One often talks about the “elevator pitch,” the incredibly brief period of time you have with someone in an elevator (or any like situation) to explain your big idea. It’s handy to have just such a pitch, if you have just such an idea.

I met yesterday with a friend who had a bright idea. After listening for fifteen minutes to long descriptions about how it might work, I distilled it down to three words: “YouTube for X.” Now, I’m not going to say what industry X represents, because frankly that would be giving away pretty much the whole idea. But once it was out there, he agreed that it made a lot of sense.

Metaphors are very helpful. They give you handles around your idea, make it portable, help you to think about it in a way that lets you compare it to other ideas out there. It’s much easier to frame it in terms of X meets Y, because then you can explore the space between those two things. In this case, I then suggested my friend get a YouTube account and upload and watch some videos. Then he’ll have a far better idea of what he’s up against. And it saves a lot of time explaining, because I’ve used YouTube too.

As Mark McCormack wrote in What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School: “Creativity in business is often nothing more than making connections that everyone else has almost thought of. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just attach it to a new wagon.”