“A picture paints a thousand words” – a well-known phrase that would appear to encourage the use of images and graphics over words to present information and even ideas. This isn’t always true, in our opinion. In fact, it’s our experience that using words rather than pictures at the very earliest stage of innovation is much more effective.
When working with an engineering products company recently, their feedback to us was that our insistence on using a structured template for written idea descriptions was, in their words, a “huge revelation”. Being engineers, they said, their practice was always to start the innovation process with drawings or sketches of their ideas. Forcing them to use words meant that they had to think about their ideas in a completely different way. The company in question are now firm advocates and insist that new ideas are submitted using a simple, structured, written description. They now report a substantial improvement in the quality of ideas entering their innovation pipeline.
To us, writing ideas is more than just a communication process. Of course, it’s important to be able to communicate an idea effectively. An idea will never make progress unless it can be easily communicated to a range of different stakeholders. Perhaps as important, however, is that using only words – in the early stages at least – to describe an idea is, in effect, a thinking tool. Using words means that we need to work through the logic of an idea, to ensure that it makes sense in our own head. Good ideas are nearly always easy to understand when we hear them. Not that the idea necessarily enters our brain fully-formed however. There is real craft in drafting and redrafting an idea description based on an initial spark until a beautiful clarity and logic emerges – and this is often an essential starting point for successful innovation.