Ahhhh the blank sheet of paper. The blank Google Doc. The blank email. The PowerPoint you have yet to start. The paralysis that overcomes us when seeing it.
There’s a tool that exists that’s consensus building, an ideas ignitor, a physical place to capture perspectives and challenge them… the whiteboard.
On today’s episode of the rebel leadership podcast, BJ Kito, Rebel Interactive Group's Chief Strategy Officer, geeks out with me about the power of the whiteboard.
Allison Minutillo 0:05
Rebel Leadership Podcast. A refreshing take on authentic leadership told through real stories. Let's smash the status quo and change how leaders lead once and for all.
Blank sheet of paper, a blank Google Doc, blank email, the PowerPoint you have yet to start. The paralysis that overcomes us when seeing but there's a tool that exists that's consensus building, an ideas igniter, a physical place to capture perspectives and challenge them. A place where you can just start: the whiteboard. On today's episode of the Rebel Leadership Podcast. BJ Kito, our Chief Strategy Officer geeks out with me about the power of the whiteboard. Listen, reflect and embrace your next AHA moment.
So you have been here for like how many weeks?
BJ Kito 1:13
Two or three?
Allison Minutillo 1:17
And it's been an absolute whirlwind.
BJ Kito 1:19
It's been a blast.
Allison Minutillo 1:20
So you're in a chief level position?
BJ Kito 1:23
Allison Minutillo 1:23
And there's been a common theme in all the value you provide to each meeting and that is this, this masterful art of visualization.
BJ Kito 1:33
I mean, I love it. Whiteboard, right, live scribing notes kind of pulling out conversation from people. The toughest thing to do, right, is be able to kind of share what's in everyone's brain with everyone else. And I think a lot of times, we've now gone all digital and whether even if it's a note or if it's a drawing, it's on an iPad or it's on a tablet, and the actual pen and paper or the expo marker and whiteboard are a thing that people shy away from.
Allison Minutillo 2:10
Has that been something you've always been comfortable with? Or is it a learned experience?
BJ Kito 2:16
It's learned, it's forced, you know, I guess I need to add value or be relevant or participate and I got to figure out my way to do that early on in my career in life. I was thinking back when we were talking about this topic, and I was the only child right lived on a busy street so like when it wasn't an organized activity or sport or like playdate, it was, you know, me trying to like, fill up some time and I went back and I remember, I used to create these huge plans and almost like an architect, like just draw out weird stuff. It was like a ideal playground, or like almost my vision of Disney World or they used to have these things that were all indoor like amusement parks, so I would draw all these rides and like the pathways and like where the bathrooms where the food courts were.
Allison Minutillo 3:16
What age was this?
BJ Kito 3:18
Allison Minutillo 3:21
BJ Kito 3:22
But that's and then
Allison Minutillo 3:24
Like in a sketch drawing?
BJ Kito 3:25
I would get big giant graph paper and draw it all out. So I think that was always kind of something where I needed to see it all in front of me and then moved on to to like school, right when kind of studying for finals or a test, putting it all on one piece of paper so I could just look at it and visualize and sort of remember it all rather than pages and pages and pages.
Allison Minutillo 3:51
Textbook probably wasn't your thing.
BJ Kito 3:53
No. Oh, hated it.
Allison Minutillo 3:55
BJ Kito 3:56
Yeah. I have never read like a book full cover. I've never read a textbook. I just say can't do it. Can't do it.
Allison Minutillo 4:05
But it's true. Because like those early experiences of how you learn and how you articulate like what's in your mind, whether it be creative outlets or music theater or drawing or what what have you that all eventually boomerangs back in your career and you realize like there's a reason why this is so easy for you now.
BJ Kito 4:22
Allison Minutillo 4:23
It's always been the consistent theme of how you've learned.
