The Overburdened Post-it Note

Where post-it notes live, innovation must also—so the thinking goes. Everywhere you turn, these colorful notes are stuck (temporarily, of course) to the walls of the 21st- century innovation space. The ease of use post-it note leads people to think that great ideas don’t take much time or effort. After all, innovation takes only moments—the span of seconds it might take to jot something on a sticky note.

Cropped Post-it
After the flurry of the initial sticky-note session, coworkers are likely to take pictures of their beautiful post-it-painted walls, intending to return to their pictures when they need a reminder of the ideas that came together in the conference room. Rarely, however, are those images revisited. Instead, the post-its remain on the wall—with no one quite sure if they are still important—until finally, their glue slackens, they float to the floor below, and finally into the trash.


It's about Mindset

Don’t get us wrong, we use post-its in all our work. But without the proper mindset behind those colorful, sticky ideas, post-its will bring you nothing but expressions of the status quo, aspirations for the future with no path to action. The writing on the post-it is not what matters; what matters is what happens to the person writing them.

We do not operate under the assumption that our post-its will end up in a textbook someday; they are simply a means to an end, powered by mindset.

The key to the design thinking mindset is motivation. Inspiration lies all around us; however, without acting on our insights, ideas, and experiments business people are merely practicing, “innovation theater.”


One prospective client held up a post-it note and shared their definition of innovation, “applications of blockchain, machine learning, or artificial intelligence.” 🤔

While those technologies may inspire the company’s leadership, the organization does not possess the internal competencies (or external relationships) to explore or implement these solutions beyond the post-it. Without establishing a human-centered need and skill set around these technologies, the inspiration is a hollow out glancing possibility. It will never turn into anything.

Suddenly, resentment surrounds the post-its stuck to the wall. The square papers come to represent hours wasted trying to come up with new ideas, a painful lack of breakthroughs, and an innovation process that leads to very little actual innovation. At some point, the meager post-it note started to stand for innovation, rather than simply act as a tool to share individual observations, reveal singular insights, or uncover the beginnings of a new idea. The poor post-it crumpled under the pressure; it was never meant to hold such weigh.

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