A toaster, many solutions


What, how and when we do what we do in our daily lives reveals a little part of us. We take a different kind of decisions. Some of them are simple and practical, others are analytical and complicated and many others are a little more difficult to describe. There is a little and funny exercise to find out how easy or complicated you do things. It's painless and you'll probably want to reward your effort when you are done, with a delicious toast and peanut butter.

Revealing the complexity of our thinking process may seem to be a simple task, especially when you are blind to it. It's a process that happens in our subconscious and with which we are mimicked. Mental processes are unique and probably unrepeatable in each individual, although this doesn't mean they are incompatible. Analyzing how we solve problems is a way to find it out. At the same time, we can take a look to the manifestations of those processes. This is actually a subject that has been studied many times with multiple perspectives, but there is someone who had a simple idea to achieve it and founded a small project called "Draw how to make toast".

Tom Wujec is probably the largest graphic algorithm collector on "how to make toast". Yes, I know! Making a toast? Please, we all know how to make it! But, do we all make it in the same way? Do we all follow the same process to achieve it? Have you ever heard the saying "all roads lead to Rome"? Well, this is a great example to prove it. Tom Wujec asks several people to draw a diagram of how to toast bread, step by step. (Stop! You may want to try it before you continue reading).The participants get down to work. When they are done, comes the time to compare the sketches revealing a surprise. Every head thinks differently! Once again, we all know it! So what? But, do we also think different when it comes to a simple task like toasting a bread? Some do it in just a couple of steps, but others take the task further. Far beyond! According to Wujec, most people who do this exercise solve the assignment need between five and thirteen steps. In addition, it usually denotes a common characteristic between the participants: They represent their ideas through nodes and arrows!

Within the examples that Wujec shares are possible to identify the details to which extra attention was paid. Every slice of bread enters the toaster, is toasted and comes out again. Some even represent the moment when the slice of bread is cut or the moment they decide to spread something on it. Some others also draw the emotions it causes to eat it. What if you were the one who has to illustrate that process? Which way would you take? Do you use a toaster to do it? (If you already did the exercise, please leave a comment sharing your experience!)

"Draw how to make toast"  is an idea with a goal beyond knowing multiple ways to toast a loaf of bread. It is a project with the purpose of studying mental models in order to improve and optimize them. What happens when the algorithm is about the production processes of your organization, future projects or your creative process? Wujec begins by explaining this exercise at the individual level and continues analyzing the behavior of group processes and what the benefits of taking this exercise to the practice might be. One of them is definitely the improvement of the results. A perfect toast is the one that has the exact goldness!

Make your ideas visible, tangible, and consequential. It's simple, it's fun, it's powerful, and I believe it's an idea worth celebrating.  — Tom Wujec for TedxTalks

How much complicated means complicated when trying to come up with a solution? Surely the answer is different for each individual and according to the dimensions of each case, but the important thing is to remember the lesson. Each process has the potential to be optimized! Analyzing them individually or in groups is part of a knowledge that will help make better decisions, achieve better results and set new goals. For now, I would like to close this post with my own diagram and the way I toast my bread by drawing. Do not forget to visit "Draw how to make toast" to get more information and to take advantage of this nice and productive exercise.