The Narrative Fallacy

The Narrative Fallacy

Today I step into dangerous territory.

Over the summer I completed a fabulous online course called The Art of Reading.

One of the modules encouraged us to think critically about what we read and gave ideas on how to do that.

One item that stood out to me was the idea of the narrative fallacy.

I think the the course author, Shane Parrish is right.

There is something important at stake here for us when we prepare our communication.

The fallacy suggests that we are all wired for story – so far so good.

However, the challenge comes in creating our own narratives to justify things that have already happened, or predicting what will happen in the future.

Shane suggested that using story, rather than facts and logical reasoning, to create our view of the world and to make decisions is not only dangerous, but more common than we realise.

This is something that at Clarity First we wholeheartedly agree with.

Story is central to engaging busy audiences in complex information. Humanising it can also go a long way to doing that.

However, ‘story' – sometimes also referred to as ‘narrative – can be dangerous if not used well.

Shane's article The Narrative Fallacy suggests that although narrative makes us feel better, but is often a sham.

For example, Steve Jobs was told that because his adoptive father was a detailed-oriented engineer and craftsman, Steve Jobs also paid extra attention to the fine details of Apple designs. He denies this is the case, claiming his own personality and motivations as being more important drivers.

He was also asked whether his quest for perfection came from an idea that he needed to prove himself, given he had been adopted out. He claimed this was patently false, and that his adoptive parents made him feel special regardless of what he achieved.

Nassim Taleb (author of The Black Swan) had a similar story, and fact checked his hunch that his professor had no justification in attributing his ability to see luck and to separate cause and effect to his Lebanese heritage.

Click the link below for suggestions to help you think critically and assess whether a narrative can be trusted to accurately draw cause and effect links or whether it is just a great story.

>> Click here to read more <<

If you want to take these ideas a step further to learn how to tell a story that is both logically sound AND engaging, click here to learn more about the Clarity First Program.

This month by month program enables you to learn at your own pace as you work towards turning your communication skills into an asset.

 

 

 

 

Keywords: critical thinking, storytelling

 

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Hacks for becoming more strategic – 3

Hacks for becoming more strategic – 3

I am usually not a fan of completing audits.

Keeping records of minutiae has never been my strength.

But, wow.

Even though I have by no means kept a perfect record of what I have been up to over the past couple of weeks, the insights have been powerful.

They have certainly helped me get out of the weeds so I can become clearer about ways – to quote today's interview guest – multiply my impact.

Richard Medcalf of Xquadrant specialises in helping successful people magnify their impact.

He offers a number of terrific ideas including how to:

  • Harness your curiousity to increase your influence
  • Lead strategically when there is already too much to do
  • Use a concept called prisons and fortresses to make sure you get to the things that really matter

And plenty more too.

>> Click here to access the interview as well as some other practical takeaways, including a checklist to help you lead strategically when there is already too much to do.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Hacks for becoming more strategic – 2

Hacks for becoming more strategic – 2

I was stunned at the shift in my perspective after filling in ‘Steve's Strategy Hack' spreadsheet for just a day and how this has continued over the past week.

Click here to read the first post in this series if you have not yet already done so.

So much so that I called him and talked about the first thing I noticed: Most of my time is spent on number ones.

In a way that is good: I am not wasting time. I am mainly working on the things that are both urgent AND important.

At least there are not many number threes or fours that according to the Eisenhower Matrix I mentioned, should be delegated or eliminated.

Interestingly, most of the number threes emerged as I realised I was doing work that others should be doing, and so should definitely be delegated. See my first few days' records here.

Now my challenge is to shift the dynamic and free up time so I can think strategically. 

My sense is that by being more focused on the number twos – important but not so urgent tasks – I will be more motivated to fit more number twos into my week. 

To achieve that, I turn to Michael Hyatt's Freedom Compass, which I have found to be golden.  

The basic premise is that we all need to balance our proficiency and our passion to find and focus on our ‘true north' if we are to add maximum value.

The idea is that we prioritise our time so we spend more time in what Michael calls our Desire Zone. Here are four steps to help achieve this:

Step 1 – Delegate, automate and eliminate anything that belongs in our Drudgery Zone. These are low level repetitive tasks that can be done by someone else or which add less value than we should be delivering in our role.​​​​
 

Since starting this exercise, I have realised these categories fit into two groups: easy things and hard things. 

