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.


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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.

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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.”

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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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