Have you ever read a good set of directions? They are rare. Case in point, today, I put together a new office chair for my brother. The included directions were vague and required some guesswork. But luck (in spite of one smashed finger) was on my side, and he now has a new chair. The directions also triggered an “ah-ha” moment. How precisely do we choose our words, and, in turn, how clearly do we share our ideas? (Disclaimer: I’m still working on this skill.)
Good directions, i.e. the right words, can be the difference between getting people invested in your bold ideas or sending them out into the desert for 40 years. You have to give people the words that set the tone for the conversation. For you, this can be both good and bad. Good because you define the idea, you chose the words. Bad because you define the idea, you chose the words. Yes, I know I repeated myself.
You are in control, for better or worse. So remembering all the bad directions you’ve ever read, what words do you use to express your ideas? Do you start at the beginning and give people points of reference? And when you get to the end, have you made it clear what people can expect?
I look for inspiration in some unlikely areas. Presidential farewell address are not known for their ground-breaking insight. But some of the best directions happen when you least expect it. President Eisenhower used his farewell address to make unexpected and highly accurate predictions about the future. Famous for the “military industrial complex” line, Eisenhower used bold words to describe a future world that for most of us is now all too real.
One of many applicable lines, this phrase in particular is as valid today as it was in 1961.
“Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.”
Most people don’t need their words to apply decades after the original idea. But wouldn’t it be nice if they applied for at least a year or two? Give your ideas the words they deserve and try to keep people from wanting to throw the hammer.