Canvas 101
How to use a blank canvas as a mechanism to leverage shared creativity.
Canvas 101
How to use a blank canvas as a mechanism to leverage shared creativity.
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A blank canvas, or a blank wall, or a large sheet of paper. They all pose the same dilemmas: "how do I start?" and "after I start, where do I go?" That initial analysis paralysis, or lack of focus, is exactly where most people drop off. It is much easier to sit and document what I already know than to figure out how we should go about a project (which is, by nature, undefined).

I always go back to the fundamental question: "what is the problem you are trying to solve?" The canvas solves one very difficult problem very well: how to group multiple ideas into one single vision. That is often the problem of 80% of projects - each participant has a slightly different objective, and all just assumed they were on the same page.


Using a canvas is an exercise to get all the participants on the same (literal) page.


As we know, the root cause of almost all social problems is misunderstanding between people. There are few important things to keep in mind when using a canvas:

  1. The canvas can be pre-categorized so that ideas can fall into place as they come up.
  2. The categorizations should relate to real-world areas/issues/concerns.
  3. Much work is needed in designing and maintaining the canvas.
  4. The canvas is a living document, which replaces a "PowerPoint" or "Word" document.
  5. The position of items in the canvas can illustrate their importance or impact/cost.
  6. Filtering is necessary, otherwise the volume of information prevents any visual conclusion.


Using a canvas in a change program

In a change program, a canvas can be used to capture the current knowledge of the system - in order to guide intervention (and experiment) prioritization decisions. It is a living document that is updated as group sessions (such as brainstorming, retrospectives, demo, or team meetings) are conducted. As hypothesis are proven/disproven, and as new understandings of the culture emerge, the canvas is updated.


When decision time comes, a look at the canvas enables a much more informed decision to take place.


There could be one canvas for the overall change program, and one canvas for each change objective (strategic capability). Both canvas need to be filtered for the most relevant information. The program-level filtering is done on a systemic level (issues that relate to all sub-programs) while the capability-focused canvas show only information that relates to that objective.

London, UK
March 2-3, 2019