Things that are easy to delegate, which are tasks that someone else in my team is equiped to do both in terms of time available and skills as well as their view of their responsibilities.

In our business, this might include technical problems which I pass to Sheena to solve. She built a lot of our systems and is perfectly positioned to find quick fixes or take the time to investigate more deeply if needed. For the repetitive tasks I ask her to address, she then automates them either with technology or by writing a procedure for our colleague Fatima to process.

Things that are harder to delegate, which are things that involve asking someone else to do something they either do not know how to do or do not want to do. 

One of these jumped out at me this week as I was filling in Steve's Strategy Hacking Spreadsheet. In reviewing a draft document a colleague had written, I came unstuck. I reworked it completely when I should not have done so. The author had ‘flicked it to me quickly' and assumed (rightly this time!) that they could effectively delegate upwards and I would fix it.

After reworking it, however, I realised that this was not a good use of my time and I should have instead identified key opportunities for improvement (which I could do within minutes of opening) and asked for them to rework it. This would have been a better learning experience for them and also given me half an hour back as well as reduced my frustration.

Step 2 – Dealing with the things that are in our Disinterest Zone​​ is harder, but just as essential. These are tasks that we may be good at but which frankly bore us. Having a large number of tasks in this zone is a red flag if they can't be automated or passed on to someone else.
 

This is one area I can get better at. It is just too easy to keep doing admin or other simple tasks which although not value adding are satisfying to the extent that they lead to ‘things being ticked off a list'. 

Step 3 – Face up to items that fall in our Distraction Zone. These are items that we like to do​​, that may be easy for us, but which are beneath us. For example, I make for a very expensive web designer, yet this is one of my hobbies. I love tinkering around and employing some of my design skills on our sites. This is the kind of thing that should not appear too often in my ‘strategy hacker' spreadsheet though, if I am to add real value. 

Going through this diagnostic audit has spurred me to action. I just posted a job ad to get someone to help me with some of my marketing activities.

Step 4 – Fire up the things that fall in our Desire Zone. This is where work becomes fun. The more we spend time here, the more value we will add. This is where our passion and proficiency intersect and we can optimise the value we add.​​  The more time we can spend in our Desire Zone the more we will thrive as individuals and as professionals.

For me, this is now about stretching two areas: leadership and marketing. I enjoy getting better at both and can deliver significantly more impact to my business if I excel in both these areas. 

Step 5 – Identify what falls into my Development Zone so I can optimise what I can deliver upon, particularly within the Desire Zone. For me this will be a mix of learning how to create more space in my schedule for things that add more value and also how to do the things that might fill that newfound space.

Given my own observations from tracking my activities over the past week, I will focus on getting better at delegating more. The challenge will be to work out what I can delegate to who as well as how to do it successfully.

This will, I hope, give me greater focus as I double down on creating the best possible online learning program and how to market it. 

Clarifying this goal is​ is already building pressure that is motivating me to not imprison myself in a frenetic day of number ones, but rather create fortresses for number twos.

It also makes me realise how essential it is to go beyond the platitudes. The idea of diagnosing, decluttering and prioritising sounds pretty easy.  

it done will require some practical tactics such as the ones shared with me by Richard Medcalf of Xquadrant recently. I will share them with you next week too.

 In next week's post I will share ideas about ‘fortresses' and ‘prisons' which were just two of the terrific concepts Richard Medcalf of XQuadrant shared with me when we spoke recently.

Keep your eyes peeled for next week's interview.
 

PS If you enjoyed reading about the Freedom Compass, you might also enjoy Michael Hyatt's excellent book on the topic, Free to Focus. He is one of the people who has inspired me to ‘close the doors on Clarity First' so they are only open three times a year. This will, I think provide both me and my program participants with greater focus as we work to strengthen their communication skills.
  

Please note, this post contains Amazon affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. This helps me cover the costs of delivering my free content to you.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Hacks for becoming more strategic – 1

Hacks for becoming more strategic – 1

I loved catching up with a Clarity First alum this week for at least two reasons:

#1 – I love hearing how a story we have worked on together lands, and 
#2 – I also love it when they can teach me something practical that they have made work for themselves which will also help someone else

Steve rang me to tell me that a major strategy I had helped him develop a couple of years ago has now come to fruition. He got pretty much everything he had aimed for at the start.

