What’s With The Post-its?

Post-it notes  are as ubiquitous to Design Thinking workshops as whiteboards. But why?

Why not just the whiteboards, or flip charts, notepads, or Etch-a Sketch, or anything else we humans have been using for communication for millennia. While the stone tablets would be a fun challenge, sticky notes (of whatever brand you choose) have a few very important purposes.

  1. Democratization of Ideas:

    Ideas belong to everyone. CEOs, Managers, interns, VPs, staff, everyone. Sticky notes come in one size (or should for workshops) No one gets a bigger, better platform. No one has a special color, or better presentation method. Marker to square piece of paper, every idea side by side, some good, some ridiculous, some funny, some not quite possible, Some “wildly wonderful and why have we never thought of that?”

    Everyone has ideas and believe it or not a simple little square piece of sticky paper is responsible for sharing ideas from all sources so that they are weighted equally, anonymously, judged only for their merit and value and nothing else.

    There are no over-ruling sticky notes, none of higher pay scale, more importance, better job grade, better car, better dresser, more popular. Sticky notes are about ideas, and giving everyone a chance to voice theirs right alongside everyone else’s.

    I’ve seen SVPs humbled by the genuine interest and ideas of their staff – a great thing to see. I’ve also seen people threatened by the very same thing – long workshop that! But the sticky note serves its purpose either way. Yes, ideas can be shot down later, they can fall prey to office politics, budget maneuvers, misunderstanding, and more. But for the workshop, all ideas stand together and are judged only on value.

  2. No Group Think:

    Ever work with someone who is quiet? How about someone who loves to share their ideas with everyone? Without sticky notes, these personalities provide a very predictable cadence to your workshop. Some talkers, some watchers, even though every single person has worthwhile ideas.

    Some people are naturally persuasive, and even though they have the best intentions, can persuade people right out of innovation and all that messy stuff of new ideas and ways of doing things.  Sticky notes beg for participation from every single person. No matter how many workshops I run, I am always shocked by the brilliant ideas of the “quiet ones.” Thanks sticky notes!

  3. Easy to Write, Easy to Destroy:

    Remember that time in class you were called on for an important answer and things went, not well? So does everyone else. Sometimes you have an idea and 10 seconds later realize, “Oh no that would get someone seriously hurt, destroy the planet or invite other disaster!”

    Sometimes as soon as you write an idea you realize, maybe not. No harm. Sticky notes help workshop participants think fast. there’s no harm in listing ideas as fast as you possibly can and sometimes, you might want to not share one. Better to come up with as many ideas as possible during brainstorming and toss some, than have people embarrassed to share ideas for fear of that whole planet destruction thing.

  4. Easy to Move and Rearrange:

    While it may not be the case for all workshops, often there is a process, a lifecycle or journey discussed as part of workshops, and by the end of the day, hopefully a plan! Having movable thoughts and beautiful mental gems on paper is all the better when you can all agree on how to order them, which may not be as obvious during brainstorming.

  5. People Know What They’re For:

    It may sound strange, but sticky notes are familiar – to everyone and that helps set up your workshop.  There are no rules for use. When a person sits down with a stack of sticky notes and a marker in their vicinity, they understand they’re probably going to be participating in something. They also see they are going to be asked for participation, their opinion will matter, and today is not a time for them to sit back and read email or be distracted.

    They are in your workshop to play a part because they matter.

Who knew all that was going on with those weird little sticky notes! Not a bad tool for that cost less than $1 per pad. Plus, they are far easier to transport than flip boards and easier to read later than whiteboards.




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