Course notes

For the final pitch I’ll be using the following critieria:

  • Presentation: the performance of delivering the pitch. Body language, style, approach and the ability to let the pitchee focus on the ideas, rather distractions.
  • Clarity of thought. Does the pitch make clear points, and have have compelling arguments argument for action desired. A great pitch makes the idea or request make sense and hard to disagree with.
  • Conviction & Improv rules. Following the basic premise used in class of: 1) no half-assing and 2) no apologies. It’s important that the pitcher is committed to the pitch.
  • Effective use of the 120 seconds. Does the pacing of ideas, points, and pauses have a purpose? or does it feel rushed and have too much information to follow?

You may get an extra point for creavitiy: succesful use of a clever, original or humorous elements. But it’s not required.

Also review the reading how to pitch an idea, and the notes from the class on good pitches.

If you practice your pitch enough, you’ll do much better than the dry run. (Hint: if you still to read from paper, you haven’t practiced enough).

  • Assignment updates:
    • Paper: Offered one last chance for feedback on research paper ideas. Time is getting late as its due last week of class (now 12/6).
    • Pitches: You all should have watched your pitch videos by now. If you can’t access them (Or you have no clue what I’m talking about), let me know asap.
    • Pitch feedback: we handed out the feedback forms. if you weren’t there, ask for them next week.
  • Idea Killers
    • We listed statements often said that kill ideas in their tracks.
  • Group creativity index
    • A quick survey was given to the class asking questions about work environment.
    • Best score: 25. Worst score: 77. Average: 46.
    • We discussed factors that explain the wide variance in work environment quality.
  • Affinity / Wall of ideas
    • The big exercise for the class. We used post it notes and a wall as a way to explore ideas.
    • Everyone was asked to generate ideas for “Tactics that minimize (bad) politics”
    • Anyone could write an idea on a post it note, and place it on the wall.
    • When ideas were exhausted, we used different techniques for organizing ideas.


  • Written design briefs were due
  • Gave everyone info on how to watch their pitches from last week
  • From the readings (They all laughed, 11&12)
    • There are often wide gaps between concept and execution (Xerox)
    • Xerox was dependent on various uncontrolable factors: cheap paper, etc.
    • Carson, Edison and others succeeded for being systems thinkers
    • Often the pitchee was thinking linearly, not about the system
    • The people who rejected new ideas were satisfied with the status quo

The rest of the class time was used doing different group brainstorming exercises.

  • We started with a short list of what’s different when working in groups vs. solo
  • Groups: people’s egos, history between people (good and bad), can be fun, but sometimes people dominate the floor or spread their negative vibe.
  • Basic brainstorming
    • We did a basic game where each team had one designated facilitator and scribe, whose jobs were to prevent the bad aspects of group work, and enable the good.
    • Teams competed: team with most ideas won. (Team with most unique ideas also won).
  • Six thinking hats
    • We used the 6 thinking hats technique in several ways.
    • First time: everyone had a specific hat, but had to work as a group to generate ideas.
    • Second time: the group wore one hat a time, but as a group. Most folks found this much easier.
  • Brainwriting
    • Everyone divide a sheet of paper into quarters. In section 1,they wrote their own brainstormed ideas. Then after 90 seconds they handed their paper to the person to their left. We repeated until all 4 sections had stuff in them.
    • This technique is a unique combo of solo and group creative thinking.
    • It works well for finding unexpected ideas – when you get your sheet back its often fascinating to try and connect all the ideas there with what you wrote in the first corner.
  • Idea Journals
    • While folks were working I took a peak in everyone’s idea journals.
    • The better journals were up to about 30-4o pages.
    • Your minimual goal should be an entry a day. Since you can write anything, I can’t imagine an excuse for not meeting this minimal bar.
    • Tip: Put the journal nearby when you’re watching tv, reading a book, etc. Make it easy to jot something down when you’re doing activity likely to give you something to think about.


Somehow we managed to have 22 people give all 3 versions of their pitches, and still finished up by 10pm. The groups system (A,B,C,D) worked well, and I think there was a plus to having people stand together up front while waiting. Everyone did a great job: and I’m sure we’re all mad that we don’t have magic highlighters, zombie parks, me cards, or hobohoops just yet.

Next week is all about group idea generation: So like week 2, we’ll be playing lots of games and using different techniques while in class.