BJ Kito 4:26
Yeah, and I think I saved a lot of it up too. Because all of that only child thing and then you know kind of going I was always quiet. I was such and still I'm an introvert, right? My recharge is I need to go find a quiet place, right? Sit in the car or whatever it is, but it was always like an individual sort of mindset in my own head, didn't have the confidence to talk didn't have that social aspect. So, so much of what I was doing, it was observation and just constantly analyzing and assessing and processing and at some point when I started to get, you know, a little bit further my career, I realized that I needed to insert myself. The way in which I kind of started to do that was well I can, I can at least stand up and I can start to scribe and if I'm not confident enough yet to talk through it, I'll translate for everyone, right what's being said on the client side or what's being said, on the you know, in the room and brainstorm. And I'll start to kind of just get something up right, being up and active, at least inserted myself to an extent where I was relevant and participating right. I was visible, I wasn't just sitting in the corner, processing information. Well, and all of that introvert tendencies that you just talked about are a benefit in that situation because you are, because you're talking least, you're listening more and you're picking up on the nuances and the observations that you have of all those people in the room to say what are they saying what are they not saying? Making sure they see their words played back on a whiteboard or oversized poster, whatever the exercise is, and there's real value in that. When you can, when you can extract out of a room what other people can't? It is this magical moment.
When you see it all come together it is, right? And people are always blown away by a summary of their own thoughts or the group's thoughts and it seems to be such an elusive thing. That when you're able to summarize it and put it all together and come out with a plan or an action, you know, list. It's this really powerful thing that people are always surprised by. But it becomes like a muscle right the more you train it, the easier it is to do and every experience that you go through, kind of helps reframe and rebuild that muscle. So you can do it in different, different areas. Do it for different topics, do it for different types of people.
Allison Minutillo 7:09
Well, when you have trust in that you're going to figure something out. So there's a lot of uncomfortable situations that can be overlaid in these. Most of the time they're uncomfortable situations when you have to get into the whiteboard, right? Sometimes they're fun, pure fun ideation, but a lot of times they're trying to gain alignment or figure out what's going wrong or the business is failing. And there's all sorts of complexities and stress in those situations. But something about standing up there on a blank board. And this wasn't always the case for me. I was just like "what the - you're gonna stand me where, right?" Until now. It's like, I have no idea what's going to be on that board. But what I do know is we're going to figure something out.
BJ Kito 7:54
Allison Minutillo 7:55
And the words in the room of everybody - if you've got smart people in the room, hands down 100% of the time, you're going to align on something and all that visual thing, whatever that thing may be represents, is the words that just happened.
BJ Kito 8:12
Yes, right. But without some form of visualization or, you know whether it's notes on a whiteboard, without something those thoughts very often become elusive. Because people are thinking about the next thing they want to talk about or someone needs a break or there's a distraction. So even just putting it up as a placeholder in many instances will allow the group to go back and say, Hey, we didn't figure it out - what was meant by that? Where are we going there? Because someone said it was probably relevant, right? Look like let's dig into that. And that's really something that least I've found is when you're in those group settings, you're always going back to thoughts. You're always revisiting something that was either a suggestion or an observation. And that's where it's very impactful not to lose it all. And you know, sometimes you look at it and you're like, Wow, that's a mess, right? Like that's just a whole lot of stuff that was discussed. And you know, you have to make sense out of it. But that's part of the, you know, the fun of it, too. It's part of the skill set is is going back through and figuring out what's the nuggets or what matters.
Allison Minutillo 9:30
There's a lot of dancing on your feet and visualizing in the moment too that happens. So, there's a lot of polish that happens after those sessions and those conversations, but in the moment, it's a little bit of like OCD organizational skills. I don't know if you have any of that in your past, but it's like you're putting words in boxes. You're you're putting structure around it or it's starting to take shape. So, are there strategies and tactics that you use in the moment? Is it a preparedness thing where you're, you're kind of guiding it and you know directionally where it's gonna go beforehand? Like what, how do you work through it in your head?
BJ Kito 10:20
You have to prep in some way. You have to know the major points of the conversation that are going to happen. Obviously kind of do your homework on, you know, if it's a project or a client or an industry, whatever you're talking about, you have to get a baseline. In the early stages, a lot of times it's sort of a free for all and I think even if you look at at least the sessions that I've been in, or you know how I've always approached it, like the early part is a kind of a mess, right? You're kind of just throwing notes and topics and getting conversation going. As you start to see themes and as you start to see general directions, at least in my mind, I'm trying to package it up. So whether its goals and objectives are all blue ink and questions remain orange and red, and then you know opportunities are green or you start to package and we use a lot of postdates and we use a lot of other materials to kind of visualize so thematic, themeing those out, you know, color coding, those are putting them in similar areas and packaging them in a way where it's easier to go back and you start to see things start to become a little bit more prevalent. Right, you start to see a bit more of a specific color, which also then kind of tells you where you need to dive in. If we have a whole lot opportunity, but we don't have any goals defined then you know that we have to start getting a little bit more focused on actions and results. Yep. If we have all a lot of red and we have a whole lot of questions then that gives us the indication that we start having some some some answers come through and that either is on us or on individuals or on the clients and start to fill in some of those blanks before we can move forward.
