Like many technology geeks, when I need to get creative or start a brand new project I tend to try out various tools hoping they would help me get the job done, but what usually ends up happening is that I get distracted and find myself hours later making very little progress.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again to product managers (myself included), designers and engineers — diving in too quickly into writing specs on wikis, Google docs, or PM tools like Aha!, creating early mockups with Balsamiq or Invision, etc. It all results in hours spent on handling the tools rather than focusing on the content itself.
Why is it that such amazing, easy to use and highly productive tools that usually help us get more work done interfere with the early stages of the creative process?
“There’s an app for that!” sums it up nicely. “There must be a better way than old school pen and paper or the low tech white board”. “There must be an app that makes this process so much cooler and better.”
Yeah, apps are cool, but nothing is as natural and comfortable as drawing, scribbling and jotting ideas on paper or a whiteboard without any intermediaries. Nothing comes close to collaborating in real time with your team, debating ideas in real time without the need to structure your thoughts — not at this stage, at least.
So, close your laptop, get out some pencils, pens or maybe whiteboard markers and get busy drawing mocks and flows, writing notes, creating, debating and sketching ideas. Better yet, bounce ideas and get feedback from your team — yes, you can actually do that without a fancy PowerPoint presentation.
I get it, sometimes you do need to connect and collaborate remotely, so open Skype, Google Hangouts or try something like Sqwiggle or Hall, just keep it simple. You really don’t need fancy telepresence or expensive video conferencing equipment to get this going. I’ve had some great sessions with remote teams that were infused with high energy and achieved creative and focused collaboration just using Skype and our iPhones.
Have everyone share their video feed (it’s 10x better than just audio) to keep it interactive. Have one camera focus on the whiteboard or take snapshots with your phone. Just make sure everyone shuts down their email and chat apps…
There’s a time and place for more structured tools and processes. They’re essential when you need to get into the finer details, engage with wider teams or ensure execution is on track, but for the early stages of the creative process, cut the cord and get back to basics.