The Value of the Low-Tech Whiteboard in a High-Tech World

I had to chuckle when I saw an article last week in the Wall Street Journal, “High Tech’s Secret Weapon: The White Board.” Even though I am a fast adopter of technology, I am a major supporter of using the whiteboard in my work as the Turnaround Authority. In fact, I even devoted a whole subchapter of my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” to the whiteboard, touting it as one of the keys to success.

So I found it humorous to see this old-fashioned tool referred to as a secret weapon. What was even more interesting is that the article is about the company that developed the note-taking app Evernote. I use Evernote every day, making notes in my iPad that are automatically synced to my computer so I have them with me wherever I go. I can take photos and create to-do lists as well. And the best thing is that these notes are totally searchable so I never waste time tracking down information I need.

I loved learning that almost every surface of the offices of Evernote in Silicon Valley are covered with IdeaPaint, which allows the employees to write on the walls with dry-erase markers. Evernote relies on this low-tech way to engage employees in focusing on developing their high tech products. And it seems many other high tech firms do the same.

As the author, Farhad Manjoo, noted, “Whiteboards are to Silicon Valley what legal pads are to lawyers, what Excel is to accountants, and what long sleeves are to magicians.”

Here are just a few things to love about the use of a whiteboard for business.

1. Anyone can use it

We can all pick up a marker and draw on a whiteboard. I can’t say the same for the ability for everyone to master collaborative software or being able to share documents digitally.

2. It allows people to focus

I would argue that we focus better when looking at the large canvas of the whiteboard than staring at the small screen of a computer, having been conditioned since we were children by the teacher diagramming sentences and doing math problems on a large chalkboard.

3. It points out gaps in logic

One of my favorite ways to use a whiteboard is to draw timelines. I find that drawing on a whiteboard helps a group to clarify complex situations and analyze the issues involved in a particular situation.

For example, I once worked with a racetrack that took 18 months and $100 million to build, and just 30 days to run out of cash. We created a 12-month timeline to get the racetrack out of bankruptcy. It was ambitious, as we had a lot to accomplish for the company to make that goal. But by putting everything that needed to be done on the whiteboard, each person could visualize their own responsibilities and how crucial it was that they each complete their jobs on time so we could make the deadline.

4. It enables collaboration and buy-in

When people participate in the whiteboard process they can clearly visualize their roles and how they all need to work together to accomplish the set goal. And if everyone is allowed to participate and share their ideas freely, you generally achieve automatic buy-in of the steps to achieve that goal.

I’ll continue to incorporate the latest technology into my business. But I will forever be a fan of the good old whiteboard. It’s nice to know all the whiz kids in Silicon Valley agree with me.

Look for me November 10 at 4:30 at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. I’ll be discussing my book,  ”How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.” The event is free and open to the public. Click here for more information.

One thought on “The Value of the Low-Tech Whiteboard in a High-Tech World

  1. Pingback: Want People to Work for You? Make Them Feel Heard – The Turnaround Authority

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