Wednesday, June 25, 2014


The Power of Giant Sticky Notes

This week I had one of the more satisfying creative experiences I’ve had in a while.  It involved about a half dozen people and a few giant sticky notes.

No, I’m not setting up a punchline.

Without revealing too much, I’ll say that several of us from different functional areas are up against a shared -- and short -- deadline.  We had to come up with a relatively detailed plan in a short time.

We had done some preliminary discussions over email, and some subsets of the group had met previously.  But this was the first time the entire group was in the same room at the same time.

We put two giant sticky notes -- maybe two feet high and a foot-and-a-half wide -- on the wall, and drew a very basic chart.  (My handwriting has been described as “distinctive,” so I can’t take credit for that piece.)  We were all standing, probably nobody more than four or five feet from the wall.  Knowing we were under time pressure, and knowing that we had a common interest in getting this done well, we were all constructive.  Each suggestion built upon, refined, or improved upon something that was already there.  As happens in the best conversations, people actually put aside their own suggestions when a better idea came along.

It was one of those wonderful cases in which somebody’s suggestion would either trigger a thought in someone else, or solve a dilemma in which someone else had been trapped.

The particular case is all well and good, but I’ve been thinking about how to generate more moments like that.

Some of the elements are at least partially external.  There was a tight, non-negotiable deadline that was out of our control.  The stakes were significant.  The problem was real.  

But others were internal.  The size of the group was big enough to generate worthwhile exchanges, but small enough that everybody could stand within a few feet of the sticky notes.  It wasn’t the usual mix of people.  A couple were my direct reports, but others were not.  One was from a university in another state.  This was not an established group with well-worn grooves.  It had some rapport, and a healthy sense of mutual trust, but had never worked as a single unit before.  

Since there wasn’t much choice but to get right to it, we did.  We’re not done yet, but the progress on a great idea in a short time has been amazing.

The Boy figured out a while ago that he’s most effective as a pitcher when he doesn’t always throw the same pitch.  Follow something fast with something slow, then change locations, and each pitch will be more effective than it otherwise would have been.  The contrast is the key.

I’m thinking there may have been a similar lesson here.  Mixing the membership, changing the format, and replacing the usual protocol with standing in front of sticky notes energized the interaction.  If that became the new normal, it would lose its effectiveness; sticky notes can become as hackneyed as anything else.  But as a change of speeds, it worked wonders.

Wise and worldly readers, have you found equivalents of the giant sticky notes?

What you are describing sounds like a performance improvement project in the planning or process analysis (Kaizen or Rapid Improvement event).

In a single work group, team huddles and visual boards to manage process improvement would serve a similar purpose:;_ylt=Ao6hAvEZ7fJaMuIvlaUFuRabvZx4?p=team+huddle+youtube&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8&fr=yfp-t-411
My first reaction was that the group size was essential. Larger ones sit around a table and can't deal with continuous interaction, while smaller ones run out of novel ideas. We've used that size (and truly mixed groups) in some effective college planning operations.

You don't want 5 or 6 friendly colleagues together who were all hired within a few years of one another, or any obvious hierarchy.

I have come to believe that standing is REALLY important. That was how we operated in various research groups while brainstorming. The only time someone would be seated was if we had a designated note taker. Standing adds a sense of urgency to the process and makes non-verbal cues more effective. I think the brain works better, too.

Only thing I would suggest is using white boards with different pen colors and then document it with phone photos, but those big presentation sheets work OK. Plus is that they are a permanent record, minus is that you can't erase something to revise it.

PS - Too bad it is a bit late to suggest that TB watch the college world series for the times when they have a live "K zone". Lots of great examples this week of mixing pitches and location in an effective sequence.
Unrelated? Comment: This sounds like it could be related to the interstate outcomes assessment project I read about today. Saw your college on the list along with some of your neighbors.

Whether it is or not, kudos to you and your college for getting involved in that project. The potential for post-transfer outcomes assessment is really interesting to me.
While my experience in HE has primarily been in traditional round table meetings that crush any creativity or innovation. Less about interaction and more about assigning tasks for something that may or may not have been well planned or conceived.
My previous career was in online entrepreneurship and we would occasionally have meetings to broaden our business base or creatively address issues we had noticed. The key to these meetings was to vary the format (i.e. some were the big sticky note format, some were small work groups, etc.). One of my favorite projects involved a general brainstorming (about 40 people) throwing out ideas or solutions to a problem we had. At the end of this we voted on the best 4 and then broke into 4 groups to explore the ideas and come up with working models.
I also agree that getting up out of the chair and moving helps. I hope to one day be in a position where I can implement creative meetings to help improve processes. I hope it works well for you.
I have found that the sticky note method works well for organizing complex presentations for 1 or 2 people. Use normal sized stickies on a blank wall, one idea per note. it makes it easy to move ideas around at early stages of writing/preparing.
Standing at a blackboard equipped with one or more) of those foot-long erasers (lame notions disappear fast!)was my brainbstorming method of choice. Dry-erase markers and whiteboards not really the same--maybe because of fiddling with the caps?
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?