Hacks for becoming more strategic

Hacks for becoming more strategic

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Shop Co Case Study

During these times of uncertainty clarity in your thinking and communication is vital.

This case study of a communication sent to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic offered an excellent way to illustrate the need for top down and bottom up thinking, a topic we have be discussing regularly of late here at Clarity First.

This rich case study encourages you to:

  1. Take more time to think about your strategy before you start
  2. Work top-down to build your story, testing bottom-up
  3. Anchor everything around a storyline

Click the play button below to learn more and here to download the handout and here for more program information and here for information for your manager

Introduction to synthesis bonus expires 29 July

Kick start your learning with the two-part Bonus Workshop Program

> Get going immediately so you can see results straight away

> Learn the basics so you have a strong foundation to build on

> Complete challenges so you do more than ‘know the stuff' … you can start to ‘DO the stuff'

The Introduction to Synthesis Part 1 Workshop will be held on 30 July at 8am and 6pm Sydney time.

This will be followed by Part 2 on 1 September.

Recordings will be available for those who cannot be present live, or who want to revisit the material.

This bonus offer expires at 9pm AEST on 29 July.

This was the best course I have done. I was always confident in my reasoning but not as confident with presenting it, particularly to audiences that were not on my wavelength.

Davina has shown me how to organise my high level messages which gets me a better response from my audiences.

In fact, when I used the approach to present to the sales team last week half of them came up to me individually afterwards to compliment me on my presentation. That has never happened before!

Bojana

Customer Experience Advisor, Sydney, Australia

 

Clarity First was incredibly useful for me as it has provided a framework through which I am able to structure my initial thoughts quickly and easily.

I have always been OK at delivering communications, but the tools Davina has taught me will not only make the communications clearer and more concise but the time taken to get to the end point has reduced greatly.

I recommend the course to anyone who wants to make existing skills even better or for those that want to create the foundations for great communication.

Michaela Flanagan

GM Performance and Strategy, Insurance Industry

Keywords: ShopCo Case Study, workshop, free

How do we know when we are fooling ourselves?

How do we know when we are fooling ourselves?

It might shock you to know that our brains are quirky and more like Homer Simpson's than we realise.

In Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes how we lie to ourselves just like Homer does.

He suggests that we make up stories in our minds and then against all evidence, defend them tooth and nail.

Understanding why we do this is the key to discovering truth and making wiser decisions.

In this piece I lay out the overview of his argument and illustrate through a business example.

 His argument leans heavily on an evolutionary bug in our brains that critical thinking strategies can resolve

He suggests there’s a bug in the evolutionary code that makes up our brains.  Apparently, we have a hard time distinguishing between when cause and effect is clear, such as checking for traffic before crossing a busy street, and when it’s not, as in the case of many business decisions.

We don’t like not knowing. We also love a story.

Just like with Homer did in this short clip, our minds create plausible stories to fill in the gaps in other people's stories to construct our own cause and effect relationships.

The trick is to have some critical thinking strategies to help us evaluate other people's stories and our own. To help us avoid telling stories that are convincing and wrong.

We need to think about how these stories are created, whether they’re right, or how they persist. A useful ‘tell' is when we find ourselves uncomfortable and unable to articulate our reasoning.

 A real life example brings his argument to life in an uncomfortably familiar way

Imagine a meeting where we are discussing how a project should continue, not unlike any meeting you have this week to figure out what happened and what decisions your organization needs to make next.

You start the meeting by saying “The transformation project has again made little progress against its KPIs this month. Here’s what we’re going to do in response.”

But one person in the meeting, John, another project manager, asks you to explain the situation.

You volunteer what you know.
“After again failing to deliver on their KPIs, we recommend replacing the project leader with someone from outside the organisation who has a proven track record with transformation programs. The delays are no longer sustainable.”
And you quickly launch into the best way to find a replacement team leader.

Mary, however, tells herself a different story, because just last week her friend, the project leader, described the difficulty her team was having with two influential leaders who were actively against the transformation program.
The story she tells herself is that the project leader probably needs extra support from the CEO and potentially also the Board.

So, she asks you, “What makes you think a new project leader would be more successful?”

