Communicating Ideas – a process not an event #90 #cong18


The role communication plays is often underestimated in the innovation process. Powerful ideas usually emerge from messy iterative processes that don’t lend themselves neatly to power point slides and big presentations. What is required is a sustained focus on communication at every stage of the process to build belief, clarity and ultimately implementation.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Innovation is a messy, iterative process. Our standard communication methods – reports, power point and presentations – are not fit for purpose.
  2. Externalising innovation work in dedicated project spaces builds knowledge, shared understanding and alignment which increases innovation success.
  3. Build experiences as part of your communication plan to deepen understanding and belief around what will and will not work.
  4. Treat communication as a process, not as an event. Don’t wait until the end to reveal ideas, open them up early for collective input and to build shared ownership.

About Barry MacDevitt:

Barry has spent most of his career in marketing working for a number of multinationals across the food and telco sectors. He has also worked on the agency side too, so he knows the other side of the fence as well.

More recently though he was CEO of DesignTwentyFirst Century a not-for-profit that was one Ireland’s pioneers in promoting design thinking as an approach to advancing solutions, engendering change and unlocking new ways of learning in people. Some of this work was featured by Jeanne Liedtka, one of the worlds leading authorities on design thinking, in her bestselling book ‘Solving Problems with Design Thinking’.

He is now an independent consultant and lecturers part time at Maynooth University on their Design Innovation Masters programme.

He is excited to be a CongRegation rookie.

Contacting Barry MacDevitt:

Contact Barry on LinkedIn, or send her an email



By Barry MacDevitt

Is there any organisation today that does not think innovation is important?

New ideas are the life blood of innovation and yet most organisations struggle to get good ideas to market.

How these ideas are embraced, nurtured or rejected depends hugely on how well they are understood and represented. Communication holds the key.

But communicating new ideas has become more difficult today because the context in which our standard methods (reports, presentations and power points) operate in has changed. These default methods have become less effective because:

A) Complexity is increasingly the norm.
The ideas that aim to solve todays problems are much more complex because there is a myriad of interrelate dependencies connected to them. This web of complexity is hard to manage, structure, and explain but is essential to establishing the relevance of a new idea. Reducing an idea to just an elevator pitch risks trivialising or dumbing down the complexity of the context it has emerged from.

B) Creating and implementing new ideas involves more people.
While the spark of a new idea maybe tracked back to a single person, getting it implemented, particularly when speed of execution matters, involves a small army of people in most organisations. So the challenge for communication is now bigger, it must engage, leverage, and align a whole ‘human system’ inside an organisation if the idea is ever to see the light of day.

C) Engagement (v’s transmission) is critical.
In most organisations we think that delivering information, in presentations for example, gets the job done. But as George Bernard Shaw once said ‘the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place’. What we really need to do is to engage people, to build their belief and buy-in and a ‘transmission’ based model is not very good at that. Co-creating and building shared experiences with stakeholders is far better as it deepens understanding, strengthens ideas and gives a sense of ownership which are all required to get ideas up and out the door in bigger organisations.

To help develop ideas and move them more efficiently through an organisation communication needs an expanded role to avoid falling into the trap of being just the presentation event at the end of a process. Here are three ways that can help.

1) Create a project room to externalise the work.

Design studios have always worked this way, sharing work-in-progress up on the walls for collective critiquing. This facilitates conversations and a sharing of knowledge in a fast fluid way that you just don’t get when heads are down and behind computer screens. It also aligns teams when everyone can see the information in front of them and highlights what roles they need to play to move things forward. Additionally it becomes a great way to informally bring wider stakeholders into the work as it easily facilitates ‘drop in’ conversations and progress updates on the fly rather then tedious power point updates.

2) Build experiences as part of your communication.

Experiences turn audiences into participants and bridge them into important aspects of innovation work in ways that presentations and conventional reports cannot. Educational theorists call it Experiential Learning and adults especially learn through experiences. The goal is to find ways to lead your audience into the work to allow them make connections themselves, instead of making the connections for them. Like getting them prototyping instead of focusing on the prototype itself or collectively mapping a customer journey instead of getting the customer journey map ‘right’. This approach deepens understanding, builds alignment and helps develop conviction around whats going to work. Theatre, galleries and museums are brilliant at creating ways to build experiences that engage audiences in multi sensory ways to embed learning. Take a walk through The Science Gallery in Trinity College for some inspiration.

3) Treat communication as a process – not as an event.

In many organisations communication ends up falling into the ‘big reveal’ at the end of a project, designed to promote the idea and make it attractive to decision makers. This puts you on the back foot and turns the presentation into a persuasion event instead of building wider ownership and individual commitment for future implementation.

Successful ideas require a sustained focus on communication at every stage of the process to build belief, clarity and ownership. Don’t let it be reduced it to one big sales pitch at the end of the process.

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