From doodling to deep self design with Sunni Brown

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This last episode is extra special for me. Sunni was the first doodler I ran into about 10 years ago and led me down this journey of graphic recording, doodling, and visual storytelling. In this final episode of Season 2, we dive deep into a spiritual level. Anyone that's mastered a certain craft eventually gets really deep. Enjoy the podcast!

Bio about Sunni Brown

Sunni founded the SB Ink creative consultancy over 12 years ago and she continues to grow and lead it. She is a best-selling author, global public speaker, expert meeting facilitator and Deep Self Design™ coach. She was named one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” and one of the “10 Most Creative People on Twitter” by Fast Company. Her team has designed and led hundreds of group experiences in diverse industries and she is a veteran public speaker, having delivered countless presentations and “playnotes” in environments around the world. Sunni is the best-selling author of Gamestorming and The Doodle Revolution and she leads a worldwide campaign advocating for multi-sensory learning and deploys those techniques to teach sought-after leadership skills like emotional intelligence, effective communication, unlearning, rapid innovation and group collaboration.

Episode Summary

In this episode, Sunni and I spoke about...

  • The Spiritual Side to Deep Self Design
  • EMDR Therapy
  • Zen, mindfulness, and connecting with yourself
  • The backwards steps

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Thank you for listening. Engage with me, join my community by texting (206) 279-6694

Date recorded August 13th, 2020
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This podcast was edited by Naya Moss and Namos Studio


Sunni Brown

Daniel Hoang: [00:00:00] Hey everyone and welcome to the final episode of season two. I am really excited because I'm going to cap off the end of season two, focusing with one of my original heroes, Sunni Brown. I found her through an article when I was looking at graphics. facilitation, graphic recording, and she had an article called The Miseducation of the Doodle and I got obsessed with it.

And I'm really happy to kind of focus on Sunni as my cap, because one, we're going to talk a little bit about doodling and graphic facilitation, of course, and that's kind of the bread and butter of what we're known for, but I really wanted to focus on the part where Sunni has become really about kind of getting to that deeper level.

And I don't know where this interview is going to go, but let's get into it. Well, I appreciate you one for taking a little time and, and to agreeing to somewhat get this recorded, I'd like to do a podcast because I think this conversation might be important to a lot of the listeners and really important to me.

And I would start with just first off, like, I think one, you are my hero. I think I would add you in my top five, most influential people. It started with reading The Miseducation of the Doodle. So the article back in 2011, A List Apart. Very old school. And I read the article, I sent you a note saying, Hey, I  think this is going to change my life.

And I think 10 years ago, we're almost 10 years ago. You wrote back saying welcome to the wacky world of doodling. And here I am 10 years later.

Sunni Brown: [00:01:34] I love this. I love this story. And of course I've noticed you over the years, but we haven't ever got to connect in a meaningful way. I keep myself really busy.

And I think that's one of my Achilles heels is that I can't, I'm not as available as I would like to be for people, but I noticed them and I pay attention and I see like, Oh, there are ups and stuff, but they don't know that I am doing that. And you're one of those

Daniel Hoang: [00:01:56] people that is amazing. Well, I just finished recording with Mike Rohde.

I did one with Tim may from XPLANE and a number of people. And everyone's like, okay, you got to figure out what's up with Sunni. We want to figure out what's going on with Sunni. And I'm going to end the season. This is I'm doing air quotes, season two for this podcast, and it's ending with you because we can talk about doodling.

And of course, and I think that's kind of your shtick, but what I really want to just get into as my I have a theory is that people as they go into any practice in your case, it could be doodling, graphic facilitation. Eventually you get to the point where you really, we get really deep in something. And I, what I suspect as you were starting to get really deep and very spiritual and kind of your practice.

Yeah, I want to say what's up. Like where are you going with deep self-designed.

Sunni Brown: [00:02:43] Oh, thanks for knowing that it exists because I did launch it in right when the pandemic hit. So March 26 was our first workshop and it's called the center for deep self design. And it was like a natural evolutionary process of, you know, being a graphic recorder, then a Game Stormer and a graphic facilitator.

And then also being human being and having my own. Frailties and vulnerabilities and challenges from early life and from not really knowing how to become present to my own self. And so that, so in the background, when I was doing like writing and speaking, getting all this stuff, I was doing a really intense, a lot of really intense therapy and also a lot of really intense Zen practice.