The answer is obvious to you.
You feel your heart rate start to rise.
Frustration sets in.

You tell yourself that Mary is an idiot. This is so obvious. The project is falling further behind. Again. The leader is not getting traction. And we need to put in place something to get the transformation moving now. You think to yourself that she’s slowing the group down and we need to act now.

What else is happening?

It’s likely you looked at the evidence again and couldn’t really explain how you drew your conclusion.

Rather than have an honest conversation about the story you told yourself and the story Mary is telling herself, the meeting gets tense and goes nowhere.

Neither of you has a complete picture or a logically constructed case. You are both running on intuition.

The next time you catch someone asking you about your story and you can’t explain it in a falsifiable way, pause, hit reset and test the rigour of your story.

What you really care about is finding the truth, even if that means the story you told yourself is wrong.

Why am I sharing this story with you?

In Clarity First we teach people 10 specific questions to ask when evaluating our communication that helps us to see whether our ideas ‘stack up'.

These are incredibly powerful and help you ‘step back' from your own ideas to evaluate them critically.

Take a look at the Clarity First Program to learn more.

We help you communicate so your complex ideas get the traction they deserve.

 

 

Keywords: #critical thinking #decision making #kahneman

 

Is killing PowerPoint really the solution?

Is killing PowerPoint really the solution?

Many have called for the Death of PowerPoint as they are understandably under-whelmed by so many presentations.

But given the many complex elements that make up a powerful presentation, it is too simplistic to blame the presentation tool. 

It is, after all, hugely powerful when managed well and so widely used it is hard to kill off.

So, the question remains: how do we create consistently powerful presentations with or without PowerPoint? 

Two words: stop rambling.

If the presenter gets to their point quickly they will engage their audience far better than dragging everyone through all the background detail and a seemingly endless list of irrelevant charts and diagrams first.

Here are four ideas to help you stop rambling your presentations (using whichever tool you prefer):

Firstly, the hard part: Identify the main point you need to make for this particular audience – your ‘so what' – and write it in a sentence.

Yes, just one. Write it in 25 words or less, in words that are simple and clear enough for someone removed from the situation, such as your grandmother, to understand.

Secondly, chunk your supporting points in a way that will work for your audience

Work out if you need to persuade your audience that this is the right big idea, or whether they will want to know how to implement it.

  • To persuade, you will need to choose to engage them through their minds with analysis, or to engage them personally through narrative story.
  • To provide an implementation plan, step out the actions one by one in logical order.
  • To do both, use deductive logic to prepare an argument story, incorporating what you judge to be the right balance of analysis and story.

Thirdly, create your PowerPoint (or Keynote, or Slides presentation) and get someone to help you with the visuals if they are critical to your presentation.

Neil Young of www.ogcommunicationdesign.com is both fast and fabulous. With or without Neil, make sure you have one message on each page and a diagram to match, avoiding too many bullet points and using font that is large enough for your audience to read. Wherever possible, use more pages rather than less.

As you have already worked out, there is quite an art to this.

Gene Zelazny of McKinsey & Company fame provides outstanding counsel on this subject in his two excellent books: Say it with Presentations and Say it with Charts. Both are available from his website: www.zelazny.com.

I take no fees from either Neil or Gene.

Lastly, make like Winston Churchill.

Wear a hole in the carpet as you walk back and forward in front of the mirror practicing until you get it right.

There really are no shortcuts, either with making a good presentation or with getting rid of PowerPoint.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Davina StanleyDavina Stanley is founder of the Clarity First Program, which helps mid-career experts communicate so their good ideas get the traction they deserve – fast.

Davina is a fan of PowerPoint (when used well) and of Neil Young who is a master information designer.

Neil can be contacted at neil@ogcommunicationdesign.com

Do facts change minds?

Do facts change minds?

Changing other peoples' minds is central to having influence in business, however in his new book Atomic Habits James Clear offers some new insight into this vexing challenge.

He starts by referring to two notable minds which point in the same direction:

J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “Faced with a choice between changing one's mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”

So true.

Leo Tolstoy who was even bolder: “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.” I hunch women behave similarly!

