Episode 14 - Whiteboarding
Jen: Hey Peter.
Peter: Hey Jen.
Jen: You have a practice that I really admire, which is, when you are brainstorming something, you bust out the whiteboard, the literal whiteboard. I too have practices around sort of brain-dumping and collecting ideas, and I'm guessing it will be useful for some people out there to hear what our practices are.
Peter: Yeah, bust out the whiteboard is one of my favorite things to do, Jen, so I would love to talk about this.
Jen: This is The Long and The Short Of It.
Okay, so Peter, talk me through your whiteboarding process, because I think it's amazing and I want other people to know about it.
Peter: You know what's funny about my quote unquote "process" when it comes to whiteboarding is until I started talking to you about it, I didn't even realize I had a process. It was one of those things where I was like, yeah but, you just, "Doesn't everybody just get the whiteboard out to think? Isn't that how everyone processes information?" And so what I've come to realize is that busting out the whiteboard is not something that everybody does, and it is actually a unique trait that I have that helps me process information, process ideas, and really map out and plan projects or things that I'm thinking about or working on. So the process - if I, I feel weird even calling it that - but really what I do, the first thing I do when I bust out the whiteboard is I'll write on the whiteboard: "what's it for," and, "who's it for." Like, without fail, whatever I am whiteboarding, whatever I am thrashing, whatever I'm trying to unpack, I will start with those two questions - I'm sure we're probably going to do an episode on those two questions such as their depth - but I will always start by asking myself, writing on the white board, "What's it for?" "Who's it for?" And then I have basically a rule with whiteboarding, which is like, there's no bad ideas, there's no filter, and I'm in a co-working space, so it can get pretty awkward when I just start scrambled scribbling, but, uh, I will just write unencumbered for, I dunno, maybe fifteen, twenty minutes. I usually have some music in, and so under "What's it for?" I'll write, like, what's the intention behind this? What's the idea that I've got on the table? What am I actually trying to do here? And I'll just write and write and write and write and write. And then - usually they come in dot points - and then under "Who's it for?" I'll do the same thing. Who is this project for? Who is this idea for? Who is this whiteboard session for? Like, what's my audience here? And I'll write and I'll write and I'll write and I'll write and I'll write, and sometimes I throw in the bonus question, "Who is it not for?" because I think that's equally as important as "Who's it for?" And ultimately what will come out with is, like, a whiteboard full of my gibberish and my jargon. That is part one in my process. And maybe we can move on to part two in a second, but I was just going to throw it to you, Jen, if that is at all similar, if that makes sense to how you approach whiteboarding? I dunno, talk to me.
Jen: Well, my approach is a little bit different, although equally messy, and sort of haphazard for me, because of the kind of work that I do, which is very much in the moment, full-bodied, like, get into a space and move around, I have found that for me, I am more effective if I'm not really doing it in written form. And so I've taken up the practice recently of whiteboarding into my voice recorder, and I will give myself a prompt, and then just speak about it extemporaneously to get all of my ideas out there, and no filter, no censoring, no editing, no scripting, just stream-of-consciousness. And then I go back and I listen sometimes - sometimes I just don't listen - but, sometimes I go back and I listen, and I sort of cherry-pick the things that I want to expand on, and then there are any number of ways to expand. But that initial brain dump, I have found myself doing it in audio form for me is more freeing.
Peter: Ah, this is so cool. So you’re whiteboard - you're audio-whiteboarding, basically. We have the same, the same premise behind it, which is to just get it all out there unfiltered, but you do it in audio instead of - I do it in writing. That's really cool.
Jen: Oh my gosh, Peter, I'm just realizing that when you and I got together to do a brainstorming session, we were both playing our roles in that, because I was talking and you were capturing everything on the whiteboard.
Peter: Yeah. Wow.
Jen: That's so crazy!
