The Idea Behind the Idea
Great ideas aren’t just found, they’re built piece by piece. To make that idea irresistible to someone else, we have to do the same thing: build that idea piece by piece in their mind. This week, we’re looking at the idea behind the Idea, the thing that makes the Problem impossible to ignore but also puts the Goal within the audience’s reach.
So what is that idea behind our Idea? It can be a lot of things: a value, a belief, a discovery, or some kind of fundamental truth that someone believes about themselves or the world. But how do you know that you’ve found the one that will make your solution feel inevitable? The test is to see whether or not it makes the Problem impossible to ignore, and then to make sure that it makes the Change you’re going to recommend feel inevitable.
In order to do this, the Idea statement you come up with has to have two qualities. First, it needs to be descriptive: there should be no action language in it. Second, it needs to be a neutral statement, not inherently good or bad. To illustrate this at work, we look at Tamsen’s work with Dheeraj Roy on his TEDx Cambridge talk about early-onset Alzheimer’s.
- Do We Really Forget In Alzheimer’s? – Deeraj Roy for TEDx
- EP053: Focus on the GOAL: Why Your Audience Needs an “Irresistible Outcome”
- EP054: Focus on the PROBLEM – Why Your Audience Needs Both Context and Contrast
- The Red Thread Worksheet
– Great ideas, ideas that have the power to change the world, aren’t just found, they’re built. They’re built piece by piece in our minds until we have that what feels like sudden realization that makes a new direction suddenly clear. To make our ideas, that idea irresistible to somebody else we have to do the same thing, we have to build the idea piece by piece in their mind. And that’s what we’re doing in this little mini series here on Find the Red Thread.
In the last two episodes we went deep on the Problem, the intractable, invisible problem of perspective that stands in the way of the other piece, the Goal, the irresistible outcome that awaits our audience if they adopt our idea.
This week it’s the Idea itself, the idea behind the idea, the thing that makes the Problem impossible to ignore but also puts the Goal within the audience’s reach. That, I’d say, is pretty irresistible. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread.
If we have what we know is an important solution or change to the world, we have this big idea that we want to get out there, it can be so tempting to skip right to it especially if we’ve taken the time to help people understand why it’s so important and so different. We’ve taken the time to help people understand that by adopting the solution there’s an outcome for them, that’s the Goal.
If we’ve taken the time to help them understand that there’s this invisible intractable, previously intractable problem that stands in the way, then of course we say, “We’ve done all that work shouldn’t they automatically understand that this solution is the right one?” They may if you skip right to it but it won’t yet be irresistible and here’s why. It’s only when there’s one other piece of information that puts the Problem and the Goal in conflict will that solution that you want to put in front of them become something that they can’t ignore. It becomes irresistible.
So, the goal that we have here is to move our solution from being understandable to feeling inevitable. And to do that we have to find the idea behind our idea. So, what is that idea behind our big idea? Well, it can be a couple different things. It can be a value or a belief or a discovery. It can be some kind of fundamental truth that someone believes about themselves or about the world. For instance, a fundamental truth for me might be I believe we have all the resources that we need. A discovery might be that something that we didn’t previously think was possible was possible. A belief might be that all people are trying to do something good. All of these things can classify as the idea behind your idea.
So, how do you know that you found the right one, the one that will turn your solution into an inevitable one? Well, here’s the test. We need to see whether or not it makes the Problem impossible to ignore. Now, here’s what I mean. If they understand and agreed with this goal that you’ve set, this irresistible outcome and if they’ve understood and agreed with this problem of perspective that there’s two ways to look at something and they’ve only been looking at one; and that by only looking at one they’ve been missing something else. Now when you introduce this third piece of information it should make it impossible for them to let that problem of perspective stand because our brain can’t stand that kind of gap.
Let me give you an example to make this more clear. I worked with a wonderful speaker named Dheeraj Roy on his TEDxCambridge talk and the topic of his talk was how he and his lab at MIT was able to recover the memories of early Alzheimer’s mice. Now, this would help us achieve a very important and irresistible outcome to help extend the normal life of somebody with early Alzheimer’s disease, extend the period of time where they could retain their memory and interact with people the way that they always did. Now, the problem that Dheeraj set up was a problem of perspective. Now, the perspective was how we looked at memory in the first place. See, as Dheeraj explained, we tended to think that if somebody could tell us they had a memory then that proved that it existed. But if someone couldn’t tell us they have a memory then we assume the memory was gone. But, Dheeraj thought to himself, but what if that memory is like a book in the library and this is his metaphor. So if it’s like a book in the library what if it’s not that the book is lost but that we’ve somehow lost the connection with how to find it.
For those of you with a certain age we’ve somehow destroyed the card catalog, the thing that helps us find the book in the first place. So, that Problem against that Goal is interesting and understandable but why we wouldn’t want to solve it. But the solution doesn’t become inevitable until we understand a third thing: that through Dheeraj’s work, it’s possible to strengthen that retrieval system, it’s possible to strengthen how we recover memories in the first place. With that piece of information in play it means that if we want to extend the normal life of somebody with early Alzheimer’s then it’s impossible for us to ignore the fact that we’ve only been looking at half of the equation. We’ve only been looking at whether or not the memory still exists. We can’t ignore the fact that now that we know it’s possible to strengthen that retrieval mechanism; we can’t ignore the fact that we haven’t been looking there which makes the conclusion inevitable, the Change inevitable.
The changes inevitable is that we need to be spending more time figuring out when, how and where to strengthen that retrieval mechanism in order to achieve our irresistible outcome.
So, for you, the idea can be all sorts of different things. It’s always, I’m going to argue, hard to find because it’s going to be the most core assumption underlying why you believe so strongly in your idea. But a couple things that will help you find it: First, test it. Make sure that if it’s true that if somebody still wants the Goal it makes the Problem impossible to ignore. But second, make sure that it also makes the Changes that you’re going to recommend be inevitable or feel inevitable.
That means that the solution, the Idea that you come up with has to have two very distinct qualities. The first is that it needs to be descriptive. There can’t be any Change language in it. It needs to be a statement, an observation, a description of the world or of people or of the person that you’re talking to. It is not an action, that would make it a Change.
The first thing it has to be descriptive. The second thing is that it needs to be neutral. In Dheeraj’s case it needed to be possible for us to do this. So, it doesn’t mean that like one thing is good and another thing is bad. It needs to be a neutral statement because as a neutral statement it makes both the Problem impossible to ignore and the Change inevitable.
So, on this step to your irresistible idea, make sure that you put all three pieces in place. Make sure you build those pieces of the Idea in your audience’s mind. Not just that irresistible outcome and that intractable, invisible Problem, but the Idea that makes both of those things impossible to ignore and the Change, the solution inevitable.
I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and that was this week’s episode of Find the Red Thread. If you want a worksheet to help you find your own red thread, go to findyourredthread.com and download the worksheet there.