So, if that is also true, how do we get any kind of progress in business?

We must frequently persuade people to change how they think about things and, even harder, get them to change their behaviour.

Here are six suggestions from James's new book to help in that regard:

Understand why we hold our tongues when we know something is not true. He claims we don't always believe things because they are correct, but rather because they make us look good to people we care about it. This speaks to the power of the reward we all get from belonging to a tribe.

Focus on friendship first, and facts second. Given this tribal nature, he suggests that people will hold onto false beliefs long and hard if that means they can sustain their membership of a group that matters to them. So, finding a way to engage people in a new idea, a new process or a new behaviour is best achieved when you have already built a relationship and when you can frame it in such a way that adds to rather than contradicts the beliefs of the community that people belong to.

Find areas of agreement and build on those. If someone you know, like and trust believes a radical idea you are more likely to give it merit. After all, if you like them already, there is a greater chance of liking their ideas. So, use this to your advantage. Find your . friends who also have strong relationships with the people who disagree with you, and engage them in your ideas first.

Where disagreement is likely, find a way to introduce the ideas without confrontation. Interestingly, James suggests providing people with something to read – he suggests a book, but in a business context a report or paper might do – rather than going first for a conversation. This provides people with an opportunity to absorb and reflect on the ideas in private so they can incorporate the information into their own view before having a potentially courageous conversation from scratch. In sum, warm them up gently.

Avoid giving people opportunities to complain about things they don't like. This gives them an opportunity to talk about – and reinforce – their dislike for an idea, giving it more airtime than it deserves. James calls this Clear's Law of Recurrence: the more often something gets mentioned (even in a negative way) the more it is embedded into the psyche of the speaker and the listener. After all, how much air time does Donald Trump get? Instead, spend your time championing good ideas so they get the airtime they deserve and the others fade away from lack of oxygen.

Be kind first and right later. Here he quotes the brilliant Japanese writer Haruki Murakami who once wrote, “Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.” Enough said.

Click here to read the full article. And, no, I don't get anything from James Clear for blogging about his article. I just like what he says and thought you might too.

Keywords: design your strategy, leadership communication, learning and development

 

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Do emotion and business communication mix?

Do emotion and business communication mix?

I recently ran a webinar called Getting To The Point Without Being Blunt which included a Q&A time for the participants. One of the great questions that came out was about the use of emotion in business communication. Download this and the other five Q&As here, or read on.

I made the point that emotion is not necessarily our friend. Too much intensity, particularly negative intensity, can come off as rude in person and worse in formal communication. this has actually been a topic in two recent coaching sessions of mine too.

Webinar participant, Bea, rightly asked whether emotion should have a role in business communication, particularly positive communication.

She is right: there are very good reasons to use emotion to engage our audiences, and here are three tips for doing so:

  1. Be positively contagious
  2. Focus on solutions rather than problems
  3. Be negative only with care

I'll flesh these points out here one by one.

Be positively contagious

If you think about the people you know, and whom you LIKE to spend time with, you will probably agree they offer something positive to you. They engage in topics you like to talk about, smile and show interest. They seem to like you.

Work is a social context, so to this extent, social rules apply to both interpersonal and formal communication. So, use positive emotions to your advantage and draw people in so they are more likely to listen to you and not be turned off by negativity, or a sharp tone.

Focus on solutions rather than problems

It is much easier to ‘say it as it is' than think diplomatically about how to handle difficult situations.

However, I see many younger execs, particularly those from technical disciplines, struggle in this area.

For example, last week I was helping a data analyst in her mid 30s who was frustrated that she was not getting the instructions she needed to do her job. She was inclined to say “I can't do this because your instructions don't make sense” rather than something like: “If I receive XYZ in the next couple of days I can finish the task you have asked me to do”.

This can be difficult when you are close to a problem that is driving you nuts, but is worth the effort. This particular client changed her tone, involved her direct manager and got what she needed while building rather than damaging her relationships.

Be negative only with care

Sometimes it is not only hard to be positive, but it comes off as insincere or does not grab the attention you need. I do encourage you, however, to use ‘the negative' judiciously. If you can get the job done in a positive way: do it. If you can't, then do so with your eyes open and save it for real crises so that it has the effect you need.

