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The Beauty of Blank

Here’s one easy way to keep your eye on the big picture.
Blank paper innovation
photo by Eric Kulin

“I find that those who are skilled at paying attention to the details are the perfectionists of the world. While they probably aren’t coming up with breakthrough innovations, they are quite skilled at tweaking a mediocre idea into something truly fantastic,” writes organizational psychologist Eva Rykrsmith (@EvaRykr) on Intuit.com. “Unfortunately, before something can be made better, the idea for the project needs to be conceptualized.”

Such is the dilemma that detail-oriented managers face in a fast-growing company. Yes, the world has room for both big-picture thinkers and nitpickers. But when it comes to innovation, details often get in the way.

That’s one reason why Justin Rosenstein, co-founder of task-management software developer Asana, always keeps a blank sheet of paper on him. In a post for LinkedIn’s Things I Carry series, Rosenstein elaborates:

“Computers are great when information is highly structured, but for brainstorming and early designs, nothing beats writing on paper. And I say that as a hardcore technologist who tracks every tiny detail of my life electronically.

“Inspiration can strike at the most surprising moments, so I always keep paper close at hand. I can sketch a few quick drawings for what a new product feature might look like. Because it’s just an ugly drawing (I have pretty poor penmanship), I can focus on the ideas rather than getting bogged down in the pixel-level details.

“And when I show the ideas to others, it forces us to keep the discussion high-level — otherwise it can be easy to start debating color before we’ve even decided what we’re building.”



One disciple of Rosenstein's philosophy — who could be described as a surprising Luddite only if you're unfamiliar with his level of craftsmanship — is Jerry Seinfeld. The iconic comedian recently told the New York Times Magazine that he's never written a joke on a computer.

"I don't like that cursor flashing, looking at me like, 'So, what've you got?'" Seinfeld says in the video below.

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The Beauty of Blank

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