We were both delighted.

Given I know him well, I also took advantage of the conversation to ask some questions that I thought he was well placed to answer.

He is not only head of the highly successful Australian arm of a global business, he has a family, works pretty regular hours and ‘knocks off' early on a Wednesday to go sailing.

He has plenty to offer many of my clients, especially 
a project manager from a technology company, who said this week: 

I feel like I am running soooo fast just to deliver – how do I find time to be strategic as well?

So, how did he transition from being an engineer to becoming a strategic leader who takes nights and weekends off as well as going sailing most Wednesday afternoons?

Steve offered some practical hacks for those of us who want to deliver at a more strategic level while not working 24/7.

He said some of the best advice he was given as he moved into leadership was to take control of his time. 

So, I have taken his advice and plan to hack my own schedule over the coming weeks to see if I can gain the same sorts of results.

At the moment, getting to yoga on a Wednesday morning would be a sign of success. I have cancelled the last three weeks running.

Let's work out if we can ‘hack our way' to becoming more strategic and get to some fun things outside of work at the same time.


Here is the roadmap for Steve's Hacks. I'll focus one one of these each week for the coming three weeks as I also work to optimise my own schedule and corresponding impact:

  1. Diagnose and declutter: Work out what I AM spending my time now and iteratively respond to my observations by getting rid of the less value adding stuff. By lunch time on day 1 I was stunned at the impact of recording and scoring my time. 
  2. Prioritise: Work out what to do with the “number two's” … I will explain next week
  3. ​​​​​​​​​Optimise: Decide how to make the most of my time so I optimise my potential and the value I deliver while having room for things I enjoy in my life.

Let's get started.

Step 1 – Diagnose and declutter

So, this coming week, I will focus on ​diagnosing what I am doing now and start to declutter my activities. Here is how Steve suggested I do it:

  1. Read up on the Eisenhower Matrix (see below)
  2. Record what I am doing as if I were a consultant keeping a super simple timesheet (download my version here)
  3. Score each activity against the Eisenhower urgent / important Matrix​
  4. Tally at the end of each week to see my daily and weekly averages

When interviewing Richard Medcalf of XQuadrant about ideas to help clients become more strategic, he also offered another simple idea. He recommends using a tool called RescueTime to monitor my activity. 

​​It will check how I spend my time when at my computer, eg how much time on email, websites, Word / PowerPoint, etc. It has a 14-day free trial, so I have signed up to see if that gives me some useful information too.​​

So far as day one goes: it's cool. I am looking forward to shining some light on what tools I am using more and less of.

I'd love to hear how this helps you and will come back not only with Richard's interview but more thoughts over the coming weeks. Feel free to email me and share your experiences.
​​
Talk soon,
Davina


PS If you don't normally receive my emails and want to keep up with the series, subscribe below.

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

The value of thinking top-down versus only thinking bottom-up

The value of thinking top-down versus only thinking bottom-up

You are welcome to either read or listen to this post. 

Click the image below to listen, or scroll down to read.

 

Tengke summed this up perfectly in this week's Clarity First Workshop.

He said: ​​“In my experience, the closer people are to senior leadership levels, the better they are at thinking top-down.

“​​The lower their level, the more they think bottom-up”.

This was an astute observation.

Leadership roles require us to think quickly about a wide range of topics. We don't have the luxury of thinking about everything from scratch and yet at the same time must have the ability to ‘sniff out' problems.

Tying this comment and my own observations together with a conversation I had recently about the cognitive competencies required for successful leadership, leads me to to ask a further question.

Is this ability to think top-down innate or is it learned?

It is, in my opinion, both innate and learned.

Let me explain how I have seen that work.

Thinking top-down about a problem involves having the intellectual capacity to do so as well as the right experience

Lightbulbs went on for me everywhere when I was speaking with my colleague Jane about the work I do in helping people use structure to unearth the thinking problems hiding beneath the surface of their communication.

She shared some useful information with me about the thinking skills she incorporated into a talent framework for a multi national resources company, which link directly to this idea of ‘top-down thinking'.