Download the rest of the Q&As here, and click here to watch the webinar recording. It will be available until 10 March. If you are reading this after the 10th, sign up to hear about future webinars here.

 

 

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Is Andy Groves right? Is writing more important than reading?

Is Andy Groves right? Is writing more important than reading?

Like many, I have been impressed by the discipline that Jeff Bezos has instilled at Amazon, where important decisions are made after thorough discussion of tightly crafted six-page narratives. Bezos has been quoted as saying that

Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.

He rightly points out that PowerPoint leaves room for gaps in our thinking. I would add that prose templates that ask executives to ‘colour in’ the sections rather than constructing a cohesive story are equally problematic.

I was, however, even more intrigued when I read how Andy Grove of Intel considers the exercise of writing ‘more of a medium of self-discipline than a way to communicate information.’

He went as far as saying that ‘writing the report is important; reading it often is not’.

That is a big statement, but he might be right. The clarity of thought – epiphanies, even – that come from crafting clear and concise communication can be golden.

The challenge, however, is to discern when to write to clarify our own thinking and when to communicate that thinking with others.

Here are three things to consider before you foist your next paper or pack on someone else:

  1. Does this piece of communication put forward a proposition that you can state in one clear sentence? As one company secretary from a large Australian energy retailer said to me this week, there is too much dissemination and not enough communication. The last thing that audiences need is more facts being disseminated without their relevance being articulated.
  2. Does this piece of communication lead toward a specific action or decision? If you are not clear about how your communication will lead you or your team closer to a specific business objective, hold off sharing it. Sharing at this stage will not only clog up other people’s inboxes, it will damage your brand.
  3. Is your communication crafted so clearly that your audience can get to the heart of your proposition within the first 1 minute? It doesn’t matter who you are communicating with, whether you are working in business, government, consulting, education or the not for profit sector. Every person in your audience is in a hurry. If they don’t ‘get’ what you are looking for quickly, they will at best ‘flag it for later’. Later can be a very long time away.

Keywords: critical thinking, leadership communication

 

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Winston Churchill nails it again

Winston Churchill nails it again

A client recently passed through a gem which is just too good not to share. Yet again, Winston Churchill ‘nails it'. Written sixty plus years ago, it's fabulous.

I also love his closing remark: Reports drawn up along the lines I propose may at first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.

Well said Winston!

Keywords: leadership communication, Winston Churchill

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Kurt Vonnegut had some great things to say about patterns that are relevant in business

Kurt Vonnegut had some great things to say about patterns that are relevant in business

I found something wonderfully useful this week that I wanted to share with you.
Revered American writer Kurt Vonnegut penned these seven storytelling tips that reinforce not only what a wonderful writer he was but also that it is possible to communicate complex ideas while remaining deceptively simple.
As a structured thinking fan, I love the humour and simplicity of his gutsy list of seven parallel ideas.
He recommends that when writing we focus on seven simple things

  1. Find a subject that we care about
  2. Avoid rambling
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Have the guts to cut
  5. Sound like ourselves
  6. Say what we mean to say
  7. Pity the readers

While he's not providing you with a way to achieve these seven things, they are useful reminders of what we need to do. Here are some places you can go to learn more:

  • Watch this short slideshow fleshing out Vonnegut's points further
  • Download these clarity checklists to learn more about the missing structure element
  • Watch out for our book, The So What Strategy, which will be published soon

So, which structure was that? …. Click here to learn more.

As always, feel free to email us at hello@claritycollege.co if you have any clarity questions that we could help you answer.

Regards,
Davina Stanley

Keywords: design your strategy

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Modern Day Dr Doolittle Does Lots for communicating with humans

Modern Day Dr Doolittle Does Lots for communicating with humans

I laughed when I saw that the inspiration for Hugh Lofting's children's book series on Dr Dolittle came when he thought that actual news was either too horrible or too dull.

This made me think of some of the horrible and dull presentations I have sat through – one last weekend in particular – and also appreciate modern day Dr Doolittle's research into working memory, which can help us engage our audiences better.

