Don’t Fear the Blank Canvas

Adriana Beal

Adriana Beal has spent the last 15 years helping Fortune 100 companies, innovation companies and startups build better software that solves the right problem and aligns with business strategy. Her current focus of work is customer development and product strategy for tech startups.

A project begins with untested assumptions, competing options, diverging opinions about product scope and so on. Creating visual models that show the “why, who, how and what” of the problem being addresses can facilitate the process of getting to better solutions faster — even without sufficient knowledge to get them right the first time around.

“Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of `you can't' once and for all.”  —  Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to his brother Theo (October 1884)

Like painters who are afraid of the blank canvas, many business analysts fail to achieve top performance because of their fear of making mistakes. This fear leads to many problems, from analysis paralysis to a self-fulfilling prophecy — by being afraid of being wrong, analysts shy away from explorations that would lead to better solutions.

The types of problems we try to solve with software systems often can’t be boiled down to simple narratives. Software applications have many parts affecting one another, and drawing a picture can clarify what’s going on, making it as tangible as possible. As visual-thinking guru Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin, says, “words won’t save us.”

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"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"

- Albert Einstein