Making time for strategy

Making time for strategy

Do you struggle to make time for strategic thinking?

Most of my clients tell me they do, and I also find it a challenge. It is so easy to be swept away by the ‘now', the urgent requests for things to be delivered.

The busyness can feel satisfying as we tick things off lists. However, it leaves us open to the risk of delivering more ‘stuff' and less ‘impact'.

In a communication sense, it leaves people reworking papers late at night because they haven't allowed time to think during the day. This is particularly so for those who lead teams and realise late in the piece that their team's papers need an overhaul before being fit for purpose.

My collaborator, Richard Medcalf of XQuadrant, has helped me enormously in this regard and I am excited to tell you about his upcoming book.

Making Time for Strategy offers deceptively simple yet ‘real world' achievable techniques that have shifted my perspective, my behaviour and my results.

In this latest episode of my new Cutting Through podcast I share my first of six interviews with Richard that share some of the insights from his book.

You can listen on your favourite podcasting platform, or on my website >>

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Registrations Open:

Thinking Skills Workshop

December 14th

Learn how to connect the dots between complex ideas so you can prepare insightful and engaging communication.

In this 2-hour workshop I introduce the core thinking skills that underpin our ability to deliver insight rather than just ‘information'. During this interactive workshop you will

  • Learn the basis for structuring a compelling business story
  • Practice three core thinking skills that will set your communication apart from others
  • Leverage our seven most-commonly used story structuring patterns
  • Work in a small group to rework a short prose communication

Only 20 places are offered to allow me to answer everyone's questions.

RELATED POSTS

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.

Optimising your ‘end of year review’ for maximum impact

Optimising your ‘end of year review’ for maximum impact

Late November is the time when many of us are reflecting on our progress for the year and updating our stakeholders.

This can be fraught, particularly in an increasingly cost-constrained environment. Many recent working session stories have had a cost theme, as have many of the stories I have been working on with my corporate clients.

In that light I wanted to share one critical idea to focus on when preparing your next progress report.

Prioritising impact over activity is ever more important in these increasingly cost-constrained times. Let me explain what I mean.

Saying ‘we have been busy' is rarely enough. Providing a list of things you and your team have completed over the past period is the easy way out and only marginally useful. Even when the list is well-grouped, it is rarely insightful. It can also be overwhelming and just says ‘we have been busy'.

I once worked with the head of projects at a global car company and she asked me why her CFO never responded to the weekly update email he requested.

When I reviewed it I could see why.

She had listed literally 100 project tasks that had been worked on, categorised by area, without offering any insight as to how these linked to the overall objectives.

Saying ‘we are on track' is better. This at least offers stakeholders comfort to know that they have nothing to worry about. This can be sufficient, but is not always so, especially in times of heightened attention to costs.

Saying ‘we have delivered X impact' is better still. You might describe each activity you have completed alongside the impact it has delivered. It doesn't require a major shift in substance, still enables you to describe the work accomplished but is clear about the impact delivered.

Explaining how your team could deliver more impact is best. This requires you to take a step back and look for opportunities to optimise your ways of working within your area as well stepping outside that area to focus on your purpose.

If you reflect on the reason why your program of work exists and ask whether your priorities and activities are still the best way to achieve that goal, you may find some gems.

Even though this can be difficult and perhaps feel risky, it demonstrates that your commitment is in line with delivering maximum returns rather than just ‘doing work'.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Registrations Open:

Thinking Skills Workshop

December 15th

Learn how to connect the dots between complex ideas so you can prepare insightful and engaging communication.

In this 2-hour workshop I introduce the core thinking skills that underpin our ability to deliver insight rather than just ‘information'. During this interactive workshop you will

  • Learn the basis for structuring a compelling business story
  • Practice three core thinking skills that will set your communication apart from others
  • Leverage our seven most-commonly used story structuring patterns
  • Work in a small group to rework a short prose communication

Only 20 places are offered to allow me to answer everyone's questions.

RELATED POSTS

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.

When to not focus on the data

When to not focus on the data

I was sharing war stories with one of my collaborators this week. An interesting story emerged where ‘poor communication' cost a chief financial officer (CFO) his job.

Why?

Because he focused on the data.

Let me explain.

The CFO assumed his role was to provide regular and accurate numbers that the CEO and Board would not just read, but also interpret.

However, the CEO and the Board wanted insights about the company's performance.

This material disconnect cost him his job as the leadership did not see that the company was in major difficulty until late in the piece.

So, what went wrong here?

While I agree that a CFO has a responsibility to explain what the performance data means, I also see a systemic issue that goes beyond the CFO himself. This could have been avoided if

  •  The CEO and Board asked better questions inside and outside formal Board meetings
  • The company secretary clarified expectations that insights were central to the financial reports when the CFO took the role on years previously
  • The CEO and the Chair called out the lack of insight in the papers as a general expectation
  • The Board did not accept that poor quality papers are commonplace and too hard to fix

I offer this as a cautionary tale.

