Squeeze And Stretch Ideas

What passes for authenticity these days too often is what passes immediately and unadulterated from the top of one’s head to one’s mouth or fingers typing online. Spontaneity smacks down editing. Editing what you are about to say or write — some apparently think — only sucks the life out of the idea.

Maybe … if the idea, indeed, has life – that is, substance and sustainability — and not just whimsy.

Two ways to validate substance and test sustainability are to compress and extrapolate the idea. Compression separates the juice, if any, from the pulp; extrapolation determines if the seed of the idea can reproduce. Compression requires grinding honesty; extrapolation requires imagination.

New York Times Technology Columnist David Pogue tells those who pitch him with, what they think are, “revolutionary” product ideas that they should compress their turgid, self-serving news releases into 300-character, customer-benefitting descriptions. Likewise, I have recommended turning business strategies and even resumes into 140-character capsules. Compression forces rethinking.

Compress your idea into a 140-300 character statement. If you find your compressed version laced with borrowed and tired phrases/words such as “best-in-class,” “onboarding,” or “value-adding,” you better double-check that you truly understand the concept before others won’t. Boil rather than boilerplate your idea; a solid idea cooks well, a watery idea vaporizes.

Even if you have a great idea that excites you, before you start sprinting, spend 45 minutes mind-mapping similar ideas, subordinate ideas, and even whacky ideas. Forget about the why-nots: lack of resources, not enough time, etc. You’re looking for the much better idea that was lodged in your mind while you wrote down the feel-good idea.

Return to your scribbling the next morning, at which time, guaranteed, you will see if your original idea still sounds plausible. If not, you will see a better replacement on your map.

To illustrate, assume that you are assigned to build an intranet portal or resuscitate an aging one that is embarrassingly thin on content. You want to – have to — inject substance and excitement that will engage and challenge employees, and you want to move quickly.

Two months away is an intra-company conference with external speakers and internal presenters, an attendance list that generally reflects your organization’s makeup, and an agenda that addresses critical issues. You think, I could have someone attend and write up an article about the conference, and maybe interview the CEO on its importance to the organization.

Jot that idea onto your mind-map and think hard – real hard. Next morning, ask yourself: Is the idea a good one? Of course, that’s what most folks would do. Now think about it from employees’ viewpoint.

  • Why would they want to read a story that relates generalized information about an organizational gathering to which they were not invited?
  • For those who did attend, why would they want to read a summary of what they already heard?

Would it be possible, you should ask yourself, for the 95% of the employee audience not there to attend the conference later and virtually? You could do that by thinking of the conference as a social network of resourceful people gathered in one place to exchange extensive information, deep knowledge, and innovative ideas of benefit to the organization and themselves.

Sounds like an intranet portal, doesn’t it?

What you need to do is capture, massage, repurpose, repackage, and market – that is extrapolate — the conference’s wealth of content from offline to online and let everyone participate whenever they want. You need to replicate and move this temporary portal to your permanent portal.

So, you write on your mindmap: Produce at least 85 pieces of content that can structure, populate, and enliven the portal.

Crazy, huh? Nope. I’ve done it, and so can you.

Anyone can extrapolate a lot from what seems like a little if you’re inquisitive, imaginative, and persistent, and you think in terms of bite-size information — whatever is chewable, easily digested, and memorable.

I’ll make it easier. Focus on only one segment of the conference: the keynoter. From that one presentation, you should be able to reap 30 or more pieces of content.

Here are just four tactics to use to get there. (Read my entire list of tactics and resulting content here.)

  1. Video-record the presentation, not to post it in its entirety, but to give you footage that can be sliced and batched topically (e.g., industry future, competition, etc.) as brief, user-friendly, instructive, company-applicable clips.
  2. Get permission to use the speaker’s data slides, which you can convert into, for instance, infographics.
  3. Have the speaker pose a question that she would like to ask your employees. Post it as a poll.
  4. At the conference, video-record four or five company attendees answering the question: “What are you taking away from the speaker’s remarks that you could integrate into how you and your colleagues work even next week?”

Sounds like hard work. You’re right. But watch the payoff for your organization and your career from compressing an ambiguous idea and extrapolating a clever one.

Photo by Richard Skaare, Boston

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