  • They all laughed, Chp 11&12.
  • If you have Six thinking hats, read up to page 23.


Note: This assignment is now due for Week 6 –11/2/2006.

About design/idea briefs

The goal of the assigment is to make a pitch for an idea, but in written form. I do not want you to simply transcribe your various pitches onto paper – that would be entirely lame. Instead I want you to consider how to use the medium of written language to your advantage.

Writen briefs are used to make written pitches – so instead of going into someones office to pitch them, you write it down and send it (or email/fax it in). If you consider e-mail, job applications, contest entries, or other situations where submissions are documents, its possible written idea pitches are more common than spoken ones.

Things to consider:

  • What points are easier to make in a two page document, than a 30 or 120 second pitch? Why?
  • What is easier to do in a written language compared to spoken? (One answer: You can revise a written document as many times as needed to make it great – unlike a spoken pitch, there’s no performance anxiety. There’s no excuse for a written brief not to be polished, typo free and sharp).
  • How do you intend to keep people’s attention in the brief, so that they read the whole thing?
  • What does it mean for a written document to “present well”? Style, structure and clarity are just as important in a written pitch, as in a spoken one.
  • Diagrams, pictures or photos, if used sparingly, can be more potent than paragraphs of hard to follow explanation.

Questions a brief should answer

  1. What is the core idea (stated as simply, and compellingly, as possible)?
  2. What problem are you trying to solve?
  3. Who are you solving it for?
  4. How will you solve it / How will it work?
  5. Why should I (as the reader) care? Why are you pitching me? What do you want?
  6. How might this go wrong? And what will you do to prevent, respond if that happens?

Brief Structure

There are many ways to structure a design/idea brief. Here’s one recommended structure. You may use others, but I will evaluate them based on how well they answer the above questions. As a hard requirement, your brief should be no longer than 2 printed pages:

  1. The goal. Identify the core nugget that explains what you’re pitch is trying to achieve. An example might be “Create a business that profits from people complaning about their lives”. Should be one short descriptive sentence. It doesn’t need to sizzle, but it does need to be tight.
  2. The idea. This is a version of your 5 second pitch. F or example: “A social website,, will empower peopel to submit complaints, with weekly prizes for the most entertaining and substantial ones.”
  3. The problem. This is a modified version of a pitch set-up: as it provides a framework for the idea. “Most people complain all the time: Clothes that don’t fit. Software that doesn’t work. Friends that don’t return phone calls or boring college courses taught by incompetent writers. But what if people had a forum to share their complaints and get prizes for venting their frustration in creative ways? ” Perhaps you can have a tight bulleted list of data points that identify the problem or short, realistic scenarios that expresses why these problems are important.
  4. The audience. Who will this idea appeal to? What is the profile of the potential customer? What is the profile of the non-customer? (Who would never ever be interested in this idea?) If you are pitching directly to your customer, either omit this section, or frame it in a way appropriate for their consumption. (E.g. “If you like to complain, or know someone who complains all the time, this website is for you”).
  5. The approach. How does the idea work? Explain, at a high level, the outline for how the idea will be implemented. This could be organizational (Fred will start a new team with a small budget, and report on progress in 4 weeks), technical (the website will be based on a wiki system, with custom additions to allow for…) or procedural (people will submit complaints and be rated, per complaint, by others for how entertaining or potent they are). There should be a logic and flow to the approach that makes the idea seem possible.
  6. Challenges & Unknowns. What are the big open issues that need to be resolved, or are questions a reasonable person would ask? If you were the pitchee what questions would you have? Identify them and demonstrate you’ve thought about those issues – ideally with a credible (if fuzzy) plan, or plan for a plan, for resolving.

Other idea/design brief resources:

There are many examples of what are called design briefs, although these are often pitches for design related projects (e.g. a architects design brief for a new skyscraper) rather than idea/conceptual briefs, which is what we’re interested in.

The advertising and marketing industries often use what are called creative briefs, or concept briefs, which are closer to what we need, but these types of briefs are typically about ideas for television/print ads, not about product or idea concepts.

So review existing briefs with these notes in mind – some will be better references than others.

We covered four things this week: The history readings, what good pitchwork is, how to critique well, and we watch a few short examples of pitches and critiqued them in class.

