What do you do when you’re grappling with a bunch of random ideas all at once? So many of our digital tools are linear: word processors, spreadsheets, etc. Sometimes you just need a wide open, unstructured space to capture thoughts as they come. Then you can start to see the connections between the ideas and how they naturally group together.
It’s hard to do this with a word processor.
This is where whiteboards come in handy. And digital whiteboards have the added advantage that you don’t have to erase anything to create more room or move things around.
Margaret Wheatley, in her book Leadership and the New Science, advises that when you don’t know what to do, keep adding more information until the pieces start to self-organize. Then you start to see how things fit together and what elements resonate with each other. Patterns and connections start to emerge.
Throw Sticky Notes on the (Virtual) Wall
With a digital whiteboard you have a virtually infinite canvas to throw ideas on the wall and see where they land. The beauty of these tools is that you can start with just random thoughts and capture them as they emerge.
But then you can start playing with them. You can rearrange those ideas in different ways. Often that, alone, is enough to generate more insights.
Let’s say you wake up one morning with an idea for a project. You grab a piece of paper and scribble down your initial ideas. Great! You’ve got it captured before the activity of the day pushes it out of your mind.
But those notes on that scrap of paper are pretty static. So you go to your computer and open up a digital whiteboard application and type in those ideas as sticky notes.
Later that day, you read an article that relates to your project and more ideas come to you. So you add those as sticky notes as well.
Organize Your Ideas
Maybe it’s important to keep track of where the ideas come from, so you give each set of sticky notes a distinct color. Later that day, you have coffee with a friend and more ideas emerge. So you add those to your whiteboard as well.
Pretty soon you start to see similarities between some of the ideas for your project. So you move those stickies together in groups on your whiteboard.
Themes start to emerge among your ideas, so you tag the sticky notes with different colored labels to show these themes. Now you see even more patterns.
Then you realize that one of those ideas is also strongly related to another idea in a different grouping. So you draw an arrow between them and write a note on the connecting line.
Convert Ideas into Action
Now your project is really starting to take shape. You realize there are things you can start doing now to move the project along: people to talk to, supplies to buy, and skills to learn. So you convert these sticky notes into tasks and give yourself a timeline for accomplishing them. Maybe there’s a website to research, so you create a task with a link to that site. And mark it done when you complete it.
Tap into the Creativity of Your Team
These are all ways that one individual can use a digital whiteboard to facilitate a creative process. Now, imagine using this tool as a team. Everyone has equal access to the board and can add their ideas to the pool.
When you get several people involved, the creativity goes way up and the energy really starts flowing. Now you have a way of capturing all those ideas. Some will be whacked-out, crazy ideas. Others will start clustering around themes or patterns. Maybe that crazy idea is related to one of these emerging clusters. Suddenly you find the seed to something really valuable.
By making all these ideas visible-and movable-your team can “see” what it’s thinking. You can then go through a process similar to the one outlined above to take that jumble of ideas and evolve it into a coherent project with actionable steps.