Quality governance and decision making requires insightful communication both inside and around key papers.

Assuming that the data is enough, or that poor quality papers is ‘par for the course' is not just a risk for you but also for the organisation.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

 

Cutting Through Podcast Now Live

Last week I launched my new podcast, Cutting Through.

My first two posts, a short intro and an interview discussing how to get around one of the biggest challenges when communicating about risk management.

My guest, Anthony Wilson from ABM Risk Management shares deep wisdom stemming from decades in risk and assurance.

He also offers his comprehensive risk management framework.

Listen on your favourite podcasting app or here on my website.

PS – Apologies to those of you who may tried to find it on Spotify, Apple and Google Play last weekend. The episode took longer to publish than we expected.

 

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.

New Podcast – CUTTING THROUGH

New Podcast – CUTTING THROUGH

I am excited to announce that I have begun a podcast.

Cutting Through interviews experts who have done just that.

They have cut through with stakeholders who do not share their expertise to achieve material outcomes.

This could mean …

  • engaging a multi-disciplinary group such as a leadership team or a Board in a risk management, technology, human resources or another kind of issue
  • motivating your team or perhaps your peers about a major change to the way they need to work, or
  • communicating to deliver maximum value in another professional setting.

Each of these situations offers its unique set of challenges and an opportunity to learn lessons to apply to our own communication.

Episode 1 with Anthony Wilson of ABM Risk Management offers suggestions for engaging senior leaders in thinking about risk management as change management.

It's a thoroughly enjoyable conversation. Anthony shares decades of wisdom as a senior leader and advisor to some of Australia's largest organisations.

You can find Cutting Through on your favourite podcast player or here on my website.

I look forward to bringing this and more to you over the coming months.

I hope you enjoy the episodes as much as I am.

 

Kind Regards,

Davina

 

 

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.

On being a ‘human dartboard’…

On being a ‘human dartboard’…

There haven't been many times in my career when I have felt like a ‘human dartboard' but teaching one group of lawyers most certainly felt that way.

In a good way!

There is something fantastic about helping people who are engaged enough to actually test me.

They pretty much litigated every idea I shared with them as a form of sport. Not only was the workshop loaded with fun and banter, they helped me fine tune the quality of my ideas.

This is one of the many things covered in a recent podcast interview on the Investing for Life podcast with Douglas Isles from Platinum Asset Management.

We discuss a diverse range of topics including:

  1. How it all started on an 800-acre potato farm on the Victorian border, before continuing in Adelaide as a teacher
  2. Shifting gears in Hong Kong to join McKinsey and – at one point – across four countries in 12 months with two children under three
  3. Setting up in Australia to establish Clarity First, Clarity Thought Partners and write The So What Strategy.
  4. How I think about professional communication.

This is less serious than most professional podcasts, and one I hope you find enjoyable.

>> Click here to listen or visit Investing for Life on your preferred podcasting app.

More soon.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – Look out for news about my own communication podcast, Cutting Through, which will start in the coming weeks.

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.

Do you score your communication 7/10?

Do you score your communication 7/10?

I have been very much enjoying the preview version of Richard Medcalf's draft book, Making Time for Strategy.

As always, Richard turns common ways of thinking on their head. He will then offer a super simple strategy that does what his tagline says it will do: multiplies my impact.

Let me share one example with you.

He says we should never score ourselves as a 7, which he aptly describes as a ‘meh' number.

It's safe yet meaningless. It's not terrible, yet it's not great either.

I mention this because I have been shocked at how many people joining my programs play it safe and score their communication as 7.

So, how do you score your communication without being a 7?

Here is a way to think about the scale from ouch to outstanding:

  • 1 to 2 – ouch! You don't get the decisions or actions you want. Your written and verbal communication misses the mark around substance, story and presentation.
  • 3 to 4 – interpreter needed. Your leader reworks most if not all your major pieces of communication. It is too hard to help you, so they do it themselves. Others help during meetings by interpreting what you are saying so your audience understands you.

  • 5 to 6 –  passable. Your leader reworks some of your major communication. They provide suggestions for less critical or less complex pieces, but largely leave you to complete them. You can convey your messaging verbally fairly well, but receive some clarification questions from your audience.

  • 8 to 10 – outstanding. Your leader provides minor improvement suggestions only. They trust you to deliver a high quality insight in a professional and effective way. Most presentations and meetings focus on making progress rather than clarifying your point. You get the job done.


If your honest score is 6 or below, I invite you to explore Clarity First.

