I keep a stack of legal sized paper, a pencil, and a couple different colors of pens on my desk at all times. When people first walk into my office and see the set up I’ll sometimes have people laugh at me but there is a reason for this. Whenever I have people in my office and we’re talking through a problem, I like to take a sheet of legal paper and just start drawing. I think part of the reason I’m getting laughed at is because I’m sitting at our high technology company and I’m pulling out a piece of paper to draw on instead of my computer; but I really think it’s one of the most powerful brainstorming tools at your disposal.
A pencil and paper gives you so much more freedom to make mistakes, to throw things away, and to just start over. The classic pencil/paper combo is also a timesaver across the board. Being able to quickly sketch something out gives you that sense that remaking, erasing, crumpling up and starting over isn’t the end of the world because you’ve only lost a few minutes. I think there’s something to that. It triggers something subconsciously where you’re simply not as afraid to make mistakes and because of that, it encourages you to think outside the box.
If you insist on using your computer I’ve come to favor free form drawing tools such as Omnigraffle for building presentations. The best thing about this software is that it doesn’t come with any preconceived notion of what you’re going to put on a slide. It is a tool that really allows you to have a blank slate and there’s lots of nice drawing tools at your disposal. Again I really believe that it keeps you from putting boundaries on yourself when you’re in the middle of brainstorming. So the next time that you’re faced with a tough problem or you’re trying to do some brainstorming, maybe try writing on a piece of paper before you crack open that PowerPoint deck or start typing into Word. I really think your eyes will be opened to something new if you’re just willing to give it a shot.