Leadership Tactic #42: Whiteyboard

For a while now, I’ve been trying to turn my bedroom wall into a whiteboard.

My original motivation for doing this was to help map out short stories. My short-story writing process usually involves brainstorming on a piece of paper for a while before writing the story. While pencil and paper are good for this process, I wanted a bigger canvas.

So for a while I seriously considered IdeaPaint. IdeaPaint turns your wall into a whiteboard. However, my walls are textured, and IdeaPaint adapts the texture of the wall it’s on.

Size does matter.

Then, just before Christmas, I learned about Whiteyboard. It’s basically whiteboard wallpaper that you can stick and unstick multiple times (although I don’t plan on moving mine unless I move). It’s inexpensive, and it comes in giant sizes. I opted for the 3 foot x 6 foot version.

Having lived with my Whiteyboard for a month now, I have to say that it is an indispensable part of my brainstorming process. Simply indispensable.

It doesn’t just make the brainstorming and idea development process easier–it literally makes your ideas better. With a giant Whiteyboard on your wall, any idea is fair game because you can erase it whenever you want. So you say yes to more ideas instead of rejecting some ideas outright. You can connect ideas that you may have never connected before. And nothing is all that precise on a whiteboard–while your handwriting is clear, you can’t draw a perfect diagram like that long-haired UPS commercial guy. Everything’s a little sloppy. But that’s what brainstorming is–you’re throwing a lot of undeveloped ideas against the wall to see which ones stick. If you start refining too soon, you’re not leaving room for tangential “ah ha!” moments later.

There’s a 7-minute TED talk that proves my point. The talk is about a constructive game challenge involving 20 sticks of spaghetti, 1 foot of tape, some string, and one big marshmallow. Each team gets a few minutes to construct the tallest possible tower that holds the marshmallow at top.

To spoil the talk, it turns out that little kids are way better at this game than MBA and law school students. Why? Because MBA and law school students spend a lot of their time planning how they’re going to build their tower, and then they build one version of it, place the marshmallow on top…and often it crashes on the spot.

Conversely, little kids put the marshmallow first. They build multiple prototypes, many of them sloppy structures that don’t make all that much sense. But they learn as they go because they actually experience how the marshmallow affects the rest of the structure instead of just hypothesizing like the MBA and law students do.

This is what I’m talking about with the Whiteyboard. When you’re brainstorming a big idea (or even a little idea), you’re not constructing a careful, precise plan. You’re all over the place, writing down random stuff that comes to mind and erasing and moving and drawing lines and diagrams and using different color markers. Your idea becomes a living, evolving thing instead of something that’s etched in stone.

I suspected that the Whiteyboard would help me brainstorm, but in truth, it’s far exceeded my expectations. It has freed my mind.

If you are a writer, a thinker, a designer, an artist, a dreamer, a parent, or just someone with a big gap on your wall, go buy a Whiteyboard. You’ll be amazed at what your mind creates.