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How to make abstract ideas more concrete

Sometimes it's hard to explain abstract concepts in words. This is especially true when we're trying to grasp where an organization or brand is now, where it wants to go or what it wants to be, or what the world looks like when the organization fulfills its mission. That's why we get those brand books and vision statements that are full of -- I'll say it -- crap.

I've learned that the best way to make abstract ideas more concrete is to stop writing and start doodling.

Draw first, then write

The Draw-Label-Caption Strategy as featured in Be a Better WriterMy go-to activity is one my husband, Steve Peha, developed for pre-K and kindergarten students to help them get more from the drawings they were doing. It's call the Draw-Label-Caption™ Strategy and it's just as effective for adults! Here's an example of it from our book, Be a Better Writer.

I use the strategy to help grown-ups get beyond fluffy vision statements or fuzzy aspirational goals. By doodling a picture, we begin to make the concept concrete. Labeling specific aspects of the drawing brings additional detail to the picture. And the caption pulls it all together into a cohesive statement. It's faster and less painful than approaching this as a round-robin brainstorm or a writing exercise -- and it surfaces better ideas.

How to use the Draw-Label-Caption strategy

A draw-label-caption example by Margot LesterThe idea isn't to do an art activity, so I model the strategy before turning the group loose. Here's my drawing from a recent board retreat I facilitated, which clearly shows how low the "drawing" bar needs to be.

We take a couple of minutes to do the work, then share and capture the "captions" for later use. I often ask participants to write a paragraph creating a more detailed description of the concept, which helps them further home in on their ideas. Sometimes we even collect the writings for use in marketing or other content.

This approach loosens people up, gets them out of the self-consciousness of writing, and enables them to get to clarity faster. Give it a try at your next meeting, workshop or retreat!

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