I’m not talking about cereal boxes or perfume bottles. I’m not even talking about the box your Macbook Pro comes in. I’m talking about how we package ideas.

I was at Startup Weekend a year or two ago, and I heard a lot of people pitching their ideas. One person was talking about his idea to aggregate data from Twitter to chart information in real time. The idea was ok, at best. But the way he explained it, he wanted to build a mashup between Twitter and Wolfram Alpha. Anybody who was familiar with Twitter and had used Wolfram Alpha instantly understood. That description was good packaging.

Well-packaged ideas are digestible. They take your complicated and nuanced reality, and boil it down into a simple concept. Yes, you lose detail by doing it. No twitter bio can even get close to developing a an accurate description of a human life. That isn’t the point. Good twitter bios are succinct, memorable, and teach people which categories you fit in, so they can get the right impression and fill in the details themselves.

Good packaging uses the right combination of words, images, colors, video, and whatever else it takes to make somebody “get it.” It shows them where their new knowledge belongs in their brain. It delivers a message that fits together with what they already know. It’s the essence of a valuable brand, a persuasive sales pitch, or an good TED Talk.

Olympic curling has a packaging problem. has a packaging problem. You want to know some examples of great packaging? Teach for America. Kony 2012Anonymous.

Good packaging doesn’t always bring approval… in fact, it tends to polarize people. Bad packaging doesn’t polarize anybody because people see it and they don’t get it.

Packaging won’t save a bad idea. But a great idea without great packaging is a lost opportunity.