Try erasing the whiteboard

You know what the best thing about being an entrepreneur is? That you never have to experience self-doubt, the way people with normal day jobs do.

Ha. I was just kidding. Actually, as an entrepreneur, you have self-doubt coming out of your pores like cold sweat. And that’s on a good day.

~ Hugh MacLeod


A “local maximum” is a nearby, tall hill. If you find you’re standing in a puddle and the water is rising, walking uphill is a great idea. This will lead you to a local maximum. “Local” means a maximum which you can find by simply heading ”up” from where you are.

Imagine you have a project under discussion. You and your team are thinking, talking and writing [and editing and erasing bits here and there] on the whiteboard as you capture the project you are imagining. Because you have some perspective— because you can see the entire idea as it’s laid out on the board, you can probably find a maximum better than just a “local” one. You can notice broad connections, and realize that (for example) if you do some extra bit of that’s-not-obvious work, then these two far-apart pieces will give us this new feature. Hey! …that’s better, and it’s not a simple improvement—that is, it’s not simply directly up out of this rising puddle of water.

But it’s still a local maximum. Sure, it’s not the one immediately adjacent to the puddle. But it’s still a maximum in the context of what’s on the board.

What happens if, after you are done— after you’ve got the best solution you can image— What happens if you note the key features that are the “must haves”, and then you entirely erase the board. (This is a metaphor. If you do this for real, definitely take a photo before erasing!)

Now take your blank board and write in the things you identified as the key parts before you erased. Now build the thing again.

Did you get the exact same thing you had before? If not, what exactly is missing, or added, in the new version? Is this version better, or worse? What if you’re whiteboarding about something that you cannot reset and start over— You can easily erase the whiteboard, but not the actual thing. Can you learn something from doing the “erase the whiteboard” exercise that would enable you do something not normally obvious…

…to head down the hill, off your current local maximum, to a hill you can’t see from where you currently are. What if that other hill had all the current great stuff—not everything, but the great parts—and it had something else?