So you have a great idea. It’s the idea that will change the world, eliminate poverty and make you a million bucks. The only problem: when you talk about your idea, you only get blank faces looking back at you.
You’ve probably been in a situation where you need to communicate an original idea. You might need your boss to look at your proposal for a new product. Maybe you want friends to read your new novel. Perhaps you want to relate your passions to people who don’t share the same interests as you.
The problem in all these situations is the same: you have a complex, original idea. But you need to summarize the idea quickly. How do you solve this problem?
Sell Ideas Like a Movie
One of my professors shared a strategy movie producers use when pitching ideas to a studio. Given that producers may only have a few minutes to pitch an entire movie, it would seem almost impossible to explain the plot.
The secret, my professor shared, is that they base their idea from components of existing ideas. He used the example of J.J. Abrams new movie, Cloverfield:
“It’s a mix between Blair Witch Project and Godzilla.”
In one sentence, he created a decent sketch of the movie.
Mash-Up Ideas to Sell Something Original
Cloverfield is a good example because it blends aspects of two well-known movies. Your idea might not be such a good fit. Here are a few ways you can help mash your ideas for better communication:
- Find a base. Pick a point of reference for your idea. If I wanted to explain to people what I do on this website, I could start by saying that I’m a writer. This is an incomplete picture for what I do, but it is a good starting point.
- Mash in a new element. From your starting point, add in a completely different idea that contains missing elements from your reference point. For my own example, I could mix in online business owner to mix with writer. This approach will miss nuances, but will convey 80% of my idea in 2-3 sentences.
- Add Exceptions. The final step would be to fix the common misconceptions people make about your mash-up. This is the stage where you want to throw in the details to make your idea more unique.
A Few Mash-Ups to Consider
Here are just a few mash-ups I’ve considered:
- LinkedIn – Facebook + business contacts.
- Skype – Free long-distance + through the web.
- Lifehack.org – Self-help + practical.
- Blogger – Writer + Online Business Owner
- Bears – Cats + Dogs (only larger)
Are these mash-ups 100% accurate? Of course not. But if you’ve never heard of LinkedIn or you’ve never seen a bear before, they cover about 80% of the description you need. All in just a few words.
Why This Idea is Counterintuitive
As an innovator, the first instinct you have is to preserve the uniqueness of your idea. Claiming your masterpiece is a derivative of three or four other works feels wrong. You put a lot of effort to create something unique, and in the first sentence of your explanation you remove the originality.
I’ve fallen into this trap many times. Pride for a great idea sabotages you in trying to sell it to other people.
Why it Works
If you don’t offer a point of reference for your idea, other people will make their own. Using a mash-up puts the idea into terms the other person already understands. After this person understand the core of your idea, you can worry about the window dressing.
Here are some mash-ups questions for you:
- Assume nobody had heard of your profession before. What mash-up would best explain it?
- Mash-up one of your hobbies.
- What’s your favorite style of music? Mash-up two different genres as a way of describing it.
Try picking one of these questions and add it to the comments.