How ‘constraints’ help create meaning

How ‘constraints’ help create meaning

It is fascinating to me that the whole idea of ‘constraints' feels like more of a limitation than a liberation.

Nobody – me included – likes being kept in physical or intellectual shackles and yet they are incredibly powerful. Liberating, even.

If we trust a simple set of constraints – rules – we can invest our thinking energy where it has most impact.

In the case of preparing communication, this means creating greater meaning as economically as possible.

This has been more evident than usual in my coaching sessions in past weeks and I wanted to share an example with you.

When coaching a finance executive yesterday, we went from making bland and frankly boring statements to communicating impactful ideas by using constraints.

In this particular case, our main message needed to be a recommendation rather than an observation. Let me show you what I mean:

Observation – We are allocating unspent funds to teams that have demonstrated that they can be compliant with the ABC policy funding agreement

Recommendation – We recommend allocating the unspent funds to teams that have invested in a step-change in talent development

The second version is so much more meaningful – and interesting. It is also the result of sticking to some simple rules, or ‘constraints' that push for clarity and insight.

Similarly, we have been talking about constraints in the problem solving context during the recent Clarity in Problem Solving program.

I was delighted to see in a recent HBR article that I am not alone in encouraging people to stick to some simple constraints.

>> Click here to access the article and another recent one by me on the topic of constraints also.

I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

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. 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.

2 Critical Ingredients for Making Complex Stories Look Simple

2 Critical Ingredients for Making Complex Stories Look Simple

Last week I mentioned that I have been working on some huge stories lately, and that these have been instructive in many ways.

One of the most comforting is that even huge stories look simple when they are done: it's just that the process for getting there isn't so simple.

By trusting the process and the structures and continuing to ask ‘Why?' when it didn't look right, we landed a super simple story that packed a powerful punch.

Here are two key takeaways from our experience:

Trust the storylining process and structures together with your instincts to land the story
Keep asking ‘Why?' to make what is obvious to you obvious to your audience

On the surface, these two ideas appear simple too. Trust me when I tell you that our heads really hurt after our session even though our story looked incredibly simple too.

 

Trust the process and structures together with your instincts to land the story. If I reflect back on why we were able to land a simple and clear message for the $1bn savings story, it was because the stakes were too high if we did not.

The team could not afford to have the Minister ‘unpick' the messaging given they wanted a major shift away from the Minister's preferred approach for prioritising investment initiatives.

So, the challenge was to find a high-level structure that resonated and to deliver it with precision and skill, listening both to our instincts as well as our structures.

We chose a Close The Gap deductive structure, and relied heavily on the finer detail within the deductive modules supported by The So What Strategy and the Ten Point Test to bring it home.

While it took a while to agree on the high level structural pattern, it took much longer to make it ‘sing'.

 

Keep asking ‘Why?' to make what is obvious to you obvious to your audience. The key that turned the lock for us was the answer to the age-old ‘dumb question': Why?

Why was the team's approach better than the approach that the Minister was wedded to?

This proved challenging and took quite some time to articulate as the team was so close to the problem and to their solution, which highlights a common challenge we all face.

By the time we write our stories, we are ‘sold', so we want to move to how we will deliver the new program / project / or whatever we are discussing.

However, our audience isn't there yet which means we need to shift our own heads back in time to surface our own reasoning.

This is why it was so hard to say that ‘the greatest chance of successfully improving X system while cutting expenditure is ensuring that the division heads ‘own' the approach.

On the surface that is so simple it's almost silly. However, trust me when I tell you it wasn't easy to get there.

I suspect you are familiar with the challenge, which is why I thought it might be helpful to raise it here.

So, in terms of next steps for you: I encourage you to think about opportunities within your own communication where you need to persist to articulate the ‘right why'.

Wishing you a great week.

Kind regards,
Davina

 

Keywords: deductive storylines, Close the Gap

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. 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.

How ‘constraints’ can turbo charge your impact

How ‘constraints’ can turbo charge your impact

We have had a great start to the Clarity in Problem Solving Program and one topic that has jumped out to me during our initial two live workshops has been ‘constraints'.

It is I think human (or maybe just me?!) to shy away from constraints and prefer to trust our own judgement and processes.

However, my experience in helping people deliver greater impact when solving problems and communicating is that they are hugely powerful.

Let me first illustrate with a personal example and then expand into the professional before offering you a practical challenge.

Personal: a clever idea for using space driven by constraints

An article in a local magazine caught my eye some time ago. It described a clever renovation undertaken by some locals who loved their neighbourhood and wanted to ‘stay put' despite having a small terrace home and a growing family.