So I've been as in student for 13 years and that that's, that was like in the background. And then basically it became the foreground for me, cause it was a. Is more powerful and more transformative and more valuable than anything else that I do, but I needed it to be, I, you know, I'm a, an entrepreneur. So I was like, well, how do I make it valuable for others?

And it's still being defined, you know, but what's crazy. Daniel is that I had like on the website, it's a center for deep self-design. It was going to be a contemplative creative space for people to come and do all these great workshops, using all the tools that we all know and love. And then. COVID so

Daniel Hoang: [00:04:03] that is the theme for everything covered

Sunni Brown: [00:04:04] right now.

Like, boom, like yeah. Funny for your plans, kind of like that. So I've pivoted, you know, whatever

Daniel Hoang: [00:04:11] adaptive, let's talk about that a little bit, because I think I started my business in January, 2020, and then also COVID. Right? So a bunch of contracts that completely rethought everything. But my conversation with Mike Rohde at the end, we were talking about, you know, why do you sketch note?

Why do you write on paper? And there's something unique about touching something physical right now everyone's rushing to make everything digital forever, but I think that's not sustainable. I think eventually we do want to get back to feeling our bodies, feeling ourselves, being connected to everything.

And so he recommended a book I'm reading right now called revenge of the analog. And so I think your center is, is still like, I think it is. I hope you keep it up and I hope you're able to kind of keep it from running because eventually we want to get back to that. We're, we're connected in physical presence and not just always on the screen.

Sunni Brown: [00:04:58] Totally. And I think that when I entertain the ideas about it, like I was grateful for it, demand universe that everybody's stopped, what they're doing and focus and learn something. I don't like tumultuousness always has a lot of gifts in it, but yeah, I do intend and I'm like, For the love of Bob, please, can we have people come back together because that those, you know, facilitators were, were onsite and in like 3d and we like multisensory experiences and we'd like group dynamics and stuff, which, you know, I've been doing a lot of practice online, virtual facilitation practice, and there's still a lot of great stuff you can do.

But to your point, it's, it's a different experience. And I'm, I have definitely have aspirations for keeping the center available for people whenever we can be. Have a vaccine

Daniel Hoang: [00:05:43] or whatever, where are you? I am a physically located in Vashon Island right now. I split my time between Vashon Island in Washington state and Seattle Washington.

Sunni Brown: [00:05:54] That sounds amazing.

Daniel Hoang: [00:05:56] And so for the listeners behind my window here is I'm looking out literally into the forest. And so behind my backyard is the forest. And what's amazing was this work from home set up here is I'm up in a balcony here, but I can walk outside. Go on a walk and then just sit in the forest.

And I think the Japanese have this concept of the forest forest bathing. I have that book. Yes, it's incredible. So good. It's okay. Tell me about your Zen practice. Cause I did about a year of Zen practice. I stopped because the reason I, and then you and I were talking about therapy, like I went to therapy cause there were some deep underlying things I needed to work out first.

And I think I'm finally at the point where I'm ready to get back into it. Cause I think I kind of jumped the gun right for where I went straight to Zen. And it was just, I hadn't fixed all the things or that were not working for me. Yeah.

Sunni Brown: [00:06:42] That's a really interesting experience that you had because that's not uncommon, like when you, when you, cause when you get still, which is in the center of the core of them, at least.

So it doesn't, it is Zen, which is sitting still and seeing, witnessing your own mind. And that can be very disruptive and it's, that's why most people avoid it. Like the plague. I don't want to know. All that stuff. So it's really interesting that you, that you first it's entered that way and then recognized there was other different kind of work do you need to do?

Because in our Zendo in Austin, it was founded by a clinical psychologist and a professor of rhetoric. So our meditation practice was infused with therapeutic practices. So when you would be connected with like really difficult content, there was, they were. Training us in how to meet that therapeutically.

So it was very safe in that way, but I could definitely see it being not safe and really disruptive and difficult. So that's amazing. So, but did you, was there anything you liked about it that made you think that you would go back?

Daniel Hoang: [00:07:42] I initially started with Zen as just a, I was trying to find the magic pill in life.

Right. And then I needed to find air quote, mindfulness. I needed to connect with myself. And as I was doing it, it was great. It was fantastic. It was a great practice in a really great group of here up in Seattle. But I was sitting, I could not get myself to focus and getting really, really personal through therapy.