Allison Minutillo 12:22
How do you get other people to be comfortable with that blank sheet of paper and the role. Because a lot of times I hear I'm not a visual person, or oh, you're better than that than I am and I feel like that's a cop out sometimes.
BJ Kito 12:38
So it's like oh your penmanship, right
Allison Minutillo 12:41
Yeah, right. Your handwriting's better. So it's like wait a second. No, no, like, who cares what that penmanship, I mean you have to be able to read, and that is kind of part of it. Um, because part of this looks beautiful and inspiring, and interesting and memorable. So there is a little truth to that. A lot of it is personality, and confidence and excitement and like spotting and emphasizing a good idea when you hear one and connecting dots when it happens to make the room feel like there's this magic moment. But how do you teach it?
BJ Kito 13:17
That's a - that's the million dollar question. Right? Someone asked me and I and something similar and I said well, they could start by having 30 years of observations like you know I did before I felt comfortable enough, but obviously that's not something that can be scaled very quickly. I think it's just a matter of standing up. In those we're so comfortable now, sitting in the background. Or sitting on the computer and the, the laptop literally is a wall. We're just behind it, we're safe. We're taking notes. You know, we're valuable to the meeting because we're taking notes and you know, there's there's a lot to be said - close, close the laptop. Ask a question, you know, start to just get baseline participation. Ask some additional questions, get people to hand out the post it notes or make sure that people have their markers, right. Just even like that little stuff. And then get up and write a few things. And then write a few more, like that's literally that's it. Start to, start to take notes because nothing that you write down is wrong. It's literally something that's been said by people for the most part, right. You're not - it's very little creation.
Allison Minutillo 14:38
Yeah, you're not expected to develop the strategy on the fly. Sometimes that naturally - like I think that's the layer of expertise that happens is that strategies happen on the fly. Right? The more reps you get at this, but that wasn't always the case. It's like the very first step like you said is just try, just participate a little bit more. Know that there's a catch all in the room or there's a space - safe space to do this. If it's the most tense conversation in the world. Definitely not your first time to try. But if it's like if it's an internal thing or it's an ideation session or - what is the risk of feeling uncomfortable?
BJ Kito 15:17
And you have to realize that people are going to be there not to save you but to support you
Allison Minutillo 15:22
BJ Kito 15:22
So you're probably not expected to come to the greatest, you know, strategic evaluation of the situation and come up with these nuggets that are, you know, groundbreaking and brilliant all on your own. I don't think that we're expecting that of, of anyone, maybe we put that pressure on ourselves. But you know, I don't think that that expectation exists, you know, for anyone else. So for them, and for everyone. That's hesitant to try and that's really all it is. If you have a whiteboard, you have a piece of paper and people are asking questions or people are talking about you know, what their feelings are and once you start trapping that it becomes a little bit like that snowball, you know, that whole metaphor right where it just starts rolling downhill and it picks up momentum. That's kind of how it is, you start to get a little bit more confident. And with that, then you can start to actually think in the moment.
Allison Minutillo 16:23
BJ Kito 16:24
Because so often you're thinking about oh, well, should I write that? That was that like -
Allison Minutillo 16:30
The answer is yes.
BJ Kito 16:31
Yeah, right. Exactly. Right. There's like this like, oh, and then I missed it now like you get it or just alright, we'll just move on. Like don't worry about it. Right. Someone else got it or we'll come back to it. So yeah, I think that's -
Allison Minutillo 16:44
Or pause the room. Direct the conversation. There's so many lessons that can be learned by doing that. Oh, how do you lead a complex group of really dynamic individuals? It's, it's hard. It's not just being silent. Like we started this conversation at the whiteboard, right? That is one way to do it. But there's also other times when it's like, hang on a second, let's not let's not go past that point. Explain what you meant. Right? There's this confidence and control that comes from the room.
