The illusion of agreement. How many times has this happened to you? You have a conversation with people on your team about building something. You arrive at an agreement about that vision. Then they go off to build that thing. A few weeks later, they come back to unveil what you agreed on—except it looks absolutely nothing like you had discussed.
Your first impulse might be to think they weren’t listening. But chances are, that’s not the case. Most likely, they heard you loud and clear, but they were seeing something different. It’s a symptom of a problem I’ve come to call the illusion of agreement.
Here’s the problem: You have something in your head. I have something in my head. Both of us think it’s the same thing because we’re agreeing out loud, but inside—in our own minds—we’re seeing different scenes. I can see only mine, and you can see only yours. This isn’t a public stage— it’s everyone’s personal backstage. It’s like we’re each in our own dressing rooms looking in the mirror and thinking we’re seeing what someone else is seeing as well. So sketch your idea out.
Let’s explore these three benefits of sketching in more detail.
1. A variety of ideas
Sketching is great for rapid idea generation. A pencil or a marker and a piece of paper invite loose exploration. Remember to keep on generating ideas—you’ll want to push past that first bunch of surface ideas to get the deeper concepts out of your head.
The key to generating many ideas is to withhold judgment of them as good or bad until your sketching session is complete. First capture the ideas, letting them flow without worrying if they’re any good. Wait until you’re finished to judge and filter.
2. Explore the alternatives
Sketching offers you the freedom to explore alternative ideas. Early in a project it’s important to see a variety of different ideas so you can choose the best option. Sketching works well for this, as you can explore those varied ideas quickly.
When you’re sketching, your mind is free to play and explore other directions that surface. Sketches help filter out “rabbit hole” ideas—concepts that are impossible to produce or impractical to deliver on. Drawing out ideas works as an early detection system—revealing potential issues before significant time is invested.
This is the time to ask “what if?” and explore the answers that pop into your head. Questions like “What if we could…” or “What if we were limited by…” can help break through the structures your mind forms around problems.
3. Foster better discussions
Sketches have an amazing ability to foster discussions about ideas. With colleagues and especially clients, I’ve found sketches give everyone involved the permission to consider, talk about, and challenge the ideas they represent. After all, it’s just a sketch.
Because sketches are unfinished and loose, they invite commentary. There is a latitude inherent in a sketch that seems to magically open the door for others to offer ideas—often thoughts you couldn’t come up with from your singular perspective.
When you look at something real, everything gets much clearer very quickly. You can freethink, you can brainstorm, you can make decisions. When you finally shatter that illusion of agreement, you can arrive at an actual agreement.
Check out my related post: How to do better at a job interview?