This drove at least three constraints: staying within the current small home, adding two young children combined with heritage rules that did not allow them to expand their footprint, either out or up.

The idea that I thought would make Mari Kondo the most proud was their idea to use the space under the floor boards for toy storage.

They built a discrete hatch that enabled them to sweep up and hide the day's mess, enabling them to use their living area multiple ways.

I thought that was a clever and practical example of constraints driving creativity and unexpected results.

I have not seen any other renovation take advantage of this space and suspect their space constraints were pushing them to think harder than most when redesigning their home.

Professional: opportunities for us to get creative also

I have many examples of where constraints have proved to be more help than hindrance in a professional setting, but let me offer just a couple to give you some ideas.

Amazon's culture of frugality. Amazon has 14 leadership principles which it ‘sticks to' across the organisation. Frugality is Number 10, and is described as follows:

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

This is one of the approaches that helps Amazon maintain its ‘startup' culture, and avoids the risk of corporate bloat as the business grows.

‘Rules' for structuring ideas. We have developed a set of 10 ‘rules' for evaluating the rigour with which we map our ideas on a page when solving problems and also separately when communicating.

Sticking to these rules helps us test whether we are focusing on the right question, whether we have mapped the problem or the ‘story' out completely and powerfully.

It's not about having a ‘pretty page' but rather ensuring our thinking stacks up.

We have learned from experience that not just understanding the principles that underpin these rules, such as MECE for example, but trusting our internal radar that spots an anomaly. This matters even when we see something small, and when we can't articulate what is wrong but sense something is out of line.

As one of my team said to a new client recently, “We trust that the combination of your contextual expertise plus our process will deliver the right outcomes”.

Challenge: A simple way to introduce a powerful constraint into your world

So, here's a challenge for you: where can you introduce a constraint into your world to magnify your impact?

It could be as simple as either yourself or whoever manages your diary honouring the regular block of ‘thinking time' you set in your diary each week.

A coaching client of mine was this morning marvelling at the difference a new assistant was making. The assistant was pushing back on colleagues to avoid overwriting my client's ‘thinking time' blocks with other peoples' priorities.

This has revolutionised my client's week, giving her the space she needs to deliver real impact.

I hope that helps and look forward to sharing more ideas next week.

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. 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.

New job offer after ‘Best Ever’ Presentation

Brendon was offered a new job on the back of a ‘best ever’ presentation

 You might also like to hear how Brendon was asked to repeat his interview presentation so it could be used as a training video.

They said it was the best presentation they had seen and, of course, offered him the job on the spot.

Brendon landed here having been a lateral hire into a Big 4 firm who needed to catch up on the sort of training that longer-tenured consultants had received. 

Clarity First filled the gap for him, and many other senior consultants who want to polish their skills so they can level up their careers.

Hear it from Brendon…

 

 

Learn how Brendon achieved this.

Hear from other program participants

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Promoted because of communication skills

We are always delighted to hear success stories like this from our participants.

Elle was recently promoted because she improved her communication skills after just 3 months in the Clarity First Program.

Naturally she was delighted to move from director to senior account director. She had been in her role for a bit over a year and was ready.

Her boss told her that to move to the next level, she had just two things to conquer and that Clarity First was ‘all she needed’ to get over the line.

 

Hear what Elle has to say about how Clarity First has helped her succeed… 

 

Learn how Elle achieved this.

Hear from other program participants

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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. 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.

Thinking Tools #9 – Avoiding the ‘we have always done it that way’ trap

Thinking Tools #9 – Avoiding the ‘we have always done it that way’ trap

Growing up we were told a story.

Every Christmas a woman would cut the leg off the turkey before putting it into a very large oven. 

When asked why she took the leg off, she said: “It is the way my mother taught me”. She had never questioned it. In her mind, this was just a normal part of cooking a turkey.

The woman’s mother had a small oven, and so needed to cut the leg of the turkey off so it would fit inside. Her daughter did not. 

In our work it also helps to understand the reasons why people do things rather than just focusing on what they do.

Yet again, Shane Parrish has surfaced some useful thinking skills in his book Great Mental Models v1.

 

“First principles thinking helps us avoid the problem of relying on someone else’s tactics without understanding the rationale behind them”

 

This week I am focusing on two ideas that help us use first principles thinking, both to do with asking great questions. 

