Squirrel Spotting: Whiteboarding—A Love Affair
Peter Smith shares how a whiteboard can transform a team.
I’m not embarrassed to say that working remotely during COVID made life just a little less interesting, absent the entire wall of whiteboards that graced my office.
I meet fellow whiteboarding addicts from time to time and the discovery that there are more of us out there usually elicits knowing smiles and a mutual desire to investigate what about whiteboarding each of us finds most interesting.
At its core, whiteboarding can be a microcosm of who we are as leaders, managers, and influencers.
The benefits of comprehensive and inclusive whiteboarding touches on many of the central elements of business, and the effects of a great whiteboarding session can be transformative.
For starters, whiteboard sessions underscore two of my favorite mantras: “control the controllable” and “focus on the big rocks.”
Even the biggest whiteboard offers finite space, so the exercise demands a hierarchy of priorities. It mandates that we start with the “big rocks,” before descending through the less obvious, but occasionally informative, data points.
A second aspect of whiteboarding is the opportunity to lay out the facts in a very visual way.
To quote late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
Having the facts and data on the whiteboard provides both a hierarchy of importance and, one of the best deliverables of whiteboarding, an opportunity to make visual connections in a way that is not always apparent when pouring through digital data.
In Dr. A. K. Pradeep’s book, “The Buying Brain, Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind,” he wrote: “Your brain collects data from the visual cortex, processing what each of your eyes are seeing, turning that information into three-dimensional, stereoscopic imagery and simultaneously matching that with data streams flooding forth from the auditory, olfactory, and tactile centers.”
Whiteboarding, quite literally, engages a different area of our brains and facilitates a processing of both the data and the aesthetics in a neurologically different way.
Neuroscience research, in fact, has shown that visual processing accounts for 50 percent of what our brain does at any given moment.
Whiteboarding is also a great team-building exercise. Having the right people (three to four is probably best) involved in the process facilitates a level of cognitive, emotional, and physical activity not typically present in PowerPoint presentations or other less collaborative exercises.
The act of having different people physically approach the board, make notes and suggestions, point out data points and connections, and ask probing questions is a fabulous way to engage a small team.
One of my favorite questions to ask the team while whiteboarding is, “If a year from now, this hasn’t worked, why might that be?” Or, better yet, “Tell me why this won’t work.”
The end result will always be better for challenging assumptions, and healthy debate should be strongly encouraged.
In Ray Dalio’s “Principles,” he wrote, “Thoughtful disagreement is not a battle; its goal is not to convince the other party that he or she is wrong, and you are right, but to find out what is true and what to do about it.
“It must also be nonhierarchical, because in an idea meritocracy communication doesn’t just flow unquestioned from the top down. Criticisms must also come from the bottom up.”
Inviting devil’s advocacy shows respect for your team. It says that you are not looking to be the smartest guy in the room. It is also a good way to challenge inherent biases, especially from the most senior people.
In “The Wisest One in the Room,” authors Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross wrote, “It continues to be a wise practice to assign someone the role of devil’s advocate, but it is not as widely used as it needs to be.”
A culture that demands devil’s advocacy is also a great way to avoid groupthink, a particularly insidious practice when otherwise smart people align with bad decision-making, with potentially terrible consequences.
In the coming weeks and months, I look forward to consulting with vendors and retailers. I’m also excited about doing some in-store sales training based on my last book, “The Sales Minute.”
I’m looking forward to the variety of projects that working with different companies can bring but, mostly, I can’t wait to meet your whiteboard.
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