I discovered I had some hidden trauma from my past that I didn't even wasn't even aware of. And so it caused an enormous amount of anxiety that just kept ruminating over there. Absolutely. Now I'm finally at the point where I finally got it, that quiet and silence down. And so, which is amazing for just to be completely transformative.

Like I went from just in a complete state of anxiety to now finding can that piece. And now I'm excited to pick up that practice again. Cause I feel like now I can actually begin.

Sunni Brown: [00:08:30] Wow. Well, do you know, what, what kind of modality your therapist uses?

Daniel Hoang: [00:08:34] I did. I did. It's called EDMR. Uh, yes. So

Sunni Brown: [00:08:38] you actually were doing trauma.

Yeah. Cause I've, I've had that too. I had nightmares for like 15 years, like hardcore, crazy, terrifying nightmares. And I, the two sessions of EMDR and I have, I haven't had a nightmare. And so it's like weird, cause you just live with it. You think it's like normal and then you're, and then you realize that it's not normal and you don't have to live with it and there's treatment for that.

And like, like I swear by it,

Daniel Hoang: [00:09:03] you know, this conversation starts with about doodling and a lot of people are probably coming to my podcast around my visual practice. And this is, and this is where my hypothesis is going, is like, I think. As you get into a certain practice, you get really deep into any practice that you're doing.

It could be weather visual, it could be construction. It could be  you get to the point where it becomes very variable, spiritual. And I think the Japanese really got this down. Right. They, they, they picked something and they get really, really deep into it. Yeah. And for the listeners, I think for me, like, I am just a big proponent of therapy.

I did EDMR, which I can't pronounce it anymore. It's like good movement EMDR.

Sunni Brown: [00:09:40] Yeah. It's an awkward acronym.

Daniel Hoang: [00:09:42] It is a very awkward, but yeah. And I think like when you actually work on yourself, you can now change the world. And I have always just been, I could run around, I used to run around just criticizing people.

You're new doing this wrong, you're doing this wrong. You're doing this wrong. And when I finally stopped and I said, What am I doing? Like how, how am I entering the world? How am I entering this space? How am I going to work on myself first? What's one thing that's trying to work.

Sunni Brown: [00:10:06] Yeah. We call it pulled out the backward step.

So it's like, cause what we all do is sort of impulsively run around just living out our invisible conditioning and we're not, we don't even pause it to look at it. So when it ends, then you take the backwards step, meaning that you asked yourself those questions, like, wait, what, what am I contributing to this situation?

And that exploration is, is so powerful and so liberating. Sexually really liberating because then you get choice about how you conduct yourself and that from that place, you can be more impactful anyway, you know?

Daniel Hoang: [00:10:37] So, so you, you have this physical place it's over in Austin. It's an extra center. It looks like a really old house or,

Sunni Brown: [00:10:44] Oh, it's a hundred years old.

Daniel Hoang: [00:10:45] That's incredible.

Sunni Brown: [00:10:47] Yeah, it turned a hundred this year. I know it has such good Juju if you will. And it's like, it was, it was fascinating to like, I remember Daniel, I have bought a bunch of furniture for the training spaces and stuff. At one point I said to my husband, I said, wouldn't it be funny if I buy all this furniture and like something happens and we don't.

Get to use it. And it's like, I don't even think of things like that. I'm not like a catastrophizer a lot. And I said that and a just it's like sitting down there in the basement and, you know, wrapped in plastic and unused, ready to have somebody. And it's, you know,

Daniel Hoang: [00:11:22] worst case possible scenario actually happened though.

One in a hundred year event happened. The exact year that you decided to open this up.

Sunni Brown: [00:11:29] Unbelievable. You know, what's crazy though. I started my last business in 2008 during boom or burst. So I was like, Oh, clearly I have phenomenal timing with my, with my business ventures.

Daniel Hoang: [00:11:41] So one of the business partners I'm working with right now, we're doing a partnership on a project and she started her business and she was diagnosed with cancer.

And so she said, you know, Daniel is like, this is the same kind of thing. Like you're going through some horror, horrific moments. Worked throwing you're the recovered you get through it. And I think she just has enough experience in life that she's like, you know, these little things are blips. Yeah. When we look at the long game.

And so I hope this is going through it for both of us.

Sunni Brown: [00:12:08] So you're, how has it been for you starting? You said you started in January.