BJ Kito 17:15
Yeah. And that happens when you start to feel a little bit more at ease with asking questions. It's really what it is. It was a long period of time where I was afraid to ask questions because I expected that other people expected I had every answer. Right. And personal pressure on myself.
Allison Minutillo 17:41
BJ Kito 17:41
I always wanted to make sure that anything that came out of my mouth was the most groundbreaking and most valuable and just like they would never forget it.
Allison Minutillo 17:54
Just set an unrealistic expectation completely. Yeah.
BJ Kito 17:57
But early on in my career was like, that was the only, I'm only-
Allison Minutillo 18:01
Just profound statements.
BJ Kito 18:02
Allison Minutillo 18:03
BJ Kito 18:04
And then what I realized is that I was missing, you know, the entire meeting not not that I wasn't there, but thinking of what was going to be so great that I could come up with on something that was said in the first five minutes, that by the time I actually thought of something neat the meeting was over.
Allison Minutillo 18:22
You missed it. It's true. Like you almost black it out. When you're trying to think of the next thing to say instead of being present and letting things linger, it's okay. Just, just the pure fact of getting them to say it is even a goal achieved.
BJ Kito 18:38
Right. And that's, that's the other way to start. Is be part of the act of questioning. That's, that's another really valuable piece of meetings. You know, you're leading meetings all the time in these discussions and you're thinking through about where the conversation should go next, or you know, that there's some other you know, problems and you're kind of putting that together. Taking some of that pressure off of where that airtime can go from just asking those follow up questions, giving some of the other facilitators time to do have little sidebar, or to formulate some thinking on their own. That's really valuable too, because it keeps that momentum going. It keeps the conversation going, while also serving some purpose.
Allison Minutillo 19:37
Have you ever had a whiteboard session that you totally flopped?
BJ Kito 19:44
Allison Minutillo 19:46
BJ Kito 19:46
Absolutely. They, and typically it was if you go back to prep, it was either there was not enough to any prep. And it was maybe I was a little bit overconfident and thought whatever. I'll just showing up, figure this one out. You know, it shouldn't be that that difficult. Or a lot of times as you know, when we think through the whiteboard concept, we think through exercises and we think through active participation. So at times depending upon who's in the room, sometimes the games don't go as you plan. Sometimes, the activities don't go as you planned just based off of people's personalities or their comfort zones, things like that.
Allison Minutillo 20:41
Or there's a left field personality that you didn't anticipate or someone was invited that you didn't think was coming or there's just so many things that you can't predict. But to your point about preparedness like that is so true because no matter how senior you get, it does not matter. We are all human, and you can't perfectly anticipate every single thing that's going to happen. But if you try your hardest to think about the ways in which the conversation might go and spend your energy on how are you going to get from point A to point B of which is what do we want to get out of this? What do we need to accomplish together? What is it that we want? Then all those avenues start to steer in different directions and you find like okay, let's try this. If that happens, let's let's try something else or have a quote unquote bag of tricks up your sleeve to fill the dead air because there's plenty of times when there's dead air.
BJ Kito 21:35
Allison Minutillo 21:36
And it's the hardest part. Yeah. Because everybody's looking at you because you're the one standing up there with that Expo marker. What are you gonna say, BJ? Yeah, you know, and you have to be prepared with the next question or know when there's question fatigue. And you need to fill it with a profound statement because there are all of those intricate times but, but to the point about experience, like that's where experience comes where they really are waiting on your word of what what you are going to say next.
BJ Kito 22:04
Yes. And at this point, you know, there's the ability to fulfill that gap. Right. But it didn't come without a lot of pain. Yeah. A lot of like fearful trepidation and in getting up and saying something, you know, asking something.
Allison Minutillo 22:29
So did your playground plans ever make it through to fruition?
BJ Kito 22:33
No, they didn't. And I was thinking I wonder where they all are. At this point. I remember them so intricately designed too, like I thought through everything.
Allison Minutillo 22:44
I spy a new dad project on the horizon?
BJ Kito 22:48
Maybe? I think so.
Allison Minutillo 22:51
All right. Thanks for sharing your whiteboard magic.
BJ Kito 22:54
Absolutely. Thanks for having me.