Eliminate, Observe, Communicate

One of our country's prominent authors, Henry David Thoreau, provides a framework for helping us with our modern day design. In an attempt to develop his writing, Thoreau took two years off and moved to the woods. He built a one-room cabin near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The result was a foundational work of American literature.

The framework Thoreau provides is a three-step process: Eliminate, Observe and Communicate.

Step 1: Eliminate

The author eliminated the distractions in his life. He was extreme in this first step, and in doing so gave us courage to be bold in our quest to create time and space for ourselves. We do not need to sell everything and move to the woods to learn from his example. We can follow this pattern in large and small ways. It can be as simple as blocking off a half day and going to the park to create space.

Step 2: Observe

We may think of innovation as some magical creativity that happens for a few special people. In reality, observation is the leading mechanism to unlock breakthroughs. When given space, our minds can connect the dots and solve problems in amazing ways. A simple, even obvious solution to a problem can be the million-dollar idea you need.

Step 3: Communicate

Write down what your mind sees and share it with others. Pencil to paper, marker to whiteboard, chalk to blackboard, voice to recorder or keystrokes to computer, any medium that feels natural will work. As Thoreau demonstrates in his writing, the more detail the better. The smallest detail can contain the secret to the breakthrough.


If you are designing new products, prioritizing workloads for teams, updating an existing process or searching for ways to improve your company's customer service, this framework can be a powerful tool. Each step is a unique skill set. Focus on each one and work to become incrementally better. Practice makes perfect!

In Thoreau's Words:


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

- Henry David Thoreau, Where I Lived, and What I Lived For