  • Notes from history: Fax machine & Telephone (Flatow)
    • Both took many years (decades for fax)
    • Involved many different people
    • Borrowing of previous ideas
    • Fax machine tech has stalled: todays faxes are based on very old technologies
    • “No practical value” is a common refrain heard by inventors and idea pitchers
  • Notes from Gladwell’s essay on Popeil
    • Cynical view of pitchwork: selling things people don’t need is described, yet Popeil does truely believe in his products.
    • Certain kinds of pitches work well in person vs. on television.
    • The “turn” is the part of a pitch where the vibe switches from selling to closing.
    • Deep sense of craft about both product design and pitchwork – He sees these as tightly integrated activities. Product function is just as important as product perception (angling the food for maximium visibility, etc.)

Good pitches:

  • Use personal characteristics to help make the pitch
  • Hits on pitchee’s wants and needs
  • Demonstrates conviction or passion
  • Is soft or hard depending on audience
  • Makes pitchee feel in control (Unless its a hard pitch)
  • Catch phrase or key point that’s easy to recall
  • Presentation and idea are as simple as possible, and easily understood
  • Creates a connection between the pitcher and the pitchee (typically based on the perception of trust)
  • Obfuscates or explains away negatives

Types of pitches:

All pitches are a request for something. Here are the 3 basic types of pitches and you should know what yours is before you do it, as it changes the focus of what the pitch should achieve.

  1. Sell a product. Popei is the classic example of a pitcher who is selling a product directly to his customer. His pitches aim to get you to give your credit card #.
  2. Obtain funding. Most pitches for start-up companies or screenplays are really about obtaining funding. This kind of pitch is different in that you are pitching to someone other than the final consumer of the idea (e.g. You’re pitching to the movie studio, not to the people who will pay to see the movie).
  3. Inspire action. Its possible to pitch people to recycle, quit smoking, go out on a date with you, etc. The action you desire could simply be to get them interested in your idea and want to ask more questions or get involved.

Good criticism:

This is important as we’ll be critiquing each other at various times during the remainder of the course, including pitches. Good criticism is:

  • Collaborative. Information is going in both directions, building towards understanding and good advice.
  • Has recommendations for action. Its one thing to say something is lame, it’s another to offer practical insight as to how it can be improved.
  • Uses most effective channel for the person and situation. Criticism is a kind of pitch – good criticism picks the right means (e-mail, private conversation, group discussion) and right approach that have the highest odds of being effective for the person and situation in question.
  • Has respect for boundries. The criticism reflects constraints beyond the control of the other person.
  • Asks for clarification rather than making assumptions. A good critiquer will ask before they jump in “What were you trying to do here?” or “What effect was X intended to have?” This allows the critique to be centered on a comparison between the intention and the result, rather than a comparison between the critiquers personal biases and the result.

If you know of other good/bad examples of pitches, leave them in the comments.

This week was all about different ways to come up with ideas. We used 5 different techniques:

  • Free thinking. Someone in the class chose a water bottle, and we free thought about different ways to use the bottle (“It’s a microphone”, “it’s a telescope”, “it’s a weapon”, etc).
  • Directed thinking. We picked two things: an object and a problem: sunglasses, and wrinkled clothing. We all made lists of ways to use the object to solve the problem.
  • Attributes: Instead of coming up with ideas right away, we made a list of what we imagined a successful idea would be like (Chosen problem was “whiteboard pens annoy the class by running out of ink”). After we made our list of attrbibutes, we used directed thinking on one attribute at a time to generate ideas.
  • Reversal: We inverted the attributes: easy to use became hard to use. Cheap became expensive. We then generate ideas based on these new themes (regardless of whether they solved the problem or not).
  • Mindmaps: We picked two problems “Public transporation” and “Design a new kind of soap”, and made visual diagrams representing possible ideas.
  • Feature Matrix: We grabbed features from different mindmaps, made a list, and made a matrix with the list across the bottom and top, giving us a matrix of possible ways to combine those attributes into new ideas.


Key takeaways:

  • Idea generation = problem solving. Problem is defined as a challenge, as in “the problem of curing cancer” rather than in a pejorative sense.
  • Idea generation techniques help you find possible ways to solve problems you might not find otherwise. There is a space of potential solutions called the problem space.
  • Everyone feels more or less creative in different techniques: that’s why we’re trying so many. Pay attention to which ones are easier, more fun, or more productive for you.

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