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.

We reviewed all of the readings, including Gladwell’s article on the history of television, as well as the “They all laughed” chapters on Microwaves, Light-bulbs and Electricity.

Key points:

  • Ideas are messy. We discussed how reading about how ideas were actually developed is much different than we’re generally taught to believe – it’s never simple, straighforward, or easy.
  • Ideas take time to develop into products. The timelines for light bulbs, airplanes, the television and the post it note were years, and it involved many different kind of ideas and problem solving at different levels of thinking.

We also watched a segment from the HBO special, “From the earth to the moon” (Episode 5: Spider) which highlighted how ideas are developed in organizations – showing how fluid and collaborative engineering complex things (like spaceships or software) can be.

Next week: We’ll cover critiquing, good pitchwork and more stories of idea history.

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.

In week one we talked about what ideas are, how amazing ideas are different from bad ones, and what it means to be creative.

Key takeaways:

  • We all use filters to decide what ideas are good and bad. Being creative is largely about having control over the filters, and applying them at the right time.
  • Improv game rules: 1) Yes, and..2) No half-assing 3) No apologies 4) Make the other guy look good

Games played: We experimented with some improvisation games, breaking into groups and making up sentences, each person contributing one word at a time.

Stating the obvious, as you’re here reading this, but the course website is live. Syllabus is on the right.