Skills 360 – Organizing your Ideas (Part 2)

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host Tim Simmons, and today I’d like to help you organize your ideas.

Before we get into that, a quick reminder that our Business English App for the iPhone and iPad is now available in the App Store. The app comes packed with over 100 great lessons from Business English Pod – including all our Skills 360 lessons. And the best news of all? It’s free to download. Just head over to Business English Pod [dot] com for the App Store link.

Okay, now here’s a situation we all find ourselves in: we’ve got a purpose and we have a bunch of ideas. And we have to figure out how to make those ideas serve our purpose. Maybe the purpose is to convince your manager that you deserve a promotion. Or maybe you want to develop a personal goal plan. Or maybe you have to give a presentation to the Board about recent technological trends.

No matter what your purpose, you can’t just rattle off a bunch of ideas one after another. They need organization. And this is why we take time to prepare.

Last week we looked at several ways to generate ideas. But once you have a big list of ideas, what are you going to do with them? That’s what I’ll talk about today.

You need to start by revisiting your purpose. What is it you’re trying to do? Inform, persuade, set goals, warn, recommend? And who are you organizing your ideas for? A group of potential investors? Your boss? A customer or client? Or are the ideas just for yourself? With a clear purpose and audience, you can go through your list of ideas and cross out those that don’t really apply. For example, maybe you’re trying to convince a customer to switch from the competition to your company. You’ve brainstormed all the great things about your company and its products. Somewhere in your list is “positive workplace culture.” That’s wonderful. But does a potential customer care? Probably not. So nix it.

Great, so you’ve whittled down your ideas. Now what? Now you need to start combining and grouping what remains. Look at the ideas and see if any themes jump out at you. You may notice that several ideas are linked to one bigger idea. Or one big idea in your list seems to include a bunch of smaller ideas in your list. You can rewrite these groupings of ideas on a new piece of paper, or you can just draw lines connecting them. For example, maybe you are going to be introducing your company to a potential foreign partner. You’ve come up with a big list of ideas related to your business. It includes things like salespeople, products, brand image, executive, history, founder… You peruse this list and see that salespeople, executive, and founder are all people, so you put them in a group.

How many groups you end up with will vary. But if you’re going to make your ideas work for you, it’s good to aim for a manageable number of groups. Most people deal well with 2, 3, or 4. Any more than that and it becomes more complex and less memorable.

Once you’ve grouped your ideas, explore them a bit more. Remove the ideas that don’t really seem to fit perfectly, and try to think of others that you’ve missed. Strive for balance. You want your groups of ideas to have roughly the same amount of content. In our earlier example in which you grouped different people together, you might realize you want to throw in others, like researchers and factory workers. And maybe you want to cross out “founder” because it doesn’t seem to gel with your purpose.

So, you’ve got a few groups of ideas or things. And you’ve made sure that the groups are balanced. Now try giving these groups short titles. One word is best, though you can use a phrase as well. Try to make them parallel. That is, they should all be phrased the same way. For example, you might have “at home,” “at work,” and “at the cottage.” You could also have them all start with the same letter. For example, we had “people” as one of the idea groups for introducing your company. Your other groups could be “products” and “places.” Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it? People, products, and places.

That’s what your shooting for. A few groups of related ideas that can be given tight and memorable titles. You start by generating as many ideas as possible, then you start paring down and grouping them together, then you explore each group a bit more, and finally you label them. You’re organized and ready to go!

That’s all for today. If you’d like to test yourself on what we’ve just covered, have a look at the website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript.

So long. And see you again soon.