The first technique is Socratic questioning 

This technique is useful for us both as we craft our communication and as we evaluate it, or potentially evaluate other peoples’ communication. Shane offers six questions for us to use:

  1. Clarifying your thinking and explaining the origins of your ideas. He suggests asking two questions: Why do I think this? What exactly do I think? In Clarity First we focus intently on these two questions, and particularly on articulating what we do think so we can explain that to our audience in short order.
  2. Challenging assumptions. How do I know this is true? What if I thought the opposite? These are two great questions to use to ‘freshen up our eyes’ so we can see through the substance of our communication rather than just the superficial presentation.
  3. Looking for evidence. How can I back this up? What are the sources? Again, this is something we focus on in Clarity First. We offer specific strategies to help participants test their ideas and the way they are ‘strung together’ to form a coherent piece of communication.
  4. Considering alternative perspectives. What might others think? How do I know I am correct? The way we recommend participants socialise their communication with key stakeholders addresses this point.
  5. Examining consequences and implications. What if I am wrong? What are the consequences if I am? Terrific questions to ask yourself when preparing high stakes communication in particular.
  6. Questioning the original questions. Why did I think that? Was I correct? What conclusions can I draw from the reasoning process? If we are talking about first principles, these last three questions are gold for those who want to stop relying on their gut and limit emotive responses.
Second: The Five Why’s method

If you have ever had much to do with young children, you will know where this has come from! 

We use this technique specifically when clarifying the purpose of our communication. It is about systematically delving into your purpose statement so you can eradicate inaccurate assumptions.

Are you sure you are going to achieve ABC with that specific piece of communication, or that one particular interaction?

We encourage participants to spend the time to become super clear about this as this single statement (which does not even appear in their communication) is key to cutting the number of revisions they will make after drafting. 

I hope you find that useful and look forward to sharing more ideas with you next week.

Davina

 

Related posts include:

 Past posts from this series …  

  1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate 
  2. Further thinking tools
  3. Thinking Tools #3 – Using inversions to identify gaps in our thinking
  4. Thinking Tools #4 – Getting out of your own way 
  5. Thinking Tools #5 – Avoiding Blind Spots
  6. Thinking Tools #6 – How to have a latticework of theory
  7. Thinking Tools #7 – Avoiding becoming a tragic tale  
  8. Thinking Tools #8 – How corporate templates can frustrate clarity 

PS – Our new kit for ‘pitching your manager' is now available. It includes an updated program brochure as well as a script you may like to cut and paste into your email or use to guide your conversation with your manager. Click here to learn more.

PPS – I receive a small commission if you click the link and decide to purchase a copy of Shane's book from Amazon.

 

Key words: critical thinking, thinking tools, 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. 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.

Thinking Tools #8 – How corporate templates can frustrate clarity

Thinking Tools #8 – How corporate templates can frustrate clarity

This week’s insight from Shane Parrish’s The Great Mental Models offers some useful ways to test our mental maps.

In the chapter called ‘The Map is Not the Territory’, he talks about problems that the disconnect between reality and a map (or model) can bring and offers three tips for avoiding those problems. 

Again, I have pondered on these and applied them to communication.

Reality is the ultimate update. We need to be willing to change the way we think about a situation based on reality not institutional practice, our past views or habits.

Corporate templates are a classic example here. It is easy to assume that because they are in common use, they are both fit for purpose and set in stone. Experience tells me neither is always true. Like anything, templates need to shift with reality.

We have worked with many clients that have shifted not just their templates, but also their playbooks outlining their working process for solving problems as well as communicating.

Consider the cartographer. Understanding who drew the map or designed the model is key. The model might be the way your predecessor communicated updates to your leadership team, or the template they used. It helps to understand them and their way of operating before following blindly.

Many templates are created by frustrated leaders as a data collection tool. They design them so that teams provide leaders with the data they need. Unfortunately, they often don’t go a step further and leave room for the teams to tell a story based on that data.

We have a module on ‘wrangling’ templates in Clarity First and also help where templates can benefit from a refresh. This will, in fact, be our topic of discussion for our first February working session.

Maps can influence territories. This is an interesting and short point in this part of the book.

In my mind, if a corporate template is a map outlining the rationale for a decision, then that template can certainly impact the territory of leadership discussions. We see this very often.

If the map is poorly constructed, the discussions will lead to poor outcomes: clarification questions and delays rather than quality decisions made quickly. 

As you can gather, templates are a bug bear of mine. They so often get in the way of powerful communication and quality decision making.

Talk soon,
Davina

 

PS – Our new kit for ‘pitching your manager' is now available. It includes an updated program brochure as well as a script you may like to cut and paste into your email or use to guide your conversation with your manager. Click here to learn more.

