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How to avoid a sticky mess

It is often said, somewhat lightheartedly, inside Hewlett-Packard that the American computer company gives so many presentations that it must be among the biggest consumers of 3M's overhead projector documents. But it seems that this is not the only one of the innovative manufacturing company's products to be given a central management role at HP.

Now, David Straker, a quality consultant with the company's UK arm, has written a book describing how Post-it Notes can be an indispensable aid to, in the words of the slim volume's title, "rapid problem solving".

Lawyers have long used the yellow notes to identify appropriate passages in legal texts - a use not dissimilar to the hymn book place marking said to have been the inspiration for Art Fry, the man credited with finding a use for the "unsticky" adhesive developed by Spence Silver, his 3M colleague, back in the late 1960s.

However, Mr Straker takes the notion a step further to point to the now- ubiquitous Note's effectiveness as a tool for bringing order to chaos and coaxing the pieces of jigsaws into place.

His reasoning is based on three key properties of Post-it Notes. First, they are about the right size to hold a single piece of information from a problem; second, they are easy to attach to a surface; and third, they can be easily moved.

This notion is, in turn, based on the idea that minds work through taking in information one piece, or chunk, at a time. In the same way, information from problems also comes in chunks, says Mr Straker. And the "problem chunks" can be captured by writing them on Notes and then solving the problems by finding all the chunks, arranging them into meaningful patterns and homing in on the important bits.

Not that this is the end of it. He points out that there are no fewer than three "basic ways of arranging chunks". Lists are simple collections that may or may not have been put in any order; trees have simple "parent and child" relationships and can be built top-down or bottom-up; and maps have more complex relationships, with any chunk capable of being related to any other.

Moreover, an information chunk can, as the mnemonic "fog" reminds us, be facts, opinions or guesses.

But, Mr Straker, reminds us it is not just a case of using the Notes. Though the tools can be used on their own, they are more often used in meetings with other people where simple guidelines can help keep sessions on track.

But as if he is anxious to demonstrate how he has not lost track of the practicalities, Mr Straker includes a diagram illustrating the best method of picking up a Post-it Note.

It really is no wonder that Hewlett-Packard is the international force that it is.

'Rapid Problem Solving with Post-it Notes', by David Straker, is published by Gower at pounds 25.