The Story Behind The World’s Most Incompetent Drawings

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The Story Behind The World’s Most Incompetent Drawings

Language Warning right at the start!

I recently gave a talk at a workshop for the International CFO Forum in Singapore. After it was done, one of the participants came up to me and said: “Can I ask you a question about your slides?”

“Sure,” I replied.

“By all the objective principles of good slide design, they’re shit. But, they’re REALLY effective. How?”

Here’s what I told him.

Me, duplicating the pose of my stick figures (Photo by Nicole Hartley)

First, I think visually. Even when I’m writing academic papers, I work out the tables and figures first, then write the story of those. I used to draw all the time when I was young, then gave it up when I decided I didn’t have drawing skills. It’s a pretty familiar story.

A few years ago, I decided I should start drawing again. So I did. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’re probably pretty familiar with these drawings by now. It turns out, drawing out the main points first made both my writing and my public speaking a bit sharper. So now I use lots of my own drawings in my talks.

That’s why I make them, but why do they work?

The definition of innovation in primitive figures.

I think the drawings work for three reasons. The first reason is that it models good innovation behaviour. Many people wait until they think things are perfect to show their new ideas to others. Often, this means that they never share their ideas with anyone.

By putting out primitive drawings that mostly look like prototypes of other, better drawings, I’m trying to demonstrate the value of getting things in front of others early. The drawings aren’t great, but they usually get the point across. It’s enough to tell if I’ve gotten the idea right or not.

So the bad drawings are a public form of prototyping – something that all of us should be doing more.

The second reason the drawings work is that they’re novel. Everyone is pretty used to powerpoint presentations by now. But no one expects an entire talk filled with stick figures. I’ve always been drawn to lo-fi art, and this is lo-fi powerpoint.

The novelty gets people’s attention.

The answer to “What app do you use to make your slides?”

A surprising number of people have asked me what app I use to make my slides. The process goes like this: first, I draw the slide on an Artefact Card – check out that link, I love their story! Once I have it right, then I take a picture of the card with my phone, and transfer that photo into my slide deck.

Three tries to get a slide right.

It’s a very manual, slow and awkward process. But that’s part of the fun. And the craft. But it also makes another point – we often associate innovation with technology. This is a very low-tech process, yet people still view it as innovative.

So the third reason I use these drawings is they show that innovation isn’t all about tech, but rather about thinking about things in new ways.

I have some version of this discussion after nearly every talk that I give. One interesting thing is that when I explain the reasoning behind the drawings, most people were getting those messages already – the explanation resonates.

Here’s the final point: If I can travel around the world showing people some of the worst drawings ever, then surely you can share your great new idea with someone too. It’s worth a try.

Coming soon – a whole post about this problem!

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