She said there were four key cognitive competencies that demonstrate leadership potential:

Helicopter thinking. This is the ability to mix conceptual and analytical thinking together. In Clarity First I describe this as ‘porpoising', or the ability to think in a way that mirrors the swimming patterns of a porpoise that dives down deep into the oceans and then swims back up to the top before going down again. The ability to oscillate between higher order ideas and lower level details is an essential attribute of not only a leader, but of someone who can think strategically.

Analytical thinking. This is what we are taught at university and, if we are lucky, refine further when at work. It is the ability to break problems into parts and solve them systematically, using our critical thinking abilities to evaluate the quality of our work as we go. 

Imaginative thinking. This is as it sounds: the ability to be creative. To think of out of the box solutions. To find new and novel ways of doing things rather than just following a set process. This competency has a heavy innate component, but can to a certain extent be learned.

Sense of reality. This relates to solid business judgement – acumen if you will – that comes through experience and mentoring. It can absolutely be learned by those with sufficient IQ needed for their area of work.

The good news is that if we are people with a growth mindset who are moderately bright, we can all make progress in all of these areas. So long as we have sufficient innate capacity, we can all get better at these four thinking skills.

The very fact that you are reading this post suggests you are likely to have sufficient innate capacity.

However, in my experience, few people intuitively know how to think top down 

This ability comes as a result of one or most likely a mix of the right kinds of knowledge and experiences to add to your innate ability. It seems to me there are four that matter most.

It may include years of experience in a specific area so you ‘just know' where to look to find problems or opportunities that others miss. A bit like the tailor I refer to in this post.

In this instance, the ability comes as a result of years and years of working bottom up, doing the analysis and developing an intuition for what works in a particular setting and what does not.

The key here is that the ability is contained to a particular setting, or at best to that setting and related ones. And gaining the ability is slow.

It might also include being inspired by someone who does it well. In my case, my boss of 30+ years ago was a whiz at explaining complex ideas using diagrams. This was very early in my corporate career, and I had never seen anyone do that before nor had I thought about communicating this way.

I am not sure I will ever remember what he drew, but I do remember thinking “I want to be able to do that” and have continued to strive for that since.

It may also involve being taught how to use and apply specific frameworks. This is where top-tier consulting experience is golden, as we are exposed to people who are expert at using – and in fact, designing – robust thinking frameworks that apply across multiple disciplines.

For example, when thinking about a change management challenge I default to two key frameworks which I use to scaffold my thinking. McKinsey's Psychology of Change and PROSCI's ADKAR framework.

At times I also merge the Psychology of Change framework with another simple one from PA Consulting, which describes the delivery phases of any change program in the simplest of terms. The items even rhyme to make them memorable.

Even better, it may involve being taught how to create, use and test frameworks that apply across many disciplines.  

In Clarity First we teach universal thinking principles (based in logic and synthesis, so I am comfortable with using ‘universal' for these) combined with some others that we have developed, which are widely applicable.

Having helped people communicate across just about every area I can think of (and when I include my colleague Gerard's 30+ years' of similar experience, we cover a huge territory), I am confident our storyline patterns help their users add value and save tons of time across many many disciplines.

Just this week I have helped people in the following disciplines to use these patterns: human resources, engineering, project management, pharmaceuticals, medical affairs, technology and the law. And this is a pretty normal week!

So, to experience the time saving and value-adding benefits that top-down thinking offers, I suggest taking three steps

I'll outline them here one by one here:

#1 – Be aware that it is something worth doing. I hope this post has inspired you to learn more about thinking top-down and how it can help you add more value while also saving tons of time.

#2 – Want it enough to learn how to do it. This part is entirely up to you. You need to decide if it is worth finding areas of your work that would benefit from top-down thinking. You also need to evaluate whether you want to save time by avoiding the need to do the same task many many times to identify the patterns, and also how useful it is to you personally to deliver more valuable work.

#3 – Follow through and actually learn how to apply it. This involves investing enough time and energy to go further than just ‘hearing about a good idea', but to building repeatable skill and establishing new thinking habits that will deliver you consistent results over time.

In closing, I might point out that this list of actions was heavily inspired by a framework 😉

Have a great week.
Regards, Davina