Caricaturing Economists

I was at the?Legg Mason Thought Leader Forum last week, talking about my research over recent years on?prediction markets.? It was good fun, but the real novelty was that as I was speaking – literally, in real time – there was a cartoonist next to the stage, cartooning my talk on a five-foot-wide poster.? I’ve never seen this before, but it was a real hit.

As a speaker, it can be hard to organize your own thoughts even when you know what is coming next.? And as an audience member, it can be harder still to sort out the key points a speaker makes from their conversational asides.? But the artist – Christopher Fuller who works for Sente Corporation– was just amazing.? He not only picked out the important analytic insights, but found an incredibly useful way to represent them, cartooning (or perhaps caricaturing) my message.

I think this is a great idea, and it will serve as a useful reminder to those who heard the talk.? And if you weren’t there, hopefully this cartoon gives you some sense of what I had to say.

Now if only I could get my MBA students to do the same thing, they would all have a wonderfully entertaining set of notes to study in advance of their exams.? I would love to see a study figuring out whether it helps them retain the material.? I bet it would.


I'll try this tonight in my chemistry II class lecture. Will let you know how it works.

Emmanuel Tillman

Saw a similar thing done to a Sir Ken Robinson talk. Very impressive. Hour talk boiled down to a picture in an 11 min video.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

Usually an Economist should be drawn with a LOT OF HANDS. 'One one hand...then on the other hand.....and on the OTHER hand....'

Their Pet mascot should be the OCTOPUS.

Their Favorite plant should be the HEDGE.

And their Favorite Movie Star Portrayal should be a Jittery Caffeinated Don Knotts


This is fairly common in the world of management consulting and facilitation. Pictorial representations of key messages from a talk or a discussion are far more apt to be retained by the audience long after. Every management consulting firm, worth its name, has methodologies and skilled practitioners who do this (I do too, as part of Wipro Consulting Services)!


There are several studies about how diagrammatic representations of ideas help learning, often using the specific term 'concept map'. There's been some support of its usefulness in medical education at least.


The RSA in Britain does something similar with lectures, and they are pretty amazing. They do animated drawings that accompany brief lectures (around 10 min.). Check out RSA Animate at

Eileen M Wyatt

What I'd love to know is how the cartoonists do this -- to fit a live talk onto the page elegantly in real time (and not have blank spots or omit key points) presumably requires knowing some techniques on how to organize information when there are still unknowns to come.


That would be an awesome profession. But it's also a really good way to transfer information in an interesting way. Get their attention with the colors and pictures and teach with the key points that had been recorded.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

I think this aptly illustrates the Dumbing Down of America. People want to read cartoons with ballon captions and colorful illustrations like a comic book. If you put it in a Science Journal Format, 99% of readers are turned off.

Unfortunately our children may read their school textbooks iand spend significantly more time with the material if it were in COMIC BOOK or even MANGA form. Blocky well written monotype paragraphs have the appeal of burnt toast to the net generation.

If this mini essay I wrote was in multiple colors, with cartoon heads, floating ballon text, and had Spiderman swinging between paragraphs, I am sure teens would read this and not frumpy, cappechino-drinking, depressed west side liberals. ;(


You appear to be saying that monotype blocks are inherently more virtuous but less effective than colorful graphics, and that we should use the more virtuous medium rather than the more effective one.

Eileen Wyatt

@DBD-DT, I would happily take up frumpiness if someone would bankroll my living on the Upper West Side with a really snazzy cappuccino maker.

What these cartoons provide that blocky monotype text does not is a vivid image of some of the concepts. Now, a good writer or speaker will tell stories that provide that sort of image in words -- but not all speakers or writers are very good, and not all listeners learn well from the printed or spoken word. If one wants people to "get" the concepts, there's something to be said for providing an initial exposure in an accessible format, so that when later, more traditional (or duller) presentations roll around, the ideas themselves are the lure.

To this day, I recall MAD magazine movie parodies better than reviews of the same movies (and in some cases, better than the actual movies): effective illustration is a very powerful tool.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

Facts come in all shapes and sizes. We are adults and do not need to have pre-chewed morsel-sized pieces regurgitated down our gullet. 99% of all writing is in plain monotonous non-illustrated monotype--Get Used to it! And we have to use our rarely used imagination to bring it to life.

Don't read the novel, War and Peace--, it's just words! Go get an abridged comic book or better yet, rent the movie from Netflicks. Don't read the Bible--until you get the comic book version from R. Crumb.

We have become a toothless society ready to attack the next idea with gums.


I am the graphic recorder who actually captured Mr. Wolfer's presentation at the Legg Mason Thought Leader Forum for Sente Corporation. First off, I just want to say thank you for featuring my work on your blog, and second... I apologize for the spelling errors. I am writing rather quickly and under a wee bit of stress. But seriously, it was a pleasure and privilege to listen to and illustrate your speech, I found it not only fascinating but very engaging and humorous.

Jay Smethurst

Wow, this is great to see! The Thought Leader Forum has been a great event for years, and it's been a privilege to contribute to it.

These illustrations cannot, of course, replace the original content - either spoken or written. But they can offer a synthesis and an enticing invitation to explore the content behind the drawings.

All of the content from previous TLF's are on their site. Here's another great economics talk by Brian Arthur from 2004:

Jay from Sente


I would also like to say that graphic recording is not a replacement for words alone or a more detailed synopsis. The same way a film does not replace a novel, the art and craft of graphic recording (or "scribing") is no substitute for the intricacy and nuance of the full presentation - it is just a distillation and synthesis (both visual and textual) of the key ideas and concepts from a speech or group dialogue. To take this out of context might make little sense for someone who did not attend the meeting, but for those who were there it is a visual reminder of the high level points and conclusions that were discussed. There is a reason for the saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words."


Chris Fuller is amazing. He has worked with the Value Web, too, to augment our graphic facilitators. Though one can find people who do this (see above NSK, Wipro), it makes a huge difference to have someone as experienced and capable as Chris capturing your content.


Right, just like RSA Animate. Not sure it enhances perception: the speed-drawing process is so fascinating it distracts from the content. Not a big deal when watching the videos since they are a pleasure to replay, but when you can't rewind the speech, distractions are unwelcome.

Then again, with someone as charismatic as Professor Wolfers in front of the audience's eyes, the cartoonist's efforts likely went unnoticed by many anyway.

Marc Fuller

I just wanted to say that Christopher Fuller is my brother! He's living proof that ignoring your teachers and doodling in class pays off in the long run.

Daniel Rose

I have often had graphic recorders capturing my presentations and I welcome the "distraction" that the recorders provide because it means that the audience is absorbing the content on more than one sensory level. The audience may not have eyes on me the whole time but at the end of the talk they've absorbed more information than if the graphic recorder wasn't there.

Tish J

I saw a video of a lecture on - interestingly enough - learning styles that had someone do exactly what you describe. What I thought was the most interesting aspect was how engaged I became in the lecture. By adding this visual depiction of the lecture, I listened more and paid more attention to the important points, which the artist captured quite cleverly. I would highly recommend hiring someone like this whenever you have to give an important talk and you want to be sure that the attendees really "get it"!