There’s a simple 8-step exercise that can help you solve your biggest business problems

Bread toast toaster
The exercise starts off with drawing out the process of making toast. Pixabay

If you know how to make toast, then you probably already know how to solve the biggest challenges your organisation currently faces.

That’s according to Tom Wujec, a fellow at Autodesk who studies creative thinking and problem-solving and who appeared on the TED stage in 2013.

In the TED Talk, Wujec explains that if you can draw out the basic process of making toast, you can also deconstruct your business problems into bite-size steps.

“Though we may not be skilled at drawing,” he says, “the point is that we intuitively know how to break down complex things into simple things and then bring them back together again.”

Intrigued, I visited Wujec’s website, where I found the eight steps that make up the DrawToast Exercise, which he leads in workshops across the globe. Here’s the simplified version:

1. Gather the drawing supplies necessary.

2. Invite your colleagues to participate in building a model of an important challenge.

3. Ask everyone to draw a picture of making toast.

4. Have everyone share their drawings.

5. Watch the TED Talk.

6. Ask everyone to draw a picture of how to tackle the challenge.

7. Have everyone share their drawings again.

8. Ask everyone to draw out the challenge again, this time using a sticky note for each steps. Have groups of four to six people arrange the notes in a specific order to create solutions to the problem.

Making toast

In the talk, Wujec explains that the final, sticky-note step is potentially more useful than a typical discussion because “what emerges is a unified systems model that integrates the diversity of everyone’s individual points of view.”

In fact, Wujec suggests that “there’s a visual revolution that’s taking place as more organisations are addressing their wicked problems by collaboratively drawing them out. And I’m convinced that those who see their world as movable nodes [steps] and links [connections] really have an edge.”

He cites the example of publishing company Rodale, which spent time visualising its challenges after it lost a substantial amount of money a few years ago. According to Wujec, Rodale’s customer experience improved and it reclaimed millions of dollars in revenue, all because the executive team got on the same page as to the company’s goals.

If you’re stumped as to how to frame the problems your organisation is facing, Wujec offers some suggestions on his site: How do you delight your customers? How will you track and measure success? How will you respond  to change more nimbly? The answers to each one of these questions can be turned into arrangements of sticky notes.

Essentially, Wujec concludes, the exercise is a way to “make your ideas visible, tangible, and consequential.”

Watch Wujec’s TED Talk here:

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