Dr Peter Doolittle is a professor of educational psychology in the School of Education at Virginia Tech in the US, and points out in a recent TEDTalk that the pushmi-pullyu fragmentation of modern day life reduces the capacity of our working memories, making it harder to absorb and remember information than it was in Hugh Lofting's time.

When listening to his four strategies for making the most of working memory, I was struck by how consistent his recommendations are with the structured and logical approach to communication that I learned at McKinsey.

  1. Repeat (and practice) to remember. When presenting your ideas after you have organised them into a logical storyline you naturally provide your high level ideas at the beginning and then repeat each one as you come to those sections within your presentation
  2. Think elaboratively and illustratively to connect ideas to existing knowledge. By providing ideas in an order that is logically focused around your audience's needs and concerns, you will help with this. You will help further by unpacking these ideas step by step and providing practical and relevant examples wherever possible
  3. Organise your ideas. Being structured is critical as people are ‘meaning making machines' wanting to make sense of everything.The challenge here is to ensure that we present our information so clearly that they take away our intended meaning  rather than one of their own
  4. Support your points with visuals. Clean, simple, clear and definitely-not-ugly visuals will help cement your points in your audience's mind.

If you would like to learn more about how to organise your ideas to maximise the chance that your audience will grasp and remember your points you may like to

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Bizarre but Beaut: Can structure actually stimulate creativity?

When we think of creativity, it is easy to think of freedom, a lack of rules – even to the point of anarchy.

Creativity after all is all about finding new and different ways of doing things, whether through visual art or other forms.

And yet even artists like Picasso who found radical new ways to represent ideas visually tell us that we must first understand the rules to break them.

Wouldn’t it be a great paradox, though if we took this a step further to suggest that rules actually stimulated creativity?

When reading the weekend paper my husband spotted an article that proved this point.

An inner city couple living in a 130 metre warehouse apartment suddenly found themselves in a fix: they were about to have a child and yet did not want to move.

But … how could you raise a family in an apartment of such miniscule proportions?

No, let’s rephrase that: how could you enjoy raising a family in an apartment of such miniscule proportions?

Given their strong attachment to their apartment and their neighborhood the couple approached an architect to see what could be done. In doing so they came up with some ingenious solutions to everyday problems that they would not have identified had they decided to relocate to the burbs.

For example, by creating an under-floor storage space they created the best toy box I have ever heard of.

Imagine being able to lift a floor panel and sweep the toys all into the cavity before putting the lid back on. The pack-up would be fast and require no ugly plastic containers to line the walls of multi-purpose rooms.

I cannot imagine anybody coming up with this ingenious solution without the strict limitations of space that their 130-metre apartment provided.

So too do the limits imposed by structured thinking drive creativity in communication.

When introducing structured thinking to our clients it is not uncommon for people to rail against them.

Last week a client preparing a speech experienced just this.

She needed to persuade a new cohort of students to think – and behave – differently about the way they prepare for entering the workforce at the end of their MBA.

In working through the context, trigger, question structure at the start of her presentation we not only gave her steps to follow to create a functional speech, but also demonstrated how adhering to structure can radically change what you are going to say.

Her story went from something focused on what she wanted to achieve to something that would engage her audience.

Rather than asking “How can we get MBA students to use our services?”,  she changed the question to be “How can we inspire the MBA students to start building their personal brand closer to the start of their program than the end?”.

Naturally, the story that followed the second question was quite different than the first.

Click here to get some more ideas about how structure can help you radically change what you need to say – and help you get the elite results you want.

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Ironically, writers need to educate readers about what ‘reader-focused’ means

Ironically, writers need to educate readers about what ‘reader-focused’ means

The Minto Pyramid Principle is a widely lauded approach for preparing clearer business reports.

Developed by a McKinsey & Company team led by Barbara Minto in the 1960s, ‘pyramid’ helps people use logic and structure to organise their ideas into a logical and coherent reader-focused argument.

At Clarity First we love this approach.

It enables us to think top down, draw out insights quickly and communicate complex ideas clearly.