PPS – I receive a small commission if you click the link and decide to purchase a copy of Shane's book from Amazon.


Related posts include:

 Past posts from this series … 

  1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate 
  2. Further thinking tools
  3. Thinking Tools #3 – Using inversions to identify gaps in our thinking
  4. Thinking Tools #4 – Getting out of your own way 
  5. Thinking Tools #5 – Avoiding Blind Spots
  6. Thinking Tools #6 – How to have a latticework of theory
  7. Thinking Tools #7 – Avoiding becoming a tragic tale 
Past posts on thinking skills ….                                                                                                                                
 
  1. How to use your critical thinking abilities to turbo charge your communication
  2. Strengthen your critical thinking abilities
  3. 4 Ideas to make structured thinking stick

 

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. 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.

Thinking Tools #7 – How to engage self-interested stakeholders

Thinking Tools #7 – How to engage self-interested stakeholders

This week’s insight from Shane Parrish’s The Great Mental Models is all about understanding the motivations of people.

This is central to understanding our audience, and Shane offers three particularly useful considerations for us in that regard.

He offers a side-bar story calling us to beware ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’

This is a parable best summed up with a quote from Aristotle:

 

“What is common to many is taken least care of, for all men have greater regard for what is their own than for what they possess in common with others.”

 

In other words, people are highly self-interested.

In preparing your communication we need to understand our audience’s interests deeply, if we are to get the results we seek.

In Clarity First, we invest significantly here as we find that it is not at all uncommon to start preparing a piece of communication only to discover we aren't clear enough about not only who we are communicating with, but what we will communicate about.

For example, I helped a product manager from a global technology company prepare a pitch recently that involved deep stakeholder analysis.

We realised fairly quickly that there were a number of critical stakeholders who were neutral or potential objectors to her idea, and we took time to unpick their issues using our three-question stakeholder analysis framework.

The patterns unearthed by the analysis helped her see that not only did she have some extra leg work to do before requesting resources from the leadership, but specifically what kind of leg work would help.

She not only changed her story as a result of our 90 minutes together, but radically shifted her stakeholder engagement strategy and the way she presented the pitch itself.

Next week I will have another post stemming from Shane's excellent book.

Talk soon,
Davina

 

PS – Our new kit for ‘pitching your manager' is now available. It includes an updated program brochure as well as a script you may like to cut and paste into your email or use to guide your conversation with your manager. Click here to learn more.


PPS – Related posts include:

 Past posts from this series … 

  1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate 
  2. Further thinking tools
  3. Thinking Tools #3 – Using inversions to identify gaps in our thinking
  4. Thinking Tools #4 – Getting out of your own way 
  5. Thinking Tools #5 – Avoiding Blind Spots
  6. Thinking Tools #6 – How to have a latticework of theory 
Past posts on thinking skills ….
  1. How to use your critical thinking abilities to turbo charge your communication
  2. Strengthen your critical thinking abilities
  3. 4 Ideas to make structured thinking stick

 

PPPS – I receive a small commission if you click the link and decide to purchase a copy of Shane's book from Amazon.

 

 

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. 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.

Thinking Tools #6 – Why you need a latticework of models in your head

Thinking Tools #6 – Why you need a latticework of models in your head

 This week’s post leads me to talk about patterns, which we find to be an essential communication tool.

 

Shane Parrish of The Great Mental Models quotes Charlie Munger in this regard. He discusses the importance of relying on a ‘latticework of theory’ rather than ‘banging back facts’.

 

“The first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ‘em back. 

If the facts don’t hang together in a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form … 

You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.”

In our world, we work with a number of models, but most particularly grouping and deductive storylines.

These two mental models blend synthesis and logic to distil and deliver powerful messages.

We have gone further than using these two models alone and developed patterns that provide useful models for our clients who need to communicate complex ideas.

We introduce these in The So What Strategy and help people take full advantage of them in Clarity First by doing three things.

  1. Learn the foundational principles of synthesisgrouping and deductive structures, which we focus on during our initial Warm Up and Core levels of the program.
  2. Identify which of the seven most commonly used patterns suit your purposes best. This is for people who have completed the Core Curriculum and then progressed to the Sprint Level.
  3. Establish which situations merit a ‘flip’ of one or more patterns, where you leverage your understanding of the basic principles to modify a pattern to suit your specific needs. We had a great discussion about this recently with our most advanced members who are at what we call the Momentum level. Having the depth of understanding combined with the intellectual agility to adjust the patterns quickly to suit your needs is a fabulous thinking ability.

