Everyone loves a good sticky note. They’re easy to use; they efficiently capture a concept or thought; they take up very little physical space; and they’re nice to look at against a whiteboard when you’re using different colors.

Businesses really love sticky notes, because they can turbocharge a team brainstorming process.

Then again, sticky notes have limitations. They fall off of things. Once you’ve stuck them somewhere, they’re not easy to move around and reconfigure. You have to take photos of them in order to make sure you don’t lose them, or lose the order in which you’ve placed them. This is awkward.

Katherine Radeka is the CEO of Rapid Learning Cycles Institute. With a unique process that she has developed over the years, Katherine helps innovative companies get their products to market faster, with less risk. She occasionally refers to what she does as “Agile for hardware,” explaining, “We help groups identify the key decisions they need to make – decisions with the potential for massive impacts – and to arrive at what they need to know to make those decisions with confidence.” 

Katherine is a longtime sticky note fan. “I’ve been facilitating meetings for a very, very long time. I’ve always found sticky notes to be a really powerful way of getting a team engaged.” 

But with the advent of the pandemic, Katherine found sticky notes were no longer as convenient, as nearly all group sessions were moved to an online format.

real post it notes to digital example

Strangely enough though, Katherine no longer misses her sticky notes. Nowadays she recalls their drawbacks: “We’d identify key decisions, organize them one way, and then organize them in a different way, but we couldn’t preserve the first organization because we were using the same sticky notes! Sometimes we’d take pictures of it, but that only worked okay. If I really wanted to remember what a configuration looked like, I’d have to ask people rewrite the sticky notes, which they hated to do.”

Today, Katherine relies on Cardsmith, a simple online tool featuring virtual sticky notes (or “cards”), which she can copy instantly from (virtual) board to (virtual) board, repurposing ideas and trying out new configurations without losing the old.  “With Cardsmith, every step we take is preserved. Each board has a history button, showing all that board’s activity, and who’s changed what. 

“Having this history at our fingertips also helps the team understand what they’ve been building. So when they’re in front of their organization’s decision makers and they’re trying to justify a proposed solution, they can say, ‘We had these two knowledge gaps that we closed, related to this key decision. And here is how this key decision relates to other decisions …’”

Katherine notes that, though Cardsmith is less feature-dense than some other popular tools, the benefits of Cardsmith are “not something a lot of tools do well. I have watched people afraid to touch a Miro board because they didn’t understand how it worked and didn’t want to embarrass themselves. And just last week I ran a pilot workshop for a client who was resistant to using anything outside the Microsoft toolkit. It was a nightmare. We were trying to do something with PowerPoint, and the team was just passive. One person was doing everything and everyone else was just watching. But then we tried with Cardsmith, and not only did we get more and better key decisions and knowledge gaps identified, we also got more questions and interest. Everybody had a response on the board. The class was much more interactive, and the difference was striking.” 

Like sticky notes on steroids!

Because Cardsmith is adaptable and “lightweight” – less cumbersome than many fancier tools – it brings all the advantages of sticky notes (and much more) and is easily adaptable to any facilitator’s style or proprietary method. 

Katherine opines that “any facilitator today who needs meeting participants to be active needs a tool like Cardsmith.”