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 from,

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?


How do you create culture?

I’ve become increasingly interested in how culture is created within teams. One part is clearly modeling the behavior one wants to see. But I’ve been spending time thinking about how I talk to others about goals, challenges and setbacks. The more I look, the more I see I’m faced with so many interwoven elements: Communication—synchronous, asynchronous, mixed?; Feedback—positive, negative, immediate, delayed, public, private; Goal setting—team, individual, conservative, challenging, insane; Growth; Trust; Shared vision; Shared mission; Morals …

I find myself focusing almost entirely on communication. I try to spend as much time as possible explaining what I’m thinking and what my goals and visions are. At the sametime, the better I get at asking questions, the better I get at understanding what’s going on. There’s a balance. Too little conveying of direct instruction and concrete goals leaves some people struggling to grow. The opposite is also true; Too much and some people are stiffled.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Alice.

So what’s a question you ask your teammates that has led to surprising insights?


No skin in the game

It’s easy to spot a purist. They’re the ones without any skin in the game.

~ Hugh MacLeod