How To Relentlessly Uncover New Value

Quick. Grab a stack of sticky notes and come with me. We’re going to help you uncover new value hidden in your next initiative.

But wait. Sticky notes? There are so many software tools we could use instead of pen and paper. And a few of those software tools are really great.

How could a pen and paper possibly be used to help tackle something of any real consequence? Isn’t the sticky note just a crutch of the busy person trying to stay organized?!

Used correctly, the sticky note will help you and your teams uncover incredible new value. When you’ve mastered the sticky note, I give you permission to return to your software tools — if you still want to!

New value defined

Let’s define new value. New value is an advantage or gain you didn’t initially identify or believe was possible. I’m not talking about squeezing a little extra efficiency from a thing you already expected would deliver value. I’m talking about new, unexpected value. Value that you may have otherwise completely missed as you continued working toward some lesser outcome. Value that, when you’ve found it, you’re thrilled how great it will be for your customers, business, stakeholders, and so on.

You won’t need software tools where we’re going

New value sounds great, right? But why do we need help from the lowly sticky note to get there?

Ultimately, it’s the sticky note’s scarcity of features and blank-slate minimalism that will be most helpful in the fight to find value. Here are a few reasons why that’s important:

1. A blank slate forces deep, specific thinking

Maybe you’ve done some analysis and fleshed out concepts. Maybe not. Maybe you’re clear on all the assumptions you’ve made. Maybe not. How do you know?

With nothing but blank pieces of paper in front of you and the group, you simply must know what the heck you’re talking about. What journey are we embarking on and why? There’s no faking it, which is wonderful. Get the unknowns out on the table and solve for them as soon as possible.

2. It’s too easy to just start working on your work

Effort does not equal value.

It’s incredibly easy to just start working. People get assigned. You have a couple meetings. You start a new “project” in your software tools. Team members start working on their work.

The challenge is that it’s hard to collaborate. It’s hard to get everyone involved to deeply understand a problem and contribute to the solution.

3. It’s too hard to throw away work when you realize it’s not quite right

Throwing away or even editing and rearranging work you’ve done on a computer is painful. In many cases, the team would rather not discover new information that requires starting over, rethinking, retyping, reconfiguring. Especially in cases where special access is needed to delete or reset.

Typing into tools feels so…permanent. It feels wasteful to toss or change the work. Sticky notes arrive blank and remain blank until the team starts talking and writing stuff down. It’s easier to toss paper in the recycle bin.

4. Automating before learning is a trap

Bill Gates famously said the following about automation:

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

Don’t build solutions (i.e., automate) before you’ve had a chance to learn hands-on.

Now, round up the team and make it happen

Commit to uncovering and delivering value before, during, and after defining the work required. You’ll need someone in the group to play the role of devil’s advocate here. Someone who will relentlessly challenge the team to dig deeper.

You’ll want to organize into groups of no more than 6 to 8 people. Pass around blank sticky notes to your team members.

Discuss, debate, and iterate. Use the blank space of the sticky notes to force deep, original, specific thinking. Jot down. Use these steps to help find your flow:

1. Jot down descriptions of the outcomes you want, and why they’re important.

Ask each team member to write a phrase that describes the initiative’s outcomes and why they’re important. It’s a brief aspirational view of the future, and should make it clear why things are better in the future because of your expected results.

Use this time to discuss and have everyone come to the same conclusion, and at a minimum understand where you’re headed as a team and why. It’s okay to experiment with multiple versions describing this future truth.

Keep in mind that team members do not always have a basic understanding of their work’s outcomes and its value. Nor do they know how to or feel empowered to discover value on their own. Change that.

2. Separate the work from the outcomes

Inevitably, some of the descriptions from Step 1 above will be oriented toward work. It’s hard not to think in terms of the tasks that need to be accomplished.

As people naturally write down work oriented tasks, separate those sticky notes into an entirely separate space. Don’t let any work items or tasks creep into the sticky notes that describe the outcomes.

3. Discuss and agree on which outcome descriptions are accurate

By design, because you experimented with ideas in Step 1, you’ll have some sticky notes that you’ll conclude aren’t on the mark.

After all the ideas are well understood, you can do one of two things. Throw away the sticky notes that aren’t accurate or helpful, or move them into an area designated as “maybe later” if that’s a more accurate categorization.

4. Obsess over why the outcomes are important

At this point you’ve identified and refined the intended outcomes. You’ve separated those outcomes from the tasks needed to get the work done. The team is like-minded on the aspirational view of the future.

You now have a pure view of your intended outcomes and why they’re important. Obsess over the results until you have that pure view. From this base, you can further refine and uncover new value.

5. Believe you’re in a game you can win

Now you’re set to examine the core of what you’re doing and why, and uncover new value.

One approach at this step is to ask why, and then ask why again to the reasons stated so far. Keep asking why. You almost can’t overdo it. Believe you’re in a game you can win, and ideas for new value will begin to surface.

Grab a few more blank sticky notes. Add and refine outcomes that capture the new value.

Repeat for as long as you’re still uncovering new value.

Hello, New Value

Inquisitive and collaborative conversation ensures everyone has an opportunity to uncover new value.

Whether you’re solving an isolated problem, or one that will get your company on the billion dollar unicorn list, challenging assumptions with a blank space like the humble sticky note can help you unleash the deep thinking it takes to get there.

Was this post useful? Please tap and tweet it.

Connect with Denny on Twitter.