I’m hardly a savant when it comes to navigating the red tape and workflows and processes inside even a small company, but there is one thing I’ve turned to over and over again in my career that’s taken a dozen projects from total standstill to meaningful progress.
The idea is pretty simple: soon after you start brainstorming something, don’t wait very long before you put it on paper.
Or on a screen. Or in a doc. Or on a whiteboard. Or a napkin.
Whatever medium you choose, put it in a form where everyone can look at the same thing.
Ideas are abstract. Which means that when a group of people talk about an idea, each person around the table will try to take this thing we’re discussing with spoken words and imagine what it would look like in reality. We create a mental image of the idea. But we all have different brains and perspectives, so the idea in my head is almost always going to be at least a little different from yours. And yours will be different from the CEO’s. And the CEO’s from the support team’s.
A meeting – or many more meetings – may even end with us all “agreeing” about the idea, not realizing that we’re only agreeing with the image we have in our own head, oblivious to how different it is from everyone else’s.
That can’t happen once you take ideas out of everyone’s brains and put them on paper.
First, putting things on paper means that everyone is now looking at the same thing. We can compare the idea in our heads to what we see on paper and, more importantly, start to describe the differences. This is virtually impossible without looking at the same words or graphics on a page.
Second, we can then work together to tweak what’s on paper to match what everyone was imagining. That usually means people will have to let go of one way they had imagined this concept working, but at the end you’ll all be on the same page and any new ideas will be considered within the context of this shared, agreed-upon document.
Third, once you’re on the same page, you can make much more specific decisions about it. Is it heavy lift? A light lift? Expensive? Slow? Fast? What’s in my head could be quick and easy, what’s in yours could be slow and expansive. We both might be wrong, but putting it on paper will help us figure out the truth so we can act on it.
I’ve worked on projects where we didn’t realize we were done until we put it on paper.
I’ve worked on projects where three teams were going three different directions for months until we put it on paper.
I’ve seen ideas go nowhere for 2+ years until the moment someone finally takes as little as an hour to simply put it on paper.
Sound simple? It is.
But in my experience, true progress seems to always begin right around the moment that all those different images leave our brains and find their way onto a single, shared page.
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