Skills 360 – Organizing your Ideas (Part 1)

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Welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host Tim Simmons, and today I want to help you organize your ideas.

So, back to ideas. Sure, you’ve got lots of them. And sure, they’re important to you. But are they important to others? Well, they could be, but only if they’re clear and organized. You’ve probably been frustrated when people run on at length about what they think using vague language. And you’ve probably tuned out when someone jumps around chaotically from idea to idea without tying it all together with a purpose. That just doesn’t work. And sometimes it’s not the best ideas that win, but the ones that are most clearly articulated.

But exactly how can we do this? Ideas can be very wild animals. They don’t always come into our heads in an organized manner. Sometimes they don’t seem to come into our heads at all. And they don’t just get together in their own groups and organize themselves. So we need to generate them, tame them and get them into usable form.

Today we’ll look at a few different frameworks for generating ideas. In this case, we’re using a form of organization to actually get the ideas flowing.

But first, think about your purpose. What is it you are trying to do? Do you need to persuade someone? Are you trying to inform people? Are you trying to warn, recommend, guide, criticize, defend, describe, or inspire? Understanding your purpose will help you decide which ideas to highlight and which to deep-six.

Once you understand your purpose, try getting out as many ideas as possible. Lay it all on the table. Everything is fair game at this stage. Don’t be afraid of things that are off-the-wall. Just feel free to brainstorm, and write down whatever comes to mind. You can evaluate the ideas later. For now, you just want to generate them.

But sometimes this is easier said than done. And that’s why we use different tools or techniques for idea generation.

One useful technique is mind mapping. To make a mind map, start with one word in the center of a piece of paper. From that word, you’re going to create a radial branching system of ideas. What word do you start with? Any general idea or topic you want to explore. Say you’re planning your goals for next year. Maybe you start with that word “goals.” Now write a few words around the middle, and connect them to that central word with lines. These are major themes that relate to the central idea. So around goals, you might have “work,” “health,” “financial,” and “social.” Then do the same for each of these major themes. Keep writing new ideas around each new subword, until you have a big branching structure around the central word.

We also have something called concept maps. Concept maps have a branching structure like mind maps, but they branch down rather than out. And they illustrate how ideas are connected. Start with an idea at the top in a circle. Then jot down related concepts in circles below. Draw lines to these related concepts, and on those lines write how the first idea is related to the second. You can use phrases like “leads to” or “results in” or “creates” or just “is.” For example, imagine you’re putting together a presentation about social media, so you write that phrase at the top. Below it, you draw several lines leading to circles. On one line, you write “leads to” and in its circle you put “increased communication.” From that circle, you draw a line that says “contributes to” and a circle with “better understanding between coworkers.” You see? You’re looking at exactly how ideas are related.

Besides these mapping techniques, there are some handy charts we can use. A very basic one is a pros and cons list. You may be very familiar with that. Draw a line down the middle of the page, and write “pros” on one side and “cons” on the other. Pros are positive aspects, while cons are negative aspects.

Then there’s a SWOT analysis, which is commonly used for evaluating a business idea. SWOT means Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You can write these words in the four boxes of a large divided square. Within each box, just crank out as many ideas as possible.

All of these techniques have value, and you might want to consider using several of them. One thing to notice is that they all involve writing things down on paper. This is important. You need to get those ideas out of your head and into writing in front of you. It will help you see their relationships, remember them, and organize them later.

And it’s the organizing side of things we’ll talk about next time.

So long. And see you again soon.