I have all these ideas, but don’t know what to do with them

Organizing Principle


The Context

Whatever it is that you’re creating or crafting or communicating, there has to be a core assumption, a central reference point, a guiding pole, which governs action and allows everything else in its proximity to derive value. For two reasons: First, the organizing principle keeps you on track as the idea creator. It makes it easier to align, organize, remember and deliver everything you’re trying to communicate. Otherwise you’re just vomiting. Second, the organizing principle keeps your audience on track as the idea consumer. It makes it easier to listen, digest, remember and apply everything they’re trying to receive. Otherwise they’re just inhaling.

The Tool

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Organizing Principle

ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE -- The core assumption, central reference point or guiding pole, which governs action and allows everything else in its proximity to derive value.

The most popular examples of self-organizing systems include the creation of structures by social insects like honeybees and ants, the flocking behavior of mammals like birds and fish, and of course, the ultimate self-organizing system, the human brain. The book Brain Based Therapy said it best: Neuroscientists view the brain as a self-organizing system that is malleable and plastic. The brain continually pulls itself up by the bootstraps, becoming more organizing and patterned over time. This habit of neurons organizing themselves into networks of thousands and even millions of cells is a psychological phenomenon, and it is impossible to overstate the significance of this simple idea. It’s a beautiful thing. There truly is harmony within hierarchy. And the exciting part is, once you identify the organizing principle of your work, once the internal framework announces itself, everything else collects itself around it. And the next thing you know, you’re borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. You immediately start to watch your project or idea or creation start to take shape and acquire real structure and meaning and weight. Because initially, ideas come together the way galaxies do, they just naturally clump, simply because they’re related, like an extended family of ideas around a general topic. But over time, they become parts that fit and function together, which you then gradually form into a whole. And that’s when the work transitions from idea to execution.

Scott's Take

Scott's Take

For years I wrote books and speeches with hundreds of index cards on the carpet. I had this feeling that they weren’t just speaking to each other, they were speaking to me, too. Announcing that they had done the work of sorting themselves, and all they needed was a helping hand to rearrange them into specific piles. Sure enough, those piles become chapters, which ultimately became the organizing principle of my project. Who knew it was that easy? I’ve run that notecard exercise hundreds of times, both in my own work on books, speeches, training videos and other creative projects. It has never failed me. And it's not an accident, it’s self organization. Neuroscientists purportedly discovered this process in the forties and fifties, although its conceptual roots most likely date back to the ancient Greeks. Regardless, the working definition of self-organization is a process where some form of global order or coordination arises out of the local interactions between the components of an initially disordered system. In my case, the “local interactions” were the hundreds of individual notecards, and the “global order” was the dozen or so piles.

The Rest

Next time you find yourself complaining, I have enough ideas, but now I need to figure out what to do with them, consider running some variation of the index card exercise. Put your brain to work to find the inherent geometry of your project. Let the ideas talk to themselves, and then let them talk to you. Before you know it, the organizing principle will stand up and reveal itself. And you’ll be off to the creative races.

The Benefits

Clarify the inherent structure in the chaos
Move from idea to execution faster, better
Reduce anxiety/confusion of info overload
Easily align, organized, remember and delivery your ideas

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