Stop talking, get drawing

Using prototyping techniques to develop better quality conversations at a call centre in Manila

Thanks to the phenomenal success of books like The Lean Startup and The Sprint Book, Digital ways of working are spreading from startups and into the corporate world. More and more organisations are adopting the mantra of “fail fast, fail often” as they see the benefits of rapidly building prototypes and putting them in front of customers as early as possible.

I believe this is undoubtedly a good move. I also believe there are more ways the corporate world can adapt this way of working to its benefit, beyond the traditional domain of product innovation.

Ask any employee of a large company for the top 5 things they don’t like about their work, and one answer will always come up:

“Too many meetings!”

With too much talking, poor facilitation, and unclear outputs, far too many meetings seem to sap productivity and waste our time. Often it’s the quality — not the quantity — of meeting that’s the problem.

Over the last few months I’ve been trying something a bit different. From the boardroom to the call centre, I’ve been facilitating meetings in which the primary activity for everyone involved is to write and draw, rather than to talk and read. For some hints and tips on how to run a meeting like this, start here. In the meantime, here are five reasons why you really should try it out:

1. It gives everyone a voice

The biggest problem with the traditional meeting dynamic, especially in Western cultures, is that the most extrovert and charismatic voices tend to dominate. More reflective thinkers can struggle to get their voices heard, even if they have vital perspectives or facts to contribute.

Asking everyone to write down their inputs at the beginning of a meeting ensures all points of view can contribute on an equal footing. You can still filter out information to get to what’s important, with more confidence that critical details are not being missed.

More radically, this technique forces everyone to have a voice, making sure everyone is fully present and adding value to the meeting.

2. It makes you think

Try this: in your next meeting, pick the person who talks the most and write down exactly what they say, word for word. Now read it back to yourself. In most cases you’ll see long phrases with ideas that go back and forth, with no fully-formed sentences. The human brain just isn’t very good at turning ideas into linear stories on the fly.

Drawing on a 2D space is different. You can add, remove, and edit ideas as they develop in your mind. You can see them as a whole before communicating. This results in better quality thoughts that your audience can understand quickly, with less chance of confusion and unnecessary debate.

3. You end the meeting with a ready-made set of outputs

How many meetings go un-minuted? Almost as bad: with minutes written up a week later once everyone has forgotten the context? It’s fundamentally inefficient to spend an hour discussing something, then spending another hour documenting that discussion once everyone else has left the room.

If participants are writing and drawing as part of the meeting, you have a ready-made set of outputs at the end. Simply photograph them and upload them to the note-taking app of your choice.

4. It makes everyone a customer

I can’t fully explain this phenomenon, but I see it every time. When people get into the flow of drawing their ideas, then collaborating with others to refine their drawings, something amazing happens. They forget about their job role, who they work for, and how they might be perceived, and instead they start to think more like customers.

With drawings on paper, it’s much easier to depersonalise feedback, taking the ego and politics out of idea development, and creating more room to think about the customer.

5. It is way more fun

This, more than anything, is the best reason to try out this new way of working. People come to life, have better ideas, and get on with each other better. The act of creating something tangible, even a rough sketch on paper, is naturally more satisfying to human beings than the artificial environment of a meeting round a table in a glass room. I have built better relationships and gained new respect for my colleagues as a result of seeing the brilliant things they produce. Ultimately it makes coming to work more enjoyable, which can only be a good thing.

Whatever the circumstance, there is always a benefit of bringing more creativity to meetings. Give it a try and see what happens next!

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