Daniel Hoang: [00:12:12] So in January, I think I did my first official graphic facilitation project on my own, under my own umbrella, not part of another company. So, and I think this is where you and I connected back and said, Hey, I just want to thank you.

Like you inspired me so much. I finally get to a point where I'm doing it. And then I'm shifting around a little bit playing around with different partnerships and for the most part, just trying to find ways to pay the bill right at this point, at this point in COVID now, whatever it takes readily, just, I just need to get through this and eventually get back into some swarm of normalcy again.

But as, as we're saying to wrap of this podcast, what I'd like to learn and dig a little bit further is a deep self design. What is it? You're writing a book. And really what I'm, I guess, Leslie, about book promotions and your business promotion, but more about how did you, why did you go down this path?

Like what, what took you down this path? You went from she's the visual alphabet person. Games during some, you know, it's a very, like, this is a very scratch the surface stuff. And now you are completely into a spiritual zone.

Sunni Brown: [00:13:11] Yeah. I think that the common thread is that I've always liked tools and methods and practices that help you inquire into the world.

So, so, so w it was natural for me to like, get interested in visual thinking, cause it's an exploratory process. And then game storming is like a really robust multisensory, exploratory process. And so it was it's, it sounds silly to compare like Zen practice or some kind of internal family systems is my therapeutic training.

But they're all tools for inquiry. And so you can inquire externally or you can acquire internally. So for me, it was a natural pivot, like, Oh, I love to explore. I always have curiosity. So it's just a question of where you're putting that spotlight of your awareness. And I put it internally because I need it for life so I could survive life and, and do it differently.

And so it was, it was, it was a surprise. That I turned in that direction, but it also made a lot of sense. Given the circumstances, I think entrepreneurs often have a fall apart moments, you know, I'm pretty confident it's like not too scary or anything, but it's an intense way of being. So that was one contributing factor, but all inspired by people that I knew that had some kind of wisdom and some kind of compassion that was available to them.

And I was really curious about how did they develop that? How did they cultivate that? You know, like this culture is not particularly focused on compassion or care for others. And I am, you know, so it was like a confluence of variables.

Daniel Hoang: [00:14:44] The reason I'm interested in talking to you. Cause I am heading down in that exact path because graphic facilitation, graphic recording for me, like that's just the wacky stuff that someone runs up and like, Oh, I want to buy that.

I don't know why I'm buying that, but just looks interesting. Can you come make my meeting more interesting? But as I get into that meeting, when I'm realizing as impact is less than one, the visual, but it's connecting with people in there and then working on stuff that they didn't know, they had problems.

Yeah. And really diving into organizational therapy, getting people work together to talk together a little bit more, and it just changes the work. And eventually, you know, when George Foley hit earlier this year, I completely did a complete pivot. I was like, Oh my gosh, okay. This is now the intersection.

This is almost a moment in time. Where we can rise up and do something even greater and better, right. We really needed to start changing the society completely. Right.

Sunni Brown: [00:15:33] And that's why that's the benefit of tragedy is that it forces people to ask questions and to do things that they would never have done before.

And it makes people uncomfortable. And that, that is how things change. You know, when everything's fine, everybody kind of walks around asleep and just eats muffins and watches, binge watches, TV, or whatever, you know? So when the unfortunately humans are, we are, we're motivated to change when something breaks down and that's the gift of the breaking down.

You know, even though nobody wants it, it actually can be really good.

Daniel Hoang: [00:16:05] And so for me, I think at this moment in time is more, probably one of the greatest transitions, I think, in our history, right. That might be too bold of a statement, but I think we are at some sort of inflection point within our society and trying to figure out where, who we are, we're trying to grow up.

You know, we're only 400 years. And we're trying to grow up and figure out, you know, who are we as a country and what we're going to become. And I'm really excited because I think I want to get into this work. Right. You know, what you're doing is really transformative getting out of just this divisive, horrific attacking, it's just immature, right?

Yeah. You start maturing society, the word. Exactly. Yeah. And I'd like to just get to the point where I think we are now transcending above ourselves. And it's hard for me personally, it was just working on myself. If I can work on myself, if I can transcend myself beyond just this automaton of running around reacting to things and being a part of the entire system now like connecting myself a little bit deeper.

That's the work I want to do. That's where I want to eventually head.

Sunni Brown: [00:17:04] Well, that's beautiful that you know that, and you're really clear about that because I think for, cause for that road, getting there for me was like a longer process. Like I was doing visual thinking and game storming for 12 years and then eventually started my other business.

