How to Use History to Sell Innovation

Innovation depends on a web of previous wonders. Once you recognize that, you gain access to an array of metaphors and language that can help you explain what you’ve created, how it works, and why it matters. (1)

Dip into any field of art—literature, painting, music, dance—and you’ll quickly discover that the concept of “originality” is problematic. 

Was Shakespeare the most original playwright of his time, or just the cleverest borrower of plots and characters? Was Picasso an iconoclast, or by so obviously defying the “rules” did he also show them reverence? 

When I was immersed in the world of literary scholarship, much of my thinking was shaped by theories of “intertextuality.” Intertextuality ackno…

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Have you seen the latest knowledge translation movie?

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Until last week, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a KT film. But The Trick (2021) definitely fits that bill. It offers a fascinating, and frightening, glimpse into the pressures that threaten the accurate, ethical communication of scientific research.

The British flick presents one version of the scandal that swirled around the University of East Anglia in 2009. That’s when a hacker (who’s never been identified) leaked emails from the Climactic Research Unit (CRU). Taken out of context a…

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Do you have a writing challenge or a knowledge translation challenge?

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Many client conversations start with a complaint about some aspect of the writing process. I hear statements like these:

“I just can’t seem to find the right words.”

“My grammar is terrible.”

“I want to know how to express myself more concisely.”

On the surface, such statements can seem to point to mechanical issues:

  • Fumbling for the right words could indicate a usage issue (problem with accurately using vocabulary).
  • Feeling ashamed about “grammar” could indicate an issue with structurin…

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Three Powerful Ways to Simplify Complexity Without “Dumbing It Down”

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We live in a world where sound bites rule the airwaves and tweeting contests among political candidates have replaced intelligent public debate. In business, the one-pager rules. Strategic plans are now compressed into placemats and funding requests into short pitch decks.

At the same time, the huge challenges we face as a planet—and the solutions needed to address them—defy easy simplification. If it were truly possible to boil climate change issues down into an infographic or blog post, we wo…

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For technical founders exasperated by trying to communicate with funders and customers

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How many times have you watched this scene play out at a store checkout counter?

A customer approaches the counter with a question about a product, a pair of shoes say. The clerk behind the counter answers the question hurriedly, not recognizing that the customer doesn’t speak fluent English.

The customer asks the question again, this time with gestures to fill out broken phrases. Now the clerk catches on. “Ah! “ she thinks. “This is someone whose first language is not English. I’ll have to ad…

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Tired of Getting that Glazed-Eye Look from People who Don’t Understand Your Innovative Product?

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It’s not their fault. Most of us find it easier to politely stare and nod than we do to admit we’re completely confused. Asian cultures aren’t the only contexts in which people will go to great lengths to avoid “losing face.”

Nor is it your fault. You probably do a great job of describing, in detail, the ins and outs of your offering. I’m guessing that you’ve spent hours and hours working out your value proposition, analyzing your buyer personas, and developing a market-ready message.

The tr…

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Shift Your Scholar Mindset

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If you're an innovator with an academic background, then this video is for you! Here are some communication tips I've learned as I've transitioned from the world of scholarship to the world of business.

Number one tip: it's never about dumbing down your complex ideas and information. It's simply about figuring out how to connect with your audience on the terms that are most meaningful to them.

Fortunately, as a scholar, you have all the analytical…

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Business Writing Tips from a "Recovering Academic"

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I had the pleasure of delivering a webinar on "How to Write in Layperson." (Thanks to Springboard Atlantic for hosting this event!)

The audience included researchers, entrepreneurs, industry liaison officers from Atlantic universities, and students. As a former professor, I felt very much at home among these folks, who formed a thoughtful, discerning group.

I also felt their frustration with the conventions and limitations of business communication.

In my previous life as a scholar, I spent y…

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