We can help you engage your decision makers in complex ideas.

Registrations close next week.

Kind regards,
Davina


PS – Here are some other places to go for more information.

  1. Download the latest brochure here
  2. Watch the latest Q&A video here
  3. Grab a draft letter to help pitch your manager for financial support

Clarity First Registrations Now Open!


In Clarity First we introduce structured communication techniques to help you engage decision makers.

We go beyond platitudes like “keep it short” and “give me less detail” to teach you how to turn your information into high-quality insights.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about the program:

We offer three learning pathways to choose from

Intensive – for those who want structure and focus so they can move through the material and build their skills in 3 months. Includes 6 interactive workshops + online pre-work + copy of The So What Strategy + access to small group coaching. 30 places max. 12 already taken.

Classic – for those who want to learn in their own time and enjoy small-group coaching. Join on monthly or yearly subscriptions.

Foundation – for those who want more. Enjoy everything in the Intensive as well as the Classic pathways + 4 x speed coaching sessions + 6 x email feedback on your own work. 2 places only available.

>> Download the latest brochure here.

Get your ‘Pitch your boss' kit here


If you want your manager to invest in your development, you need to do your homework before you have the conversation.

Your manager will want to know exactly why this is the right program for you and how it will help the team and the organisation.

We have provided a brochure, a draft script and some steps to follow to help you prepare for your conversation.

>> Download the latest ‘kit' here.


See what others say here

A number of program members have shared their experience of Clarity First – warts and all.

Click here to see what they say.

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.

A tip or a trick would not have fixed this

A tip or a trick would not have fixed this

Twice monthly at Clarity First hold live working sessions.

Participants join these to collaborate on real, live communication challenges.

This week's session was a ‘monster' which required advanced structuring and synthesis techniques to solve.

The challenges we faced reminded me why a ‘tip or a trick' won't help when faced with complex communication challenges. ‘Cracking' this one required at least five key ingredients:

  1. Familiarity with the business context and the project in question. We clarified this by brainstorming and asking questions
  2. A solid understanding of the stakeholder environment. We unpacked this using our 5 key ‘understand your audience' questions
  3. An agreed way to capture and structure our ideas in the shortest possible time, which focused around our storyline structures
  4. A powerful ability to synthesise a message out of complexity, which relied on our top down and bottom up thinking strategies
  5. Advanced understanding of how to ‘flip' storyline patterns and test them against first principles. We used these to draft an accurate and persuasive change request.


Do you also find it challenging to ‘wrestle' complex ideas into clear, high-quality communication?

If so, it's time to join Clarity First.

Doors open on 11 September and will close at 9pm AEST on 21 September.

Learn more about the program here or go straight here to register for your desired pathway.

  • Intensive – limited to 20 extra places (10 already taken)
  • Classic – learn at your own pace, unlimited places  
  • Foundation – get extra 1-1 help from me, 2 places only 


I hope to see you in the program.

Davina

Clarity First Registrations Now Open!


In Clarity First we introduce structured communication techniques to help you engage decision makers.

We go beyond platitudes like “keep it short” and “give me less detail” to teach you how to turn your information into high-quality insights.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about the program:

We offer three learning pathways to choose from

Intensive – for those who want structure and focus so they can move through the material and build their skills in 3 months. Includes 6 interactive workshops + online pre-work + copy of The So What Strategy + access to small group coaching. 30 places max. 12 already taken.

Classic – for those who want to learn in their own time and enjoy small-group coaching. Join on monthly or yearly subscriptions.

Foundation – for those who want more. Enjoy everything in the Intensive as well as the Classic pathways + 4 x speed coaching sessions + 6 x email feedback on your own work. 2 places only available.

>> Download the latest brochure here.

Get your ‘Pitch your boss' kit here


If you want your manager to invest in your development, you need to do your homework before you have the conversation.

Your manager will want to know exactly why this is the right program for you and how it will help the team and the organisation.

We have provided a brochure, a draft script and some steps to follow to help you prepare for your conversation.

>> Download the latest ‘kit' here.


See what others say here

A number of program members have shared their experience of Clarity First – warts and all.

Click here to see what they say.

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.

An idea to help you structure your communication

An idea to help you structure your communication

This week I reviewed a ‘boat load' of client communication to provide feedback.

A common theme emerged, which you may find familiar?

Just because communication includes well-formed sentences organised tidily into categories doesn't mean it cuts the mustard.

And, the categories can be the problem.


A category is not a message

A list of categories is not a ‘story structure'


To see an example and get some more ideas to help you with your communication, watch this recent workshop I ran.

>> Click here to watch.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Clarity First Intensive starts late September


In Clarity First we introduce structured communication techniques to help you engage decision makers.

