The Outline Trap - Britannica and Brainstorming: by Jerry Weissman
One of the early lessons we all learn in school is how to make an outline; how to create that waterfall of Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lower case letters that cascade down to the bottom of the page, if not dozens of pages of interminable term papers. Thus we are forever programmed to arrange our ideas in a hierarchical order—in sharp contrast to what our brains do naturally: generate ideas in random order.
To demonstrate: as I sit writing this blog, I glance at a ball point pen on my desk. The logo on the pen reminds me that I got it at as souvenir at a business conference. I remember that I met a man at the conference who told me about a book on presidential politics. This reminds me that I had been planning another blog on the same subject, and so I open a file with the notes on that subject and…. you see where this is going. I’m sure that if you were to track your own thought patterns, you would discover the same winding, random path. That’s the way every human mind works: unstructured.
And yet, when business people sit down to develop a presentation, they immediately start to apply structure, in either a hierarchical outline form or by organizing a set of existing PowerPoint slides to create a new “deck”—each approach forces structure onto unstructured ideas.
In a prior post about how Woody Allen creates, you read that he and other artists let their random ideas flow unimpeded, note them as they occur, and then lay out the notes in a panoramic view. Mr. Allen tosses scraps of paper onto his bed, other film directors use storyboards, architects make papier-maché models, military officers use wall size maps, and businesses encourage employees to doodle their creative ideas on whiteboards during product development or strategy sessions. The Wall Street Journal reported that sales of IdeaPaint, a paint product that turns a wall surface into a whiteboard, have doubled since 2008. For your presentation development, you can do your brainstorming on a whiteboard, a computer screen or Post-it Notes as you generate your ideas, but what is as important as the free flow is that you see the ideas you generate in a panoramic or landscape view.
The simple reason for this part of the creative process is that our eyes are set side-by-side in our heads, making the landscape view more pleasing and open than the portrait view. If you start with an outline, the constricted view imposes a ranking sequence too early in the process. A panoramic view allows you to see the conceptual relationships among your ideas.
Even the venerable Encyclopaedia Britannica has come to understand the importance of visual thematic relationships. The publisher of alphabetized—sequential rather than conceptual— reference works for almost 244 years, discontinued its print version in March and went digital. As part of the transition, they included a link map feature, shown above, that looks like a brainstorming session you might do on a whiteboard.
Walter S. Mossberg, the author of the Wall Street Journal's "Personal Technology" column, reviewed the new feature and wrote that the publisher, which "has always been expensive, and a bit stodgy...[in] order to make itself more relevant in a Wikipedia world…has produced a slick app…Perhaps the coolest feature is the link map, triggered from an icon at the top of each article page. This generates a spider web of icons representing other articles related to the one you were reading."
The 35,000 foot view shows patterns that lead to clear stories; an outline traps ideas.
Take the high road.
Jerry Weissman is among the world's foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who's who of the world's best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intel, Intuit, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Netflix and many others.
Jerry founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. One of his earliest efforts was the Cisco Systems IPO road show. Following its successful launch, Don Valentine, of Sequoia Capital, and then chairman of Cisco's Board of Directors, attributed "at least two to three dollars" of the offering price to Jerry's coaching. That endorsement led to more than 500 other IPO road show presentations that have raised hundreds of billions of dollars in the stock market.
Categories: guest_post, opinion, outline, powerpoint
April 2003 | May 2003 | December 2003 | January 2004 | February 2004 | March 2004 | April 2004 | May 2004 | June 2004 | July 2004 | August 2004 | September 2004 | October 2004 | November 2004 | December 2004 | January 2005 | February 2005 | March 2005 | April 2005 | May 2005 | June 2005 | July 2005 | August 2005 | September 2005 | October 2005 | November 2005 | December 2005 | January 2006 | February 2006 | March 2006 | April 2006 | May 2006 | June 2006 | July 2006 | August 2006 | September 2006 | October 2006 | November 2006 | December 2006 | January 2007 | February 2007 | March 2007 | April 2007 | May 2007 | June 2007 | July 2007 | August 2007 | September 2007 | October 2007 | November 2007 | December 2007 | January 2008 | February 2008 | March 2008 | April 2008 | May 2008 | June 2008 | July 2008 | August 2008 | September 2008 | October 2008 | November 2008 | December 2008 | January 2009 | February 2009 | March 2009 | April 2009 | May 2009 | June 2009 | July 2009 | August 2009 | September 2009 | October 2009 | November 2009 | December 2009 | January 2010 | February 2010 | March 2010 | April 2010 | May 2010 | June 2010 | July 2010 | August 2010 | September 2010 | October 2010 | November 2010 | December 2010 | January 2011 | February 2011 | March 2011 | April 2011 | May 2011 | June 2011 | July 2011 | August 2011 | September 2011 | October 2011 | November 2011 | December 2011 | January 2012 | February 2012 | March 2012 | April 2012 | May 2012 | June 2012 | July 2012 | August 2012 | September 2012 | October 2012 | November 2012 | December 2012 | January 2013 | February 2013 | March 2013 | April 2013 | May 2013 | June 2013 | July 2013 | August 2013 | September 2013 | October 2013 | November 2013 | December 2013 | January 2014 | February 2014 | March 2014 | April 2014 | May 2014 | June 2014 | July 2014 | August 2014 | September 2014 |