Structured thinking techniques are powerful for those who need clarity in their problem solving and cut through in their communication.

Getting the most from these techniques requires a bit of discipline, though, as well as a simple strategy..

Here are four elements of such a strategy that we recommend:

  1. Start small, aim big
  2. Tackle the techniques from the top down
  3. Use one-pagers early to boost productivity
  4. Avoid getting sloppy with your logic.

Read on for ways to put these ideas into practice.

Start small, aim big

It is hugely tempting when presented with a new technique to try to swallow it whole. The productivity and work quality benefits that structured thinking offer are deliciously substantial and new and beneficial ideas are exciting: their newness being in itself motivating. Once you have seen someone do something well, you want to do that yourself. However, we don't want you to fall at the first hurdle.

Some people are overwhelmed by the volume of things to know, which makes it too hard to get started, others try to implement all of the techniques at once and find that the extra time commitment is too great, while yet more hold back on trying the techniques until they have a substantial piece of work, by which time they have forgotten key concepts.

We encourage you to start with some small short-term goals and a commitment to sticking with them to reach your long-term ambitions. Here are three ideas to get you started:

  • Set aside 30 minutes each week to focus on getting better at using these techniques: Intriguingly, 4pm on Monday works for a lot of people.
  • Focus every small piece of communication you prepare on the audience's concerns, not yours.
  • Make sure every email has a CTQ followed by one single answer, or governing idea.

Tackle the techniques from the top down

Significant benefits come from seemingly simple things, in this case identifying and solving the right problem. Using the context, trigger, question approach as well as our killer alignment questions will help you nail the problem you are solving, which makes it significantly easier to solve. Consequently, we encourage you to focus on this first, and learn how to master issue trees, workplans and storylines later.

Use one-pagers early to boost productivity

Everybody hates unnecessary rework. It is demoralising, frustratingly unproductive and slows down decision making. It is not uncommon in large corporates for teams to rework large documents 10 – 12 times before a management team will sign them off. We have occasionally heard of teams reworking documents more than 50 times before a decision is made.

However, introducing some simple disciplines around one-pagers can radically reduce this frustration. We have found that teams deliver higher value insights and work more productively if they involve decision makers early in their process by

  • Asking for feedback on problems mapped as issue trees, before investing in solving it, rather than afterwards when they realise they are focusing on the wrong problem.
  • Discussing a one-page storyline rather than a fully prepared document, where they struggle to see the big picture and are distracted by style and details.

Don't get sloppy with your logic (if you want to consistently deliver high order insights)

Structured thinking helps you not just clarify your thinking, but distil higher order insights from your data. However, it will not do this if you let go of the rules that underpin smart thinking. So, we encourage you to hold yourself to account in using our checklists and other tools to ensure you do not get sloppy with your logic (and your results). I am sure you saw what I did there logically?

If you would like to learn more about our approach, you might enjoy reading our new book, The So What Strategy. You can get a preview chapter here to see if it is for you. You could also look at my free course, 4 Tips to help your complex ideas cut through.

Let us know if you would like to keep in the loop as we prepare more tools to help you make structured thinking stick by clicking the orange ‘let us know' link or emailing us at [email protected].

Keywords: leadership, leadership communication



I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at


(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.