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Used Properly, Whiteboards Can Make You Smarter

Whiteboards have a secret power to make you smarter — if you use them properly.

That’s the premise of designer Jake Knapp, as related to Christine Liu, the innovation editor at Harvard Business Publishing’s product incubator.

The secret power isn’t so secret, it’s just all about simplicity, Knapp tells Liu in an online discussion at Harvard Business Review.

He urges whiteboard users not to complicate things to the point where the core purpose of the brainstorming, ideation or other collaboration gets lost in the shuffle.

“You might be tempted to use so many fancy things on your whiteboard. No. Fight the urge,” he tells Liu. “You want to keep it super simple, boring. The ideas are not boring. The ideas are amazing and rich. But everything else should be just supporting them.”

Knapp likens a whiteboard so shelving – in that a whiteboard presentation can have shelves where things belong.

He also advocates the use of the pause. 

“Basically, if you’re in a meeting and people are just trying to talk over each other — just pause. Put on a timer. Everyone quietly and independently writes down their ideas on sticky notes,” he says. The whiteboard is then used to capture all those ideas, which can then be voted on by the group, allowing it to move on in the discussion.

He concludes that whiteboards can be a tool that prevents bad meetings.

Read more of Liu and Knapp’s discussion, or watch a video of their discussion, at Harvard Business Review.

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