?
Jason Barron: I discovered the sketchnotes concept from a friend of mine a few years ago. Since then I’ve created sketchnotes for several meetings and even created sketchnotes for a few books I’ve read to help me remember the concepts. When I started my MBA I had the idea of sketchnoting the entire program but thought it was crazy. I decided to try it and now here we are two years later and they are all done! It was crazy… but I am so glad I did it.
Frey: Had you done drawing or doodling prior to this? Your drawings look pretty professional!
Barron: Thank you, Chuck! I’ve always been doing some type of art or design. I took drawing classes as a kid at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), art through high school, and some drawing classes in college. With that said, I believe anyone can do sketchnotes regardless of artistic ability! Mike Rohde wrote a fantastic book called The Sketchnote Handbook that reinforces this idea and teaches anyone how to do it.
Frey: Who inspired you as you develop your personal drawing or doodling style?
Barron: Ryan Woodward is an incredible artist and he certainly inspired me. I took two drawing classes from him in college and love his expressive yet precise style.
Frey: How did you decide what to doodle? Did you take regular hand-written notes in class and then produce sketchnotes that distilled the knowledge later, after the lecture? Or were these drawings actually produced DURING the classes?
Barron: I decided to doodle what stood out most to me during the lectures. At first I tried capturing written notes and drawing them later, but then just went straight to drawing all my notes during class. Sometimes I would draw additional notes later from readings or as I understood concepts in greater depth. Drawing during class helped me stay engaged and deconstruct the complex ideas visually.
Barron: Yes, especially for specific frameworks. The way I did this was to number a concept and then include the reference in the back of the book so people could see where it came from and dive deeper.
Frey: How did your sketchnotes help you when it came time to write exams and papers?
Barron: Exams were so detailed many times that the most efficient way was to refer back to examples or problems from the readings. It would have been difficult to capture everything needed in any notes (sketched or written). I used the sketchnotes to capture the main concepts and big takeaways which was so helpful when pulling learnings from a previous class and applying them to new contexts in other classes. This was also perfect when at the end of the program I had to write about my learnings and reference concepts from the various classes over the 2 years. Having my sketchnotes made this a breeze.
Frey: In your opinion, what is the advantage of drawing your notes versus the traditional technique of hand writing them in words?
Barron: Most people take written notes and never look at them again. Drawing notes creates greater engagement during class and greater recall and utility afterwards.
Frey: Now you’ve decided to take your sketchnotes and publish them as a book, funded via KickStarter. What made you decide to do that?
Barron: My classmates kept asking for a copy and I figured it was unique and crazy enough that other people might want them too.
Frey: How has the response been from your network and from the KickStarter community to thjs project?
Barron: Surprisingly well! In one day there is over 50% backing towards my goal and still 26 days to go. Kickstarter also added it to their coveted “Projects we love” designation (Editor’s note: With 24 days to go, this crowdsourcing campaign has already exceeded its goal!)
Frey: Very cool! Assuming this Visual MBA book is a success, what’s next for you?
Barron: Spend some much needed time with my wife and five children and then take on the next creative project!
Frey: What have you been able to accomplish with your new MBA?
Barron: I learned things throughout the program that I was able to apply in my job right away. If I were to sum it all up, it has enabled me to make better decisions both at work and at home.
Frey: Where can my readers learn more about the Visual MBA project?
I think this is a very cool project that deserves your support!