We go beyond platitudes like “keep it short” and “give me less detail” to teach you how to turn your information into high-quality insights.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about the program:

We offer three learning pathways to choose from

Intensive – for those who want structure and focus so they can move through the material and build their skills in 3 months. Includes 6 interactive workshops + online pre-work + copy of The So What Strategy + access to small group coaching. 30 places max. 12 already taken.

Classic – for those who want to learn in their own time and enjoy small-group coaching. Join on monthly or yearly subscriptions.

Foundation – for those who want more. Enjoy everything in the Intensive as well as the Classic pathways + 4 x speed coaching sessions + 6 x email feedback on your own work. 2 places only available.

>> Download the latest brochure here.

Get your ‘Pitch your boss' kit here


If you want your manager to invest in your development, you need to do your homework before you have the conversation.

Your manager will want to know exactly why this is the right program for you and how it will help the team and the organisation.

We have provided a brochure, a draft script and some steps to follow to help you prepare for your conversation.

>> Download the latest ‘kit' here.


See what others say here

A number of program members have shared their experience of Clarity First – warts and all.

Click here to see what they say.

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.

Why length doesn’t matter

Why length doesn’t matter

Do you often wish other people's communication was shorter?

Or, perhaps you are asked to shorten yours?

This is a common request that I think is misguided.

Let me explain why.

Stakeholders don't ask you to make your communication shorter because it's hard to read. They ask because it is too hard to read.

So, when you use ‘TLDR' … which for those of you who aren't familiar with this term means ‘To Long, Didn't Read', try this one instead:

THDR – Too Hard, Didn't Read

To see an example and get some more ideas to help you with your communication, watch this recent workshop I ran.

>> Click here to watch

I hope that helps.

Davina

 

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.

3 ideas for cutting the time it takes to prepare your communication

3 ideas for cutting the time it takes to prepare your communication

As I was packing my bags to return to Sydney I realised there was a parallel between my packing process and communicating.

Really?

Read on or skip to the three ideas at the bottom for the ‘TLDR'.

Packing for the return trip was vastly easier than when we left for our one month away.

On the way out it was quite an effort.

I wasn't sure what the weather would be like: the forecast kept changing for the Pacific North West, so it seemed smart to be ready for anything.

I also wasn't sure exactly what we would be doing. Did I need mainly casual clothes, or to factor in some smarter nights out? How much hiking would we do? Not sure.

I was also in a rush as I left it late to pack.

The answer was to think carefully – and quickly – about multi-purposing and coordinating each item.

This meant items went in and out of the bag, and quite a few things were added at the last minute.

This made for a full looking bag that wasn't as organised as it could have been.

The reason it was easier to pack for the return was that there was no more thinking to do.

I knew exactly what to pack.

Unsurprisingly, the bag is neater and looks less ‘stuffed' too.

But … what on earth does this have to do with preparing communication?

We encourage clients to separate thinking from writing and ‘PowerPoint-ing' to ensure the end communication works.

This way, the ideas in the final communication aren't ‘thrown in' anywhere, the story isn't overstuffed with excess baggage with the overall message being muddled.

When the thinking is done, it's super easy to ‘pack' ideas into a well-synthesised, logical and engaging piece of communication.

To that end, here are three ideas to help you nail your thinking so it is super fast to prepare a high-quality document.


  1. Consider your first draft (possibly several) to be written for yourself, not your audience.
  2. Commit to containing the high-level messaging to a single page before you prepare any final documents.
  3. Socialise that one-pager with peers and key stakeholders before you prepare your document.


That's right … nail the messaging before you open the Board paper template, PowerPoint … or whatever medium you are using.

I hope that helps. More next week.

 

Davina

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.

Invitation: Thinking Skills Workshop

Invitation: Thinking Skills Workshop

It’s tempting to think that preparing papers and PowerPoints is a low-level skill mastered early in your career.

And in part that is true.

If you are a mid-level executive, you most likely have had some success in explaining how your project is progressing and seeking approval for more resources.

You will likely have improved on the examples your predecessor used to get there. You will also have added a few tips and tricks from the business writing and presentation skills training programs you have completed.

You may have engaged Board members in big decisions too.

But perhaps something is still niggling you?

You can see that you haven’t quite nailed ‘the magic’. Perhaps you are

  • spending too much time out of hours preparing your communication
  • gaining approvals only after answering endless (obvious?) questions from stakeholders
  • being promoted more slowly than you would like?

At Clarity First we are confident that the missing ingredient is the ability to synthesise complex ideas into a single high-quality message.