However, despite much evidence from our own work and its popularity across consulting and business strategy teams in particular, very little formal research has been undertaken into its actual effectiveness.

Perhaps it was enough to say “It’s McKinsey: It’s good”.

However, Dr Louise Cornelis (another ex-McKinsey communication specialist) recently changed this when working with a series of Masters’ students at Groningen University in Holland.

She undertook a qualitative study to understand whether preparing a business report using a ‘top-down, reader-focused pyramid structure’ was actually helpful to the reader.

Dr Cornelis’ findings demonstrate some irony.

Writers and readers don’t always agree on what is ‘reader-focused’ unless the writer first educates the reader about what ‘reader-focused’ actually means.

Here is why that seems to be true.

#1 – Audiences are hard wired into their old habits

It seems that our readers are hard-wired into what they expect and can be confused by a new way of doing things unless it is explained to them.

In the case of business reports, many people are accustomed to receiving reports written with titles such as ‘Executive Summary’, ‘Background’, ‘Issues’ and a ‘Conclusion’ at the end and are quite lost when these are absent.

They can be confused by Pyramid reports that ignore these section titles, preferring to instead have customized titles that reflect the content of the report: a bit like newspaper headlines.

#2 – Consultants and others using the approach often forget to explain how their approach works

When, however, the approach is explained they not only like the Pyramid Principle approach much better, but can read the documents significantly more quickly.

Readers who were provided with a short description of the structure before reading the documents were able to grasp the main message from a document almost five times faster than those with no preparatory explanation.

Dr Cornelis found that people very much appreciated the Pyramid Principle report-writing approach but only when they understood what it was trying to do.

So the next time have a good idea: remember to ensure your significant others understand the benefit, even when the idea is specifically for the them.

 

 

Keywords: design your strategy, develop your storyline, research

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Louise Cornelis is a communication consultant based in Rotterdam. Louise specialises in helping her clients use structure and logic to communicate clearly, having learned her craft at McKinsey & Company and honed it by working with a wide range of clients since.

She particularly enjoys grappling with complex challenges that relate to helping others not only communicate clearly, but want to do so. The Clarity First team very much enjoys thinking about these challenges in collaboration with Louise.

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Are you too busy to deliver real client impact?

It is always incredibly busy at the end of a client engagement as no matter how well you plan, how strictly hypothesis driven you are, there will always be time pressure at the end if you are aiming to deliver real client impact.

And teams frequently use this as the ‘reason' why the report that the client receives is lacklustre. After all, it is just a PowerPoint deck and that isn't what makes a difference for the client: “It's the ideas in that deck that really matter” they say.

While I can hardly disagree that it is the ideas that matter (Read my 13 January blog ), I would challenge teams that analyse to the last minute to think again if they want to deliver real impact.

Teams that do not distil your ideas into a compelling message will not actually be clear about them themselves, which gives the client precious little chance of identifying, understanding and implementing those “ideas that really matter” either.

However, there are some things that teams can do to increase your chances of delivering real impact, even if you don't have time to make every chart perfect or phrase every sentence with the elegance of a novelist.

Prepare a straw-man very early in your client engagement: Even though you are unlikely to be certain of what every detail of your client answer will involve, you will most likely have a strong hunch about your high level argument very early on. Map this high level argument out on a page, test that it is logically robust, and use it as a guide for the direction that your analysis will take and for the charts you develop along the way.

Take an hour at the end of every week to revisit the straw-man: At your weekly team meetings, allow time to revisit this straw-man to provide your team with an opportunity to revise their current thinking, and a continued sense of perspective for their work. Be rigorous with your use of logic in these sessions and you will push your team's thinking while also helping to keep your ongoing client communication on track.

Build your PowerPoint at the end of the study based on your final high-level argument. Once you can articulate your final argument the pack will come together quickly. By focusing on the argument first, you will deliver a smooth and uncluttered presentation that really does deliver the client a compelling message with the ideas that matter not only present, but in an order that your client can grasp easily.

And then, if there is time tidy up the charts and perfect the prose.

Click here if you would like to watch a video and receive a cheat sheet that gives you some ideas to help you and your team deliver more impact.

Keywords: leadership communication

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.