HYCS #30 – Modelandia: Put a Box Around It

HYCS # 30 – Modelandia: Put a Box Around It

If looking at writing on paper instead of a person calms us, putting a box around that writing is like hugging a teddy bear.

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Assignment Time: This will save you time.

I’m sitting in a workshop with David Sibbet, who has forged a career out of putting bulleted lists in boxes on large pieces of plotting paper. Although there is an elegant, almost interplanetary philosophy behind his holistic, visual approach to recording group information, and David is a genius as well as a fine illustrator, a cornerstone of his approach is putting lists in boxes. Ideally, you put several of these boxed lists together on a page with arrows that show the relationship between them, and voila!: you’ve got a holistic view of an incredibly complex reality that doesn’t overwhelm.

Boxes show boundaries. Arrows communicate relationship. What are two of the hardest things to discuss with a client or boss? Boundaries and relationships. Putting boxes around lists, and drawing arrows that show the relationship among them will do much of the boundary and relationship work for you.

I’m not talking about putting them all neat and perfect in your next powerpoint presentation. That’s fine for when the boundaries are clear and the relationships are established. But if you want to shake things up or start a new conversation about them, draw the boxes and lists as you talk to your client.

Lists Have Rules

Is it as simple as drawing a box around your list? Almost. You’ll want to make sure your list follows a few simple rules:

• It’s in your client’s words. Resist the urge to edit or improve what they say. Instead, ask them to make it more concise.

• It’s short. Not only is each item free of filler and no longer than 3-7 words, you and your client have limited the items on your list to no more than 5.

It has only one type of item per list; start a new list for what doesn’t fit.

If you follow these three guidelines for your bulleted lists, then draw a box around them, you’ll have calm, engaged and thoughtful clients talking comfortably about their most difficult issues.


Put a box around it. After you’ve got a couple of boxes, use arrows to show the sequence or relationship between the lists in your boxes.  It sounds simple, and it is.  It’s also weirdly powerful.