Here's what that means:

  1. Knowing your audience intimately so you can deliver a message that doesn't just explain what your data says, but what it means to that specific audience
  2. Having a structured and repeatable process to work out what that message is (ie synthesise it)
  3. Crafting a well-structured and engaging narrative that will get you the results you need as quickly as possible

Here's what this does not mean: Learning how to …

  1. Write better prose
  2. Create more beautiful PowerPoints
  3. Feel more confident when you stand in front of a room

These things are a consequence of ‘nailing' your material and your message.

They are not the main game.

I invite you to join my August Thinking Skills Workshop to learn more.

>> Learn more here.

Warm regards,
Davina

PS – While away on sabbatical I caught up with two long-term clients in person. One of them thanked me. He said :

Lots of people say they do what you do. But in my experience, none of them actually deliver on that.

Your process works. I can do it every time and I get the results I need.

I wish I knew about it earlier in my career.
It would have made such a difference.

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.

Making time work FOR us not AGAINST us

Making time work FOR us not AGAINST us

Do you always have too much to do?

It's not entirely surprising since our only finite resource, time, is at the heart of the challenge.

Unsurprisingly, this is a pretty constant topic when coaching people on their communication.

How do we find enough time to think through our communication? How do we know when to prioritise thinking through a particular piece … or when ‘smashing it out' is the right strategy?

It's also top of mind for me as I head off for a month away on Tuesday. Yes, a month.

So, today I wanted to focus on ‘time' and share some ways to help us all take advantage of it rather than be held hostage to it.

I'd like to suggest we can ‘hack' time to enhance our work and our life by harnessing two thinking modes.  This might be an odd idea, but let me give you the high-level first and then work through it in three parts.

  1. Two familiar thinking modes that we already use to allow time to do our work for us.
  2. Several modern writers offer ways for us to capitalise on the under-utilised ‘diffuse thinking' mode to enrich our work and life.
  3. So, with that background I'd like to share some of my own thinking on taking advantage of these two thinking modes in work and life


I'll now expand on each of these further.

Two familiar thinking modes that we already use to allow time to do our work for us. Let me introduce them both:

  1. Focused thinking, which is what we commonly imagine as ‘working'. This involves diving deeply into a task and as the name suggests, focusing on it. This is when we are actively reading, thinking, solving something specific. It can play out as time alone or time collaborating with others to complete a task.
  2. Diffused thinking, which I suggest most of us don't make nearly enough use of. This is the thinking that happens while we sleep, are out walking the dog, cooking dinner or perhaps in the shower. It's those non-focused times when our brain is processing in the background. It's also the times when breakthrough ideas often emerge. How often have you had the ‘aha' moment at a seemingly random point?


I first learned about these from Barbara Oakley in her Coursera course, Learning How to Learn. You may also find this free course enjoyable.

Several modern writers offer ways for us to capitalise on the under-utilised ‘diffuse thinking' mode to enrich our work and life.

Without necessarily using this language, they all seem to me to be taking advantage of diffuse thinking mode.  

Greg McKeown has written two excellent books on this subject. The subtitles for each sum up the key ideas:

  1. Effortless: Make it easier to do what matters most 
  2. Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less 

Cal Newport of Deep Work fame offers ideas to avoid distractions so we can focus properly when at work and switch off when not. There is overlap between his work and Greg McKeown's, but I have found both to be great reads.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang takes the ideas further and discusses the increasingly popular shorter work week. Again, his title and subtitle are instructive: Shorter: how working less will revolutionise the way you get things done. 

His thesis is that if we focus harder during a shorter time period we are forced to change the way we work which he says is a good thing.  This will force us to become both more efficient and more effective. We will change the systems we use, the way we use our time and help us deliver more over all.

He reinforces the idea that the extra time off helps us be happier and healthier. The beauty is that our time away from the office allows our ideas to ‘marinate' while we aren't ‘working'.   

These are not the only people talking about these issues, but ones that I have read and enjoyed. All offer ways to rebalance their use of focused and diffused thinking in their lives.

So, with that background I'd like to share some of my own thinking on taking advantage of these two thinking modes in work and life.

Firstly, in work, particularly where problem solving and communication are involved.

Many of my clients leave thinking about their communication to the last minute. They want to finish their analysis first and then are understandably squeezed as the deadline looms. Or they don't have enough information about the communication context to start and so leave it until they have no choice but to begin.

As an alternative, I suggest this five step strategy to help us start thinking early so we can take advantage of these two thinking modes.

  1. Start the thinking early even if you don't write much until the paper is due. It may be that your ideas haven't fully formed yet. Getting started early will push you to start pondering about exactly what is needed, without making you work overly hard.
  2. Involve others in a quick conversation before you write anything. We call this a roadmapping session. Our goal is to think through the purpose and audience collaboratively so we can get our heads around the communication context.
  3. Follow with short bursts of focused activity to draft the one-page storyline. One Clarity First member sets 30 minutes at the start of the day to get as much as he can done for major papers. Then he leaves it until the next appointment he has made with himself. This way he makes progress, isn't stressed by the deadline and can allow the ideas to marinate in the background.
  4. Iterate around the one-pager until the messaging lands.  
  5. Finally, prepare your doc or deck.  


