That big idea is even better in plain English

Could you explain your big idea to your grandmother?

The latest round of difficulties in world financial markets reminds me of a time, not that long ago, when we were rather busy helping people with ‘good ideas’ to make those ideas sound attractive to people with money.

Some of the good ideas were astonishingly good. Many of the best ideas were also very simple. Indeed, some of the ideas were so simple that the people who dreamed them up felt obliged to describe them in 17 layers of complexity.

‘If we tell it like it is,’ one client told us, ‘we’re not going to get the money. We need you to make it sound complicated. That’s what the investment guys like.’

(Happily, we convinced our client to stick with simplicity and his business got the money anyway.)

But not all the innovations were simple. Some really were complicated. Some were very complicated indeed. And this could be a problem.

I remember an occasion on which it became clear that the chap briefing us on an incredibly-complicated holiday product had no idea how it would work. No idea at all.

‘Don’t need to,’ he said. ‘I just need to sell it to the money men.’ (And he was very good at selling things.)

‘What about the money men?’ we asked. ‘Surely they need to understand how it will work.’

‘No,’ he assured us. ‘They just need to believe that I know how it will work.  They also need to write a cheque.’

And write a cheque they did. Not just once, but several times. But then, after a couple of years of writing cheques, the money men decided enough was enough, and they walked away having lost several million dollars on a product that no one understood.

It was a situation that two of the 20th century’s more original thinkers – Kurt Vonnegut and Albert Einstein – would have understood perfectly.

Mr Vonnegut reckoned that you can’t hope to control what you don’t understand.  While it was Einstein who suggested that you can’t truly claim to understand anything until you can explain it to your grandmother.

So forget the industry jargon and all those sesquipedalian words.  Get your big idea down in plain English prose that your grandmother would  understand.  It will make it much easier to sell.  And it will also ensure that you really do understand it yourself. – Jack Scrivano

This entry was posted in Better communication, Clarity, Innovation, Plain English. Bookmark the permalink.

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