It Started with a Sketch…

The logical implication of the quip that “good ideas are nothing without implementation” is that without good ideas, you can’t implement anything.

I have always been intrigued by the evolution of an idea from concept to finished product. The rough vision of a concept that leads to a mobilization of the resources that bring it to life. My summer read this year, 100 Diagrams that Changed the Worldtook this as its over-arching them, showcasing transformative ideas and how they started out as a conceptual sketch of some sort.

 In the context of business improvement programs, where I’ve seen teams trapped by their history of solid performance struggling to identify the next performance challenge, sketching the result you want has helped launch entirely new conversations about what’s possible.

“If our performance shifted to look a little more like this (the VP for Development says as she takes the graph of asset performance and draws a smooth line extrapolating a 20% increase)?” “What would we have to be doing differently to make this work?” It’s a powerful way to shift the conversation the team is having.

What would it mean for us if we cut our facility construction time in half? What would it take to do that?


What would we have to put in place, or do differently, to come close to eliminating variation in our production performance? Where would we start?


… What about water recycle rates? Construction costs? Talent acquisition? Energy consumption?

It is an exercise that requires very little effort, a moderate amount of creativity and an openness to working in a highly collaborative way to get more voices into a practical conversation. It’s also messy (it’s a sketch!), and imprecise (some Sharpies have fat nibs!) and carries a risk that it will be wrong (or at least imperfect).

It doesn’t matter. Just keep it simple and draw the performance you want.

Map out how you wish the business model worked.

Scribble the new break-even point you wish the operation could reach.

If you want the functions in the organization to work together in a different way, show your team what that might look like on the whiteboard.

Go pick up the sharpie, turn over the napkin or grab the pizza box.

What’s the transformational idea you have in your head today?

What does it look like?

How are you going to start the conversation about making it happen?

John Norcross

Though Canada is a long way from Antarctica, both places offer vast terrain for exploration. Inspired by the great 20th Century Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, Evolve Partners’ John Norcross leads the firm’s efforts to expand our presence in Canada’s exciting, and rapidly growing, energy industry.