Secondly, in life. Now, this one is going to be different for everyone as demands on us and our life stages vary. I could be general here, but the authors I mentioned have offered good quality advice on the subject so I'll avoid that.

Instead, I'll explain why you won't be hearing from me for the coming few weeks. I'm taking July as a mix of holiday and sabbatical.

My husband and I are heading away for a month to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and to catch up with our 22 year old who has recently moved to New York.

We'll be taking the first couple of weeks away as a ‘proper vacation' and then using the second half of the break as a sabbatical. This will give us time and space to reimagine our life and work.

On my side, I'll be thinking about two things in particular:

  1. Progressing a project around ‘big picture thinking' and ‘synthesis'. A group of advanced Clarity First members and I have been working on practical tools to help people make the leap between summary and synthesis. Taking this to the next stage will require both focus and ‘marination'!
  2. Optimising the Clarity First strategy. The intensity of my workload during the covid period has not allowed for much of this kind of thinking and planning. I am very much looking forward to thinking more deeply about the way forward for the business. It has been an exciting couple of years as my online programs have become more interesting to clients. I want to capture the learnings and optimise the program further.
So, I often close with something like ‘more next week'.

Not this time!

I look forward to popping back into your inboxes in August.

Kind regards,
Davina




PS – If you are keen to further your learning over the coming month, you are welcome to take advantage other materials on our website. Here are some ideas:

Free course – How to Communicate with Impact. This four module course offers some foundational thinking about how to think differently about your communication. Learn more here.

Paid courseClarity First Express. This 11 module self-directed course covers the key ideas we offer during the Clarity First program. We offer you a discount code on completion that enables you to ‘upgrade' into the Clarity First program to receive help with putting the ideas into practice. Learn more here.

More than 100 posts on a large range of communication and leadership topics.  Click here to visit and use the search categories on the RHS to find posts that interest you. Learn more 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 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.

Why thinking and writing don’t mix

Why thinking and writing don’t mix

I was reminded this week of why thinking and writing don't mix if you want to deliver impact at work.

It's great if you want to keep a journal, write a novel or perhaps some poetry.

But, bear with me.

I do believe writing helps us clarify our thinking.

But I also think writing to think inside a doc or a deck makes for poor business communication.

Communication quality is further reduced by socializing your document with others.


Let me offer three reasons why I believe ‘thinking' into a document leads to cluttered communication that takes far too long to deliver value.

Clarity of messaging is compromised as we seek useful input from others. In today's busy world, messaging must jump off the page the minute someone opens an email, paper or PowerPoint.

Asking stakeholders to review lengthy docs or decks leads to a mess of track changes that focus on the minutiae rather than the substance.

Quality of insight is hard to coalesce into a cohesive argument. If you draft your ideas inside an email, a doc or a deck you will naturally wander all over the place. Your thinking will evolve some here, some there as ideas form. The structure of your story and the quality of your messaging will wander likewise.

Velocity is nearly impossible. By velocity I mean the speed with which you can create your communication, with which your audience can digest it and then make a decision. When my clients skip using a one-page storyline they frequently see at least three problems. They see extensive rework, delayed decisions and lots of last minute scrambling to ‘fix' their docs and decks.

As one CEO said to me recently:

“We chose to introduce your storylining method as it offered a system we could replicate across the business.”
“Iterating 16 times around a Board paper just doesn't make business sense.”
Now I receive a stack of one-pagers and spend 15 minutes reviewing each one before offering substantive feedback to the team.”
“The team then uses this to finesse their messaging before they quickly prepare their documents.”
“Our Board and SLT papers have improved out of sight”.



I hope that helps.

Warmly,
Davina

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.

Do you get lost in the detail too?

Do you get lost in the detail too?

Are you so close to your work that you lose sight of what it's all really for?

It's interesting to me how I for one forget the obvious.

I move forward forgetting that what is obvious to me is often not obvious to others.

I was again reminded of this today in an advanced workshop with one of my government clients.

We were using a ‘pattern flipping' technique, which involves some fairly sophisticated mental gymnastics.

We play with storyline patterns to create new ones that better frame the story we need to tell.

This is more helpful to this client than most because their stories are huge and incredibly complex.

So, here's the thing.

To make ‘flipping work', I have to see storylines as a thinking machine that helps me work out what my message is. They are not a template to fill in.

To me this is pretty ‘ho hum'.

Of course they are! I use them all day every day.

But to see the light turn on in my clients' eyes around this was magic.