Peter: And so, okay, so this is the thing about whiteboarding to me is - it's more than just writing. Like I've thought about often if I'm traveling or whatever, "Well couldn't I just grab a notepad and do the same thing?" And it never, it never turns out the same. I'm never as satisfied as I am when I stand up, walk over to a whiteboard, grab the, you know, the smelly pen, and just start scribbling. And so I think there's more to the practice of whiteboarding, to me, than just writing. I think it's, I think it's to do with standing up, I think it's to do with, like, moving around, and almost, almost this idea of presenting an idea or an assertion to people. In a way, this is kind of, I think me doing that to some degree, and then really fleshing out how I can serve others, how I can help others, how I can build something that otherwise other people might be interested in. And I do so by moving around, and you know, like I said, I have music in the background, so it's, it's more of a, it's deeper than I think just scribbling, is what I'm trying to say.
Jen: It's just so fascinating, because we're both working toward the same end result, which is a free-flow of thought, and our approach is so different yet so complementary. So because music is part of my work, I am unable to work if there's music playing, and my work is not about the actual music that's playing. So I actually need to be either in a quiet space or out on the street.
Jen: So I do a lot of my whiteboarding while walking between the forty-second street subway station and my studio.
Peter: Yeah, I mean, I've received a couple of your audio clips, and they are remarkable. And what's fascinating is I get like - I use this term quite a lot lately, this idea of "thrashing," and I was recently asked what I mean by that, and I was kinda thinking, well, "thrashing" to me is, is this creative brainstorming process where you have to get a bunch of crap out in order to find the good stuff, right? Like, I very much believe that in order to get two good ideas, you need to put out a hundred crap ideas, and I don't think that's a unique thought, I think a lot of people have presented that idea of failing often and failing fast, and "no idea is a bad idea," and blah blah blah, but I, I firmly believe that. So to me it's like, how quickly can you thrash to a hundred ideas? How quickly can you just talk and talk and talk, in your case, or write and write and write, in my case, and get your way to a point where - it's almost like your brain kicks in at some point and goes, "Okay, well if we're going to do this, let's do this properly. Ignore all that other crap. This is the real thing you want to build." But you can't get there unless you go through that process. So I don't know if you think about, when you record your amazing thoughts, if you think about those as "thrashing" in any way.
Jen: It's funny because I do - when I'm recording them, they don't feel fully formed to me - but I do feel a freedom to just say whatever comes to me. But sometimes when I listen back, I'm like, "Huh, that actually was a lot more solid than I would have expected it to be." And I think - this is something I experience a lot in the work that I do with my clients: when that self-editor gets in the way, when you start editing your work as it's coming out of you or editing your thoughts as you have them, you really shut down the creative process. The creative process, whether it is in the form of generating an email, or generating a play, or generating a business plan, requires a limitless thinking space, and as soon as you put your self-editor in place, you've really undone the process. So one of the things that I've learned to have my clients do is, when they are in a work session, I will set up a video camera, and visually (and, you know, with audio) record their work and give them the instruction to "Do whatever you want to do now." Like, "make a ton of mistakes. Then let's watch it back together and pick the things that we like." Or, "I'm going to give you a framework through which you can watch this back and really understand what you're looking for." Otherwise, they're editing while they're working and then they'll never get their best work out of themselves.
Peter: Yeah, that's awesome. What's interesting is, in some ways, this podcast is a version of that, right? It's - we don't, we don't, we don't have a script that we're working off each episode. We don't even necessarily know what each other's going to say each episode, and I think that, like you said, there's, there's this real freeing creative thing that comes out when you just let yourself thrash, let yourself flow, I guess, is another way of framing it. Because I have these moments - much like you said when you record your audios - I have these moments in this podcast where I'm like, "I have no idea if what I just said made any sense," but then sometimes I listen back and I'm like, "Oh yeah, no, I think that makes sense." So it's really interesting, this idea of unencumbering ourselves from the right way or the scripted way or the polished way, and just letting ourselves go.
Jen: Hmm, turns out that messy is where it's at.
Peter: Humans are messy. A good friend of mine always says this, "Humans are messy." And she always says it with a smile.
Jen: Humans are messy. And that is The Long and The Short Of it.