Ideas are powerful things.

“Nothing is as powerful as an idea who’s time has come,” Victor Hugo wrote. Unless of course the idea is half-baked, fuzzy, flabby, or stuck somewhere in your brain instead of making its debut in the real world. Many ideas never get past fuzzy, because we’re not sure how to clarify fuzzy ideas.

I work with ideas for a living. The ideas I traffic in are the most radical, life-changing ideas on earth, because they’re given by God in his word. But you work with ideas for a living, too. Ideas about what to cook for dinner, how to organize the TV room, why your son needs help in math, and what it’s going to take to get the new contract at work.

For ideas to change things, they need to become flesh. They need to find a way out of our heads and hearts onto paper, into words, into relationships and goals and actions. They must be transposed from one form into another. Yup, I’m talking about transposition again.

Transposition has the power to clarify fuzzy ideas

Transposing something is hard to do, whether it’s translating a Hebrew word into an English one or using a two-dimensional blueprint to erect a three-dimensional bridge over a winding river. But if you can grasp how to transpose something effectively, you can clarify fuzzy ideas.

Ideas begin their lives as ghostlike creatures. They’re fuzzy because we haven’t defined them yet. As the idea takes shape, it accumulates all kinds of words and concepts. Before we know it, what started as a lightbulb firing in our brains has become too complicated to explain. Even fuzzier.

Transposition is powerful because we both lose something and gain something in the process. When you take a thousand words and transpose them into an outline, you lose nine hundred words, but you gain something far greater than what you’ve given up. What you lose is the complexity that makes your idea fuzzy. What you gain by dropping the other nine hundred words is the clarity you need to make your idea pop.

You may still need one thousand words to deliver your speech with nuance and flair, but you won’t understand what you’re presenting until you can boil it down to it’s essence.

Drawing your idea—transposing it from words/thoughts into a picture—is a perfect way to ditch complexity and gain clarity. Here’s why: Unless you’re a world class artist, what you’re capable of drawing will be so simple that complexity becomes impossible.clarity-transposition

But what if I can’t draw my idea?

If you can’t lay out a basic sketch of your idea, there are three possible reasons:

  1. You don’t actually have a handle on the essence of your idea, or
  2. It’s still too complicated to communicate effectively (you’re adding too much unnecessary blather), or
  3. You don’t know how to draw it.

“Aha!” you say. “Last week you said it was a myth that people can’t draw! Are you retracting that statement?”

Nope. Everyone can draw. But being able to draw basic shapes is different than knowing how to depict ideas visually. Luckily, you can draw. All we have to do is teach you how to put your epic stick man skills to work with a few simple pointers. We’ll get into that in my next post.

Are you working with an idea that’s hard to get a handle on? Why not try transposing it into a different form and see what you learn?