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ROHDESIGN is the website of designer Mike Rohde, who writes on design, sketching, drawing, sketchnotes, technology, travel, cycling, books & coffee.
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The Long, Slow Overnight Sensation

Nathan Reading The Sketchnote Handbook

I'VE HAD A FEW PEOPLE TELL ME recently that they're pleased to see my "meteoric rise" or my "internet fame" increasing around The Sketchnote Handbook and The Sketchnote Typeface.

While I'm not sure about meteoric rising or internet famousness, I have been thinking about how I got where I am now and what wisdom I can share with you.

Here are 3 things that occurred to me.

1. Play the Long Game

I've found it important to think of your body of work with a long-term view. When I do things, I aim as much as I can to think about how a project or opportunity will impact me over the next many months or years.

By choosing to illustrate REWORK in 2009, my reputation as a book illustrator grew and afforded me opportunities to illustrate many more books. My track record as an illustrator helped me land The Sketchnote Handbook book offer. REWORK continues to provide opportunities for work four years later.

Case in point: REMOTE, the new book from 37signals coming October 29. Doing REWORK opened a door to create 71 more illustrations for the new book.

Questions to consider:

  • If I take this project, how will it impact my body of work?
  • What future clients will choose me, based on work I'm accepting now?
  • If a potential project pays well, but negatively impacts my reputation, is that really a long-term win?
  • How does this opportunity move me closer to my long-term goals?

2. Invest Success into New Opportunities

Investing one success into another opportunity is another valuable lesson I've learned. To write The Sketchnote Handbook, I created a typeface with Delve Withrington to make the book easier for me to produce. I then made the typeface available for sale. The book's success was invested in The Sketchnote Typeface, which has sold well and has appeared in several web and mobile applications already.

Questions to consider:

  • How can I take momentum, goodwill or ideas from one successful project and invest them in another opportunity?
  • Are there partnership opportunities I might consider to make a project investment a win-win for myself and someone else?
  • Who (potential customers, clients) might benefit from something I'm doing or have done, that could create a new opportunity?

3. Embrace & Invest in Community

I'm a proponent of building strong communities because I think they're healthy, rewarding and make people better people. I believe embracing and investing in communities brings opportunities to keep the long-term engine running.

In 2009, I started Sketchnote Army as a way to share the work of other sketchnoters because it was hard to see new work easily. Because of that investment in building a community, I created an opportunity to make friends with many sketchnoters.

When the time came to invite featured sketchnoters to be part of my book, the process was met with excitement. The 15 featured sketchnoters in The Sketchnote Handbook represent the community so well—there's a great blend of women and men from around the world in those 30 pages. Having the community also aided my collecting other sketchnotes for the rest of the book.

Questions to consider:

  • What kind of community do I wish existed?
  • Who else can help me kickstart this community?
  • Can I join a community to share my skills in, to help make it better?
  • How can I encourage others in my community?
  • What opportunities can be created with others in the community?

I've found these three elements critical to my own long-term successes and hope they can play a part in yours, too.


Here are a few resources that have helped me in these areas:

  • Die Empty - an excellent book by Todd Henry about getting your best work out and creating a consistent body of work.
  • Steal Like an Artist - A kickstart of a book by my friend Austin Kleon about taking the perspective of an artist, in whatever work you do.
  • Anything You Want - A great book on the value of slow, humane growth and doing things yourself by Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby.
  • Sell your by-products - An article by Jason Fried about taking what look like by-products to you and turning them into value for others.

This article also appeared on Medium.

Reader Comments (7)

Great lessons in paving your path to "overnight" sensation. I really like the "questions to consider" that you put in the post. Makes you think about each tidbit of wisdom, it even more. I have found thus far, thinking long term verses short term has been a big help. But also small victories everyday / along the way , eventually lead up to a large victory! :)

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOliver Asis

Thanks Oliver! I hoped those questions would be helpful - glad to hear they were good for you to ponder.

October 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

Can't agree with you more Mike.
BTW I am feeling there are less and less of sketchnotes posted on your site and Flicker lately. Would love to see more of them.

October 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNavin Harish

Thanks Navin!

You're right - not as much sketchnoting as illustration work lately - i'll have some illustration work to share soon, as well as sketchnotes.

October 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

Dear Mike:
Extremely valuable blog post for all who are looking for ideas leveraging their writing and publishing to business success. Tightly organized, detailed, and readable advice.

I especially appreciate the questions you suggest others ask themselves at each step.

Great job, (as usual), Mike.

October 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger C. Parker

Thanks Mike for this post. Valuable tips. Agree with the comment: "really like the "questions to consider" that you put in the post. Makes you think about each tidbit of wisdom, it even more".
I especially liked your tip n. 1 "Play the Long Game". I've been thinking lately about myself as 2 persons, the black and the white. The black is a short term goals person while the white one is long term oriented and has a noble nature. The black wins often. His main goals: sex, sleep, food, complaining, ecc. Your tip n.1 has given some inspiration to the white guy.
Also I'd like to add that I didn't know todd henry's book, thanks for sharing ;-)

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterluca

Thanks Roger!

October 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

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