During the 1990s I used to listen to BBC World Service on shortwave radio, using a headphone while working in my laboratory. I was serving as the Research Scientist for a major freshwater aquatic plants exporter in Singapore. There was a programme on films review, “On Screen” that I particularly looked forward to. I took part in some of the show’s contests and won two T-shirts from the BBC. On hindsight, I realized that there must have been hundreds of correct entries to each contest but I wondered why mine was chosen as the winner. Then I got my answer. My employer produced very nice photographs of his products and printed some of these as postcards which I used for the contests (to help in marketing our products). I think it was the attractive waterlily flowers on the postcards that I sent in that got my entry noticed and chosen.

In the era where there are many “equals” fighting for attention of decision makers, it will often be the one with the best communication strategy who will be chosen as the winner. The producer of BBC’s On Screen had chosen my entries as winners twice, I think the subliminal advantage I had in using very attractive postcards of waterlily gave me the edge.

When I was a young graduate student working on my Master’s degree, I was fortunate to have met a kind visiting professor from the USA. Professor Gerald Jung of Pennsylvania State University taught me that I must create a one-page resume as recruiters would not have the time and patience to read anything longer. I went on to write my one-pager which was repeatedly tore to pieces by the good professor. He explained kindly to me (after shredding my draft resume) that I had only at most one shot at catching the eye of the recruiter, and having an attractively produced one-pager is therefore a no-brainer. That was in 1986 and I learned a great lesson from a very kind gentleman who bothered to give me the time and advice and is forever grateful for the wisdom he conferred me.

It was unfortunate for me to discover the magic of concept map much later in life, for it has many practical applications, especially when you want to put an idea on paper among others. When I was working as the Director of Special Projects for an established education group, I would have to translate my boss’s ideas (which he would be generating at least 2 or 3 a month) into a working proposal complete with financials, bells and whistles. These ideas would often begin life as a three-lines memo to me! But often the boss would have additional inputs or a change in the features of his ideas. To capture all these in words and to handle the constant changes in directions would be rather difficult and messy.

By chance I discovered concept map and a great piece of software (cross platforms and free) by the name of CmapTools. I would always translate the boss’s command into a concept map using CmapTools and discuss with him about the business idea, modifying the concept map (as CmapTools made this a relatively painless task) as we went along. At the same time, I would commence my desk research so that I could add on to the boss’s business idea. I would only commence writing after the boss has agreed on the main points of the idea as presented in my one-page concept map. Essentially I had to sell the “executable” form of the boss’s business idea in the form of a one-page concept map back to him!

From formulating of business ideas I extended concept map usage to organising ideas to write speeches. In fact all speeches I wrote for my bosses including those presented by the company’s chairman and later the CEO at their respective honorary doctorate conferment ceremonies in Australia and England began “life” as a one-page concept map. Again, I sold the idea for the speech back to the bosses effectively using one-page concept maps.

With today’s demanding business environment, most people do not have the luxury of time to read through the many documents that they will encounter each day. Thus the “short-sharp-shock” strategy is needed to fight for your target audience’s attention. While I cannot say that my one-page concept map idea can create the “shock” effect, it is certainly concise and right to the point in its approach. Nowadays, when I am asked to send in my resume for any purposes, I will always send in my one-page resume done in the form of a concept map to set myself apart from the rest. My concept map resume may not be pretty or shockingly attractive, but it is different and convey much more information than I could write in an A4 page. In addition, concept maps are designed to make it easier for the reader to pick up details and to have a much better recall on what was presented. If you are looking for a job, this brings you added advantage.

This brings me to my principle on presenting and selling an idea: If an idea cannot be presented in an A4 page, it is still not yet a good idea.

And you can quote me on that!


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