Writing that sentence may seem like an exercise in stating the obvious. But how many times have you launched a project and started with a checklist? It's totally understandable. Life is full of ballooning inboxes, jam-packed schedules and looming deadlines. So it can be particularly difficult to find time to outline what an insight is -- never mind arriving at one. That makes it easy to bias toward to-do lists rather than take time to consider why we're making them in the first place.
I hit that tripwire recently while I mapped out my project's insights and discoveries (a.k.a "nuggets") during a studio session at the d.school. It was my first week back from nearly a month away, and I slipped right into my old, comfortable mindset: listing and checking off things that I felt needed to get done. When I was called on to begin presenting my insights and discoveries from the previous quarter, I just started slapping to-do items on post-its.
There were underlying insights that led to these checklist items, but the items themselves were not the insights or discoveries. Credit goes to K12 Lab Network Director Susie Wise for pulling the emergency brake on my process. Together, we put my car in reverse to ask some basic questions about where my checklist items were coming from. What were the underlying insights and discoveries? Were there other things I could be doing that would make for richer, better outcomes?
For example, one of my to-dos was to begin creating a storytelling toolkit for the fellows -- a cheat-sheet to help them know which tools to use and how to chronicle their progress with their projects. Well, that's all well and good. But what led me to want to pursue that course of action? Why a toolkit?
The insight was that, in the process of working with the fellows on the whiteboard, I had discovered their need for more instruction and basic how-tos. Was a "toolkit" really the best way to meet that need? Perhaps there were other ways, such as one-on-one sessions where I could create custom homepages for each fellow. Maybe a field trip to visit with the editor at a major tech publication would be more helpful.
Another checklist item was to create a studio around storytelling. That eventually transitioned to some fundamental questions, such as: is there a word other than "storytelling" that could better describe the studio? The word is widely used in a variety of contexts. Why not take the opportunity to come up with a word that is more unique and targeted?
Insights and discoveries are like seedbeds from which a slew of potential action items can grow. Nurturing and waiting for this growth process to finish means the action items you choose to clip off and work on have an even greater potential for impact.
So before you launch into a checklist of things to do, take a moment to think about why you are placing those things on your to-do list. What are the underlying reasons? Did your boss tell you that it had to get done? Did a client tell you it's what they wanted? When someone tells you, or you tell yourself, something has to be done, take a moment to ask why. Sometimes, it may help you find something much more enriching to do.
Follow Emi on Twitter at @emikolawole.