Sticky Notes Must Die !?!?

The past 3 weeks I have been working with a group of people organizing a regional conference for a government agency. The majority of folks on this committee are relatively new to designing and delivering large-scale events like this. This is awesome for many reasons:

    • It builds the skills, confidence, and experience of a different set of people
    • It gives great exposure and opportunity to them
    • It brings new ideas and new ways of thinking into how events are planned and delivered.
    • It reenergizes existing event planners

However, an interesting thing hat has developed with the addition of all of this “fresh blood ” has been a deviation against recently used practices and tools.

Sticky Notes are frustrating some people

Specifically, the consensus view of this new group is that sticky notes should not be used in the delivery of this meeting. An email even went out to participants promising the abolition of the little yellow demons from the event.

The context is that our organization has been using system tools to explore the fabric of our organization and it’s components and some of these tools, like an Affinity Matrix (or Challenge Wall) use sticky notes. People are asked to place their ideas, concerns, thoughts and other mind matter onto these sticky notes where they are “stuck” on a flip chart or wall poster and after the event, are often synthesized into some sort of document.

The warehouse scene from Raiders - where good stuff goes to die

The tricky is that for large events, a sea of stickies can be grueling to interpret and compile and few find it exciting work.
Also, many managers don’t really know how to use this information; or, they do not know how to efficiently follow-up with their staff on how it was used. Without follow-through, people get the impression that their cherished thoughts are loaded into a crate and left to rot somewhere (a la the final warehouse scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark). This neglect of thought, actual or perceived, justifiably leads to people being frustrated and rebellious the next time they are asked to do a sticky note exercise.

My take is that the sticky note has done nothing wrong. It’s a simple piece of stationary but still a great way to capture small bits of information from people in an efficient, low-tech manner. Not unlike how a hammer is a wonderful way to pound and pry nails. However, if there is obvious discontent over their use so let’s throw that stinky fish on the table and talk openly about it. Maybe we are expecting too much from sticky notes (a hammer alone can not build a house). Maybe we are misapplying them (a hammer makes a terrible screwdriver). Maybe we have to work on how we use sticky notes exercises strategically (every construction project needs a blue print/plan).

I’d love to hear your ponderings on sticky note cynicism and what can be done about it. Post it in a comment below, tweet me (@gsjonuk), or email it to me at

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2 Responses to Sticky Notes Must Die !?!?

  1. May I ask what they would like to see to replace sticky notes? I think there is definitely something to be said for old, simple methods. I would love sticky notes on the wall. It’s like qualitative research!

    • gsjonuk says:

      If people are at circular tables, I like to use worksheets that contain exercise instructions and spaces for responses. These items could then be taped to a wall. This works best when you want to generate conversation at the table stations.

      Index cards could also be distributed, collected, and taped on a wall also.

      It’s important to diversify tools and techniques when you are engaging people however, sometimes sticky notes are the best tool and it’s a shame when we can’t have them in our toolbox. It’s funky that people will put up with hundreds of hours of bad meetings and talking head presentations but rebel quickly against new ways of communicating.

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