shutterstock_272198600Take 3 minutes and draw how you make toast.

Grab a pen and paper and start drawing. Don’t use words. Just your artistic skills.

Draw the steps you would use to make toast. Have some fun with it. For this initial 3 minute exercise do this solo. For the next time you do this consider adding a few people to the mix. Also, consider using post-it notes to draw out each step. That way you can re-arrange as needed.

I suspect you will learn a little about yourself. After you are done with your drawing take 3 more minutes and read the rest of this post. And, finally, make a comment here. I’m curious to know how many steps you needed to make toast.

Why Toast?

Almost everyone has made toast or at least seen someone make toast. This post was inspired from a great TED talk by Tom Wujec. Where he discusses the idea of Systems Design and uses Making Toast as a way to facilitate the process. He provides much more detail in the 9 minute talk. I have excerpted some of his ideas here and added a few of my own. The gist is that there is a simple way to help people think about how they think — both individually and in groups. By taking a common process, such as making toast, as extrapolating it out there is a certain elegance in

Discovering Visual Thinking

What you may not discover on your first pass is that there is a magic number for the steps (nodes) required. There is also a differentiation in whether you do this solo or as a group. What you may discover is that you are an excellent artist and perhaps an excellent maker of toast. What you may also discover is your perception and affinity around a systems model of thinking. Have some fun with this. It’s an easy way to get yourself and others thinking.

Key Takeaways

  • Everything has Nodes and Links
  • Between 5 and 13 node is the sweet spot for individuals
  • Between 11 and 19 nodes is the sweet spot for groups (Because it’s participatory it avoids “map shock”)
  • People are intuitive know how to break complex things down in simplified tasks (nodes)

A Visual Revolution

The ability to create moveable nodes and links is the key. Start with a simple drawing … your first 3 minutes here. Then collect, refine, iterate a few times and you will start to see patterns emerge. As these patterns emerge they show the systems model of thinking in action. There are a few items that will come from the systems oriented thinking. They can be represented as good, better and best. The individual or solo efforts are good, but when combined with others in a group effort the iteration and synthesis creates the best overall solution.

  • Good: Links & Nodes
  • Better: Iteration
  • Best: Synthesis

The simple act of visualizing the problem can lead to a deeper understanding of an issue which can lead to a solution. The example here is to Make Toast.which is a simple, yet effective, metaphor to get people thinking.

What else can I make?

You can use this model to think about any business or personal challenge. Whether you do this as a solo effort or enlist some trusted advisors is up to you. Start with “How Would You Make Toast” because it is a great icebreaker to get you thinking. It’s also a great way to get yourself or a group warmed up for solving bigger, more pressing challenges.

For example, if you are looking to make an improvement in something look no further than what you are working on right now. What’s making it hard to complete? What’s making it easy? Take a few minutes to draw out the process (again with no words) and see if you can come up with a model that either improves upon or otherwise confirms the model you are using is the best at this point in time.

Other projects could be related to almost anything. Perhaps your customer service department is considering a new offering, or maybe your manager has asked you to help on-board a new employee, or perhaps you are just trying to imagine which job you should take. Envision it, imagine it, draw it. Then evaluate, iterate and re-draw as necessary.

In the end this is just a tool. The only way to get better at it is to use it. You may find this isn’t the best tool for your tool belt, but at least you’ll know another way to consider when faced with a challenge. For more information on Tom Wujec’s model see – where he details the process and offers a free guide to get you started.

Stitching the Picture Together

Those that can draw and visualize their problem situations, whether they are theoretical or actual, have a increased probability of coming up with a solution to a pressing problem or challenge. Those that learn this skill and can apply it effectively … even under pressure … will Stand Out in their Career. This is especially true for those that have the flexibility of make these kinds of visual maps on the fly.

The only way to do that is with practice. What will you start on first? Let us know in the comments if we all can put some group think behind it to speed your efforts. I’m sure the people that are regular readers of the Personal Branding Blog would be happy to help.

What kinds of problems will you visualize? Get your pen and paper out and start to think about them visually. Ask yourself … How Would You Make Toast? and get started. Then bring a few friends into the mix and see what is really possible.