3 – The Big Picture

The maxim, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is not a Chinese  proverb, nor is it attributable to Confucius – he never said it either. From Wikipedia

It is believed that the modern use of the phrase stems from an article by Fred R. Barnard in the advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink, promoting the use of images in advertisements that appeared on the sides of streetcars.[1] The December 8, 1921 issue carries an ad entitled, “One Look is Worth A Thousand Words.”

Another ad by Barnard appears in the March 10, 1927 issue with the phrase “One Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words,” where it is labeled a Chinese proverb. The Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Familiar Phrases quotes Barnard as saying he called it “a Chinese proverb, so that people would take it seriously.” Soon after, the proverb would become popularly attributed to Confucius.

Despite this modern origin of the popular phrase, the sentiment has been expressed by earlier writers. For example the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev wrote (in Fathers and Sons in 1862), “A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound.”

The quote is sometimes attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, who said “Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours,” or “A good sketch is better than a long speech”. While this is sometimes translated today as “A picture is worth a thousand words,” this translation may not predate the phrase’s common use in English.

Irrespective, the human brain likes images: we are programmed to react to them for our own safety, and you can use this fact to make your messages stand out. I’ve been to many presentations on complex subjects. Some of them have been excruciating because I didn’t have a clue about the overview of the solution.  The presenter just launched  into the subject and assumed everyone knew what he was talking about.  It helps if you show how the solution affects your client, with  a very simple picture. Once the person sees it , they should be able to talk through the solution by themselves.

The mistake some presenters make is  presenting to the most technical person in the room, who may not necessarily be the main decision maker. The decision maker, or economic buying influence (Miller Heiman Strategic Selling) may not necessarily be technical, nor might the CFO.

Here’s an example that one company used before launching into great detail how their computer based  new remote servicing facility was going to work, showing the decision makers  the big picture.


current situation

Currently when your kiosk goes down through a computer fault, you have to call the service operator hotline, who despatch a service technician to visit your premises and rectify the fault. This costs money and time.

Our  solution to save you time and money is this:

Remote solution

Our integrated computer service solution is always connected to your kiosk by an internet line. The kiosk sends an alert message, the computer diagnoses the problem and makes the necessary softare adjustment to get you back on track within seconds. No human intervention is required and we can solve 95% of problems this way. if the computer detects a fault it cannot fix, it alerts one of our operators who will contact you, probably before you even know you have a problem.


Simple wasn’t it? If you can’t draw your solution on a napkin, you probably don’t understand it well enough. It takes time to simplify things so everyone can understand the general principle. The diagrams above and the cost benefit would be all I ‘d be  interested in as a CEO.

Drawing your big picture by hand is very impressive, but if you can’t do that, develop a powerpoint slide.

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