You can feel a good idea. It vibrates with potential and it begets new ideas. It gathers more ideas into itself and develops until it becomes real, substantial. But the idea itself is just the beginning – the real magic is in the telling, it’s in enlivening an audience and in unveiling an idea so that people can participate in the creative dialogue. Ideas are not meant to be isolated, lonely bits of creative energy; they are meant to be shared.
Sometimes there is a fear that sharing an idea will make it no longer solely yours. For that, Howard Aiken has some pithy advice: “don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original you will have to ram it down their throats.” Not only that, but you will have to make your voice heard above a sea of other voices and ideas vying to do the same thing. The best way to be understood above the din is through effective communication. A well-communicated idea will always fly further and higher than an equally brilliant idea masked behind shoddy rhetoric. Through a well-constructed and persuasive argument, you can (metaphorically) shove your idea down someone’s throat and make it reach your audience.
The best part is that this works on ideas of all shapes and sizes. As a personal example, I offer up a short anecdote from my time in graduate school. I was studying Greek, Latin and Classical Studies at Bryn Mawr and I had this fantastic professor. He had mastered the art of somehow guiding a student toward an idea so deftly that it felt like they had arrived at it all on their own. At the end of each semester we had a 25-page term paper due for each course. His course had been on Attic Orators and I had struggled over finding my topic until I felt that spark of inspiration. I came to him with an idea that blended Ancient Greek and Athenian archaeology and revivified a subject that almost no one had touched in 50 years. I was excited. The whole process felt like I was excavating each and every passage, making new connections and forming links that few (if any) had bothered to forge before.
When I approached him with the general outline he was less than interested. The subject of my paper was Athenian mortgage pillars. Right now, you’re probably staring at those words with the same lack of interest my professor had. It was apparent from his expression that he thought the genesis of my idea belonged where I had found it – 50 years in the past. To his credit, however, his response – after some grumbling – was: “convince me.”
I knew it was a good idea. I also know that my hurried, excited description hadn’t done my idea justice. I ultimately resolved to take on the subject for my final paper and prove to him – and to myself – that it was a good idea. I prepared, practiced, and honed my knowledge of the material and the outline of my presentation. I only had five minutes to make my argument and I wanted it to be spectacular. Or at least as striking as a speech on mortgage pillars could be. I explained my argument in more detail this time, pointed to my evidence, and showed how and why my idea was important. This time (thankfully) the students and the professor engaged with the material; they asked questions and they were excited to learn more. I had succeeded. An important note to add to this, though, is that my idea hadn’t changed. It had become a bit more refined to be sure, but in essence it was the same idea I had presented to my professor months before. My way of talking about the idea, however, had undergone many transformations, emerging better defined and ultimately better communicated.
Those two words – “convince me” – are crucial. Everyone in every interaction is looking to be convinced by your idea, whether they explicitly say so or not. Although I may call Crystal Clear Resources a writing, editing, and translation company, that is why we have always been – first and foremost – a communication company. We were established to help people communicate their ideas and we live for those moments when your audience latches onto your idea and gets excited by it. We are able to make every one of your ideas perfectly understandable because we begin with a very simple premise: convince me.