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The Art of Communicating Big Ideas

What I want to learn

Half of the battle of geting teams to work well together, and of getting others to buy into a vision, is to be able to communicate ideas clearly and engagingly.

This section of my Open Master’s plan is about developing three main skills for communicating big ideas: sketching, speaking, and writing.

While I already feel pretty comfortable with wordsmithing, I have not dedicated nearly as much time and energy to that skill as many of my peers.  I would love to improve the speed and creativity with which I can produce great prose.  I will dedicate some time to learning and relearning some of the common tools of the trade- such as how to proof-read quickly and efficiently, and the basics of Rhetoric- on which I have never taken a course- and to practicing speaking and writing as much as possible.

That said, my current tendency is already to lean a bit too heavily on the verbal mode to communicate big ideas, even when that mode doesn’t make sense for the idea or the people with whom I am working.  I am not naturally a doodler, but sketching and doodling are among the most powerful tools at the disposal of both the entrepreneur and the facilitator.  So, along with some practice writing and speaking, I will also be dedicating some time developing my skill for freehand drawing, such as on white boards in group meetings.  I do not expect to produce works of visual art, but I do strive to understand some of the do’s and don’ts and to make sketching on the fly and in front of large groups un-intimidating.

How I hope to cultivate these arts
  • Re-create (as a Citizen Circle) a course I took at UVA on professional writing, using the Little Red Schoolhouse as a foundation.
  • Create a Citizen Circle- or find a course to take- on Rhetoric (e.g. I could work with someone like Jenn Fishman to do this).
  • Take a class on freehand sketching and drawing (e.g. this one at Omega Institute, recommended by a friend).
  • Create a course on John Ruskin with Mike Durante, Nabil, and a few other friends.
  • Try to convince Max Harper to offer a KCDC class on using whiteboards, or to swap some lessons for beers.
  • Buy Visual Teams and take a course on Graphic Facilitation (e.g. from The Grove).
  • Have some fun with my sketchbook (e.g. things I saw today).
  • For a big presentation, work with a speaking coach and get my speech critiqued before and after.
  • Take on a project that would require me to use InDesign and/or Photoshop and get a mentor to help me through using it.
  • Anything else that comes up in the process of doing the above.

Also, I’ll need to get some materials, such as:

  • Photoshop ($699)
  • InDesign ($699)
  • A Sketchbook ($10-20)
  • Scrivener ($44)
  • A whiteboard (actually, a showerboard) for my room ($10).
Book List Time and Cost

Right now, unless I can find ways to save, it looks like I could be spending:

  • $200 for materials / books
  • $1,450 for software

But, I don’t really plan on spending that on software unless I really can’t find another way.

Otherwise, the biggest cost here is going to be time.  Making drawing and writing part of my daily routine is admittedly going to be challenging, but worth it.

Recognition of Mastery

I’ll have to think on this a bit more, because these skills are more about constant improvement more than hitting milestones or high marks on a competency rubric.  For now, here are some ideas of milestones that would be a good indicator that my skills are getting pretty solid in this area:

  • I have a piece of work published by a major blog or as a book.
  • I am asked to speak at a major conference like TED or PopTech.
  • I start getting compliments that my sketchs have helped others understand complex ideas or systems.


1 comment to “The Art of Communicating Big Ideas”

  • Alan Webb’s draft Open Master’s plan, August 29, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    […] The Art of Communicating Big Ideas – or, more specifically, the art of writing, speaking, and sketching to help understand and communicate complex ideas or systems clearly. […]