Here's what happened. They did five things …

Stopped being so literal and started to think. They began focusing on how to tweak a pattern so it suited their purpose, rather than taking a quick look at the favourite seven and saying ‘that'll do'.

Began to lean into how a storyline structure can highlight thinking problems. They could find and fix thinking problems by testing the ‘rules' that hold the ideas together.

Went beyond ‘clarity' to deliver ‘insight'. They started drawing out powerful and insightful messages rather than delivering something accurate and on topic but not impactful.

Saw how much faster they went if they started slow. Although storylining can be time consuming and mentally taxing, they saw how much time they saved by slowing down enough to think at the start.

Realised how much more value they could deliver. Less time reworking papers, speaking to people who don't respond to emails or don't ‘get' the message they are conveying. Better clarity of message. Greater quality of insight. Greater velocity of business.

I hope that helps.

Warmly,
Davina

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.

4 ways to know if your message is powerful

4 ways to know if your message is powerful

We talk a lot about the clarity of communication. To me that means how easy it is for a person in our audience to grasp what we are saying.

This is, I suggest, only ground level for powerful business communication.​

The next level is to deliver a high-quality message. By my way of thinking this is a message that is not just clear, but which delivers significant value.

In most situations this requires a good degree of synthesis, and I thought sharing four key questions we ask might help you assess the quality of your own communication.

To test the quality of our messaging, we ask ourselves what level of message we have used.

  1. Level 1 – Is this a piece of data? A piece of data is a fact. For example, '10 widgets'. This is not a message, but rather a stand alone piece of information.
  2. Level 2 – Is this a topic? A topic is a category, eg ‘Options'. This explains what you are discussing, but not what you are saying. On its own, it is not a quality message.
  3. Level 3 – Is this a summary? A summary is useful when explaining what you found in some analysis. For example: “We sold 10 widgets more last week than we have sold over the past year”. It is an observation and tells you what your data set ‘says'.
  4. Level 4 – Is this a powerful message? A powerful message delivers the most value of any. It synthesises, which means it draws an inference from the information and says what it means. It involves taking a risk and is where the value lies.

I encourage you to review the three most recent pieces of communication you have prepared and assess what level your communication was at.

If you find very few level 4 messages ask yourself why and see if you can level them up in your next piece.

I hope that helps and look forward to bringing you more next week.

Davina

 

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.

PowerPoint or prose…?

PowerPoint or prose…?

I didn't expect the results from my ‘quick and dirty' prose v PowerPoint survey to land where they did. 

Let me share the findings and observations with you and draw my conclusion.

The findings In asking people what communication form their organisations use for discussing important decisions, prose wins hands-down. Here are the results:

  1. Mainly prose – 292 clicks
  2. A mix of prose and PowerPoint – 165
  3. Mainly PowerPoint – 155

My observations I was surprised at the degree of the skew toward prose given I am often asked to help people with their PowerPoint presentations. Two things stood out:

  1. The consistency of the trend: The ratio of responses in favour of prose held steady from the start, with the balance between ‘a mix' and ‘mainly PPT' holding steady also
  2. How few used both prose and PowerPoint: Far fewer readers said they used a mix than I expected (I had assumed this would be where 80+ landed)

My conclusion – I guess I am not as alone as I thought in my growing concern about the challenges and potential ineffectiveness of PowerPoint.

I do think it's a useful tool, but increasingly agree with Jeff Bezos that it can get in the way of powerful messaging.

Kind regards,
Davina

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.

What to do with ‘pros and cons’?

What to do with ‘pros and cons’?

 I had a fabulous question this week: where do we fit ‘pros' and ‘cons' in our storyline?

That is a ‘ripper' of a question.

My answer is this: lists of pros and cons don't belong in your communication, they help you think through that message. 

Let me explain.

If we provide lists of pros and cons for an idea, we are providing information rather than insight. This matters, because in taking this approach we

  • Ask our audience to do the thinking work for us
  • Risk that they will misinterpret our analysis and draw unhelpful conclusions
  • Let ourselves down by not adding as much value as we could

If, instead, we do the thinking for our audience, we will deliver insights that emerge from our own analysis of the pros and cons list.

Although more intellectually challenging, this is better for us and our audience. We know more about the area than they do and we don't miss the opportunity to share our value add.

If your audience is explicitly asking for pros and cons lists, pop them in the appendix. Focus your main communication around your interpretation of that list.

Hopefully next time they won't ask for the list, but rather for your insights.

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

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.

 2 ways to spend less time prepping your comms

 2 ways to spend less time prepping your comms

Love or hate Jeff Bezos, he has had some very very good ideas when it comes to decision making communication.

I was talking about one of these with a client earlier this week. Given she liked the ideas and planned to implement them, I thought I'd share them with you also.