But for you, you may deep dive into that faster than you think, because to your point, it's like time, it's a time and a space for that. But also you're you seem to have a passion for it. So it will find you when, as you express that it will start to the road will start to rise to meet you in that way.

Daniel Hoang: [00:17:33] It's incredible people like yourself. Who've made this long, tough journey ahead and inspired people like me and saying, Hey, like, you know, maybe I can just skip several steps and go straight to work. Just studies there. I've got to run there and get there sooner. Like why, why wait, why go through all these steps?

Cause I want to get.

Sunni Brown: [00:17:49] Yeah, totally. And like you can, and that's like, that's completely available and possible for you. So that'll be really interesting how you, how you pivot and how you adapt it to what you have learned and how you make yourself useful in that way. So that's another thing we can totally ideate about I'm offline.

Cause that's what I said to you on LinkedIn. And I was like, I want to support you. I don't know how, but I w I would like to in some way. Yeah. So I'm so glad that you are so clear. About that you care about that.

Daniel Hoang: [00:18:15] And I think that, you know, the lesson learned for everyone listening here is what I've learned in life is just being clear with your intentions, being clear with what you want.

And when you know that, then you can start pursuing that. So, Sonny, I just want, I wanted to thank you for helping me close out this incredible season. You are really kind of really getting this entire thing all wrapped together. Because for the most part, most of my podcasts have been just around the more surface level stuff, the fancy graphics, the sketch, noting the things that look very fancy.

But I think as I approach into the next season, as I approach into the next phase of my business in life, I really want to start getting deep. And do

Sunni Brown: [00:18:50] you know who you should talk to next is God. What is her name? I love her so much. She has taken graphic facilitation in a very

Daniel Hoang: [00:18:57] deep way. Kelby? Yes.

Generative ascribing. That's right.

Sunni Brown: [00:19:02] Oh, so you've already talked to her.

Daniel Hoang: [00:19:04] I have her book. Can I read the book and yeah.

Sunni Brown: [00:19:07] Oh, awesome. And also Patty Dover Wolski because I do think to your point in which you've been illustrating is like, when, when you go into some maths level of mastery or craftsmanship, craftspersonship you do the depth of practice that, and it kind of takes you on a journey.

And so there are many people that have experienced that through this portal of this doorway of visual thinking, like it surprises you, it doesn't go where you think it's going to go all the time, but it definitely has depth.

Daniel Hoang: [00:19:35] Well, sweet. I'm going to end the podcast here, but I want to talk to you the offline side of it.

Cause I think that's, that's where we'll do some secret meeting on this assignment. All right, everyone. That is a wrap. I've been really excited to get the season out because it has a range of incredible people. I really enjoyed talking to Pam, my friend book publisher, and just all around, just a really good person.

Who's been a supporter with this business throughout my journey. I talked to Tim may from Xplain and really learned a lot. I really enjoyed that conversation. Those are only nice to catch up. My brother, he's really busy. We're busy. We never get to catch up. The last time I met with him, he was traveling and he ended up meeting over France.

Cause that was the only way we had got together. And so I felt like it was really hard to keep in touch, but creating a podcast is a way to stay in touch. I enjoyed and really, really enjoy talking to Mike Rohde and learned a lot from him. And he's just all around. Just a really cool down to earth pie.

Normal guy who has been wildly successful in this Sketchnoting world. And of course, I ended this episode with some really good, I called my mentor friend and someone I've just been following for a long time. Sonny Brown. He was incredibly awesome. I apologize for the audio quality as we were doing the recording as remote did.

No, we were all running around and it was late in the and noon, but it was an incredible conversation. And I hope you enjoyed that conversation. The whole theme of season two is really bringing people who are change makers, people who can help make sense of things. And as I come in at season three, I'm starting to graft what that toy story, where it looks like, and I'm drafting.

How do we really start making sense of the world 2020 become a complete nightmare? How do we turn it around and how do we make it into the dream that we want it to be? And I'm going to list you, my listeners. I'm going to list all the experts I'm bringing on the show and challenging myself for us to come out there and tell the story we want to hear.

So again, subscribe, give me a, like, join me on social media. Reach out, ask questions. I'd love to have you even on the show. So if you're interested in joining for season three, I'm trying to get as many voices as possible and doing a little bit more narration work. And so it'd be really awesome to have you on the show.

Thanks for listening.

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