It's easy to spend an entire day staring at a laptop screen filled with various software productivity tools. But when was the last time you stood in front of a whiteboard and got creative?
The ever-expanding mainstream adoption of digital and mobile devices has sparked an innovator's evolution, bringing to bear a ton of software to help business leaders be great at -- or at least appear great at -- a lot of diverse skills.
We've got artificially intelligent SaaS applications to help us build and sell our products, track our revenue, and even find and hire our talent. But there's one extremely powerful analog productivity booster that was made nearly expendable by the digital revolution, and then made nearly extinct by the shift to remote work.
Stay with me, because I'm going to make you respect the whiteboard again.
Create Design and Flow
Whether I'm designing new products, reengineering old processes, or planning out the next big company initiative, the ability to quickly draw, write, erase, and think out loud on a whiteboard is something I've never been able to reproduce digitally.
There's something about the tactile feel of a pen on a surface that opens up maximum creativity. Even the act of just standing, with or without other contributors in the room, shifts my paradigms in a way that sitting in front of pixels just can't.
I've even gone so far as to whiteboard out flow and design concepts, take a photo, and then convert my drawing from the photo into some flavor of digital document to hand off to engineering.
Visualize Complex Topics
Whiteboards are also an overlooked communication tool.
Once I started down that train of thought, I discovered that just bringing up the term "whiteboard" (not the verb, the noun) uncovered allies across a lot of different roles.
"I love a good whiteboard, Joe," said my friend and startup attorney Jeff Wolfe. "Part of my job is to make complex topics easy to understand. If I'm talking with a startup about entity formation or IP protection, it really helps to use a whiteboard to visualize risk management and asset protection strategies."
Making complex topics easy to understand is a huge part of the job for any business leader, whether that's developing new ideas, defining efficient multi-party processes, or even just explaining complex concepts to a team that might be hearing them for the first time.
Encourage Collaborative Ideation
But the most important role of any leadership team isn't managing the day-to-day tactical tasks, it's developing the longer-term strategic plan -- coming up with the right ideas to solve tough problems, for both the company and the customer.
When you're ideating or problem-solving, the whiteboard can be your documenter, your mediator, and even your guide.
"The whiteboard has the power to change the energy in the room," Wolfe said. "It accomplishes three things at once:
1) There's a natural break in the conversation -- and why meetings don't have more intentional time for reflection is another topic. (Author's note: I'm on it.)
2) If people are starting to drift out of the conversation, it draws everyone's focus back in.
3) It will usually signal or lead to a breakthrough moment in the meeting.
Remember, just because something can be done digitally, it doesn't mean it should. Don't let this relic of the 20th century go extinct. Return to the whiteboard, and let your creative side express itself in full, four-color glory.