Language matters: How your words can make you a better innovator

by | Jan 3, 2024 | Innovation

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Your ability to communicate has a huge impact on your ability to successfully innovate.

Through your choice of words, you can either make a problem that you want to innovate around seem confusing, complicated, or unimportant, or clear, straightforward, and vital to solve. This can then affect whether your key decision-makers and stakeholders get on board.

Also, your choice of words and how you frame your problem can make creative solutions easier to find.

“A problem well-stated is half-solved”Charles Kettering, Head of Research, General Motors (1920 – 1947)

Whilst the topic of language is important and vast, here are 3 TOP TIPS to get you started:

1. Go simple

The corporate world loves big words that sound important, but in our busy world, everyone needs simpler communication.

This means, it’s time to choose use over utilise.

Seek to express yourself as clearly as possible, choosing the right words that will be easy for people to understand, rather than to impress others. The intent behind these are very different; to express is focused on trying to do the best you can on the project, whereas to impress is ego-driven, seeking praise and recognition from others.


2. Be concrete 

Concrete language is specific, definite, and vivid, things we know through our senses, as opposed to abstract language which is vague and general. This includes using concrete, or action verbs that refer to specific actions or physical activities that can be observed and measured.

Unlike abstract verbs, which express actions or states that may be more conceptual or subjective, concrete verbs are tangible and often involve direct physical movement or impact. Google “concrete verbs” if you need examples. They are typically used in business and CVs.


3. Compare new concepts to the familiar

To help people quickly connect with your problem or proposed solution, compare it to something they already know. You can get better at this by developing a habit of using similes, metaphors, and analogies – ideally ones that you have crafted yourself!

Here’s a recap of these three literary devices which all involve COMPARING TWO THINGS to drive greater understanding of a key characteristic:

    • Similes: A simile is saying something is like something else. For example, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” (I love chocolate tongue-out)
    • Metaphors: A metaphor is more forceful than a simile as it says that something is something else. For example, “Life is a box of chocolates.”
    • Analogies: An analogy is similar to similes or metaphors by comparing two things but takes it further by explaining the comparison in more detail. For example, “Like a box of chocolates, life also has an element of unpredictability, no matter what we choose”.

When thinking about something to compare your problem or solution to, seek out things that are familiar to people, are concrete, vivid, and easy to visualise. What is your problem like or similar to that already exists, or what is your solution like or similar to that already exists? They will often be in different industries. For example, perhaps you want to create a service where people can fly with people who already own planes, this could be described as “Uber of the air”!

This approach is also discussed in Chip and Dan Heath’s classic book, Made to Stick with the high-concept Hollywood pitches with the provided example of how the film Aliens was pitched – describing it as Jaws in space. This is a great example of taking something unknown and linking it to things the audience is already familiar with.

By the way, the ability to connect two seemingly unconnected things goes to the heart of creativity. Thereby, by building the habit of building your own similes, metaphors, and analogies, you will be building your creative muscle.

In summary, seek to communicate simply, and concretely, and connect new concepts to what is already familiar for people. You can do this by creating your own similes, metaphors, and analogies whenever you can, which will also build your creative muscles.

If you put all this into practice, your ability to communicate and get others on board will skyrocket (skyrocket = a metaphor 😊).

Need help with communicating when innovating, contact us.

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