The most prominent idea relates to avoiding PowerPoint in favour of tightly crafted prose narratives to maximise quality decision making. Let me explain the two key ideas my client found so useful.

Avoid PowerPoint presentations. In relying on Edward Tufte's work on visualising information, ‘Jeff' decided to ban PowerPoint for reasons that seem sound to me.

  • Preparing decks is hard to do it well, and he questioned the value of spending lots of time fussing over lining up boxes and making ‘pretty slides' versus thinking hard about the ideas to convey.
  • Presenting is a slow way to convey ideas. According to Tufte, we can absorb information three times faster by reading than by listening to a presentation.
  • Great presenters can ‘wallpaper over' cracks in their logic with their energy and charisma, leading to poor decisions.

Here's what they do instead.

Rely on short, tightly crafted prose narratives instead. They don't insist on any particular way of writing these, just that they be short and effective in setting up a great discussion. Their use in meetings is, however, prescribed as follows. The papers are

  • Read during the meeting. This has at least two few benefits: everyone actually reads the papers and the quality of the thinking is better because of the extra focus paid to them.
  • Designed to be a ‘goldilocks length' that takes about a third of the meeting to read. They suggest 3 pages for a 30 minute meeting and 6 for a one-hour meeting on the assumption that the typical exec takes about 3 minutes to read a page. Interestingly, apparently Jeff Bezos is always the last to finish reading as he critiques every single sentence by asking: what if that were false?
  • Reviewed in advance to ensure they deserve their place in the meeting.

I hope that provides some useful food for thought.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – I am curious to see what tools your organisations use.

If you click the relevant link below, I'll see the tally and can factor this into my program design for you.

In my organisation, decision making papers are …

When you click the link it will take you to a post on my website that offers some ideas on different ways to think about communication.

I'll let you know the results next week.

Registrations Open:

Thinking Skills Workshop

May 27th

Moving away from PowerPoint shines a light on the need to craft a really crisp narrative.

We can no longer hide or ad lib: we must think hard to connect the dots between our ideas no matter how complex the material.

Learn the foundational skills for untangling complex ideas so you can move from delivering ‘information' to conveying insightful, high-quality messages that are easily understood.

How thinking skills underpin your ability to present with confidence

How thinking skills underpin your ability to present with confidence

This week I received two requests to help with presentation skills, one for a finance professional and one for a group of about 80 analysts.

In both cases presentation skills were not the main issue.

In my opinion, they were just ‘tip of the iceberg'.

The real problem lies in synthesising findings into a clear, insightful, outcome-oriented message.

Let me explain with a diagram and then the back story.

 

 

From what I could see, the issue that I was being asked to solve: ‘standing with confidence' and ‘projecting their voice', were the least of their problems.

In both cases, presenters lost confidence when they received the wrong kinds of questions that led to the wrong kinds of discussions … and slow or no decisions.

When messages are not well synthesised decision makers ask questions that help them understand the message. This often involves diving into minute detail as decision makers attempt to do the thinking work themselves.

I see this most when recommendations are buried among a long series of facts. It forces decision makers to connect the dots between the facts, which leads them to lose the thread. This in turn leads them to ask questions to clarify the message rather than discussing the issue.

Conversations become convoluted, at times feeling more like an interrogation than a discussion. They also rarely lead to a high-quality or fast decision.

This is frustrating for all concerned and why I prioritise thinking skills.

I teach you to connect the dots into a well-synthesised message, so your audience doesn't have to.

Later this month I will hold a Thinking Skills MasterClass to uncover the skills essential to synthesising powerful messages.

This will then help you receive the right kinds of questions … and enjoy greater confidence when presenting your ideas in any forum.

>> Learn more here

Kind regards,
Davina

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.

Clarity of communication = clarity of skin

Clarity of communication = clarity of skin

This is an unusual post but one I hope will help.

I just responded to a post by an old friend, Dr James Muecke who happened to be Australian of the year in 2020 for his work fighting sugar.

Look at how well he simplified and shared the message ….

Great (cheeky?) use of humour – Zits away …?

Demonstrates credibility – This recent systematic review concludes that “high glycemic index, increased glycemic load, and carbohydrate intake have a modest yet significant proacnegenic effect.”

Simple and visual summary – In other words, sugar => pimples

Clear takeaway that had me thinking about the young people in my own family – This might just motivate your kids to reduce their sugar intake …

Although I would have reordered these points for greater impact, I was thoroughly impressed by the simplicity and the timing (given many of us are about to binge on chocolate during Easter!).

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – I am hosting five MasterClasses during May: one introductory level one, and four others for people with more experience using the Pyramid Principle or our framework, The So What Strategy.

>> Click here to learn about my May MasterClasses

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.