 >> Click here to join the waitlist for the 2021 Clarity First Program. We’ll let you know as soon as the doors open, given we are offering only 50 places this time.

You may also like to get a copy of our ‘Pitch Your Boss' kit, which includes text that you can cut and paste into an email seeking support to join the program.

Have a great week,

Cheers,
Davina

 


PS – Related posts include:

Past posts from this series …

  1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate 
  2. Further thinking tools
  3. Thinking Tools #3 – Using inversions to identify gaps in our thinking
  4. Thinking Tools #4 – Getting out of your own way 
  5. Thinking Tools #5 – Avoiding Blind Spots
Past posts on thinking skills …
  1.  How to use your critical thinking abilities to turbo charge your communication
  2. Strengthen your critical thinking abilities
  3. 4 Ideas to make structured thinking stick

 

PPS – I receive a small commission if you click the link and decide to purchase a copy of Shane's book from Amazon.

 

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. 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.

Thinking Tool #5 – Avoiding Blind Spots

Thinking Tool #5 – Avoiding Blind Spots

I loved my ‘fast fly’ through this book and am realizing how much more I am finding useful by going slowly and preparing these posts for you.

Thank you for encouraging me to slow down!

I am still in the introduction reading about the power and dangers associated with mental models and the concept of blind spots has jumped out at me as worth our attention.

In the Great Mental Models Vol 1, Shane Parrish suggests that we need a latticework of mental models to be maximally effective.

He quotes Alain de Botton from How to Make a Decision

“The chief enemy of good decisions is a lack of sufficient perspectives on a problem”

Taken together these points are a powerful reminder on how to avoid blind spots.

Bring people together who have a variety of models in their heads to work through any problem. In our world of storylining, there are many ways to collaborate to get to a better answer faster.

This week I was working with a group of product managers in a US technology company where collaboration was a key topic of discussion.

The group has loved the specific way we have encouraged them to collaborate to ‘land their messaging’ that kills three birds with one stone: it integrates into their natural working rhythm, lifts the quality of their messaging and saves them time.

These and others tell me that they no longer spend so much time chasing for responses, reworking their papers to present again and again to decision making bodies.

They also have much more valuable discussions with members of these bodies. They receive fewer clarification questions and more substantive ones.

We will take a break from our regular posts next week given the Christmas holiday season and will resume in the new year.

We wish you all a wonderful holiday season.

 

Warm regards,
Davina

 

 

Related posts include:

 Past posts from this series …

  1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate 
  2. Further thinking tools
  3. Thinking Tool #3 – Using inversions to identify gaps in our thinking
  4. Thinking Tool #4 – Getting out of your own way

Past posts on thinking skills …                                                                                                                                   
  1. How to use your critical thinking abilities to turbo charge your communication
  2. Strengthen your critical thinking abilities 
  3. 4 Ideas to make structured thinking stick

 

PS – There are two things to know about Clarity First this week: 

  1. Our new kit for ‘pitching your manager' is now available. It includes an updated program brochure as well as a script you may like to cut and paste into your email or use to guide your conversation with your manager. Click here to learn more.
  2. The waitlist is now open. Add your name to the list so you hear when the doors will open before anyone else. We are limiting participation to 50 new members this time.

PPS – I receive a small commission if you click the link and decide to purchase a copy of Shane's book from Amazon.



 

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. 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.

Thinking Tools #4 – Getting out of your own way

Thinking Tools #4 – Getting out of your own way

Given the positive feedback on this series so far, I have returned to the front of Great Mental Models so we can gain full value from this excellent book.

In doing so I found a very useful set of ideas which relate directly to our need to communicate robust thinking.

It’s all about perspective …

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says

‘Morning boys. How’s the water?’

After a while one of the young fish turns to the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’”


In this early part of the book, Shane Parrish talks about three thinking failures: not having the right perspective or vantage point, ego-induced denial and distance from the consequences of our decisions.

Others might describe these as cognitive biases, also a useful tool for checking ourselves.

In our worlds these three thinking failures affect our decision making and hence our communication profoundly.

In this post I am reinforcing some of what we cover in the core modules while also adding some extra nuances to help you communicate robustly.

Keep your ‘eyes fresh' so you can maintain a healthy sense of perspective. This is where understanding our audience deeply comes in. We pose five questions in the first part of our So What Strategy process to help untangle this.

These questions help us work out who really is our audience and what we need to do to engage them in our idea. It is not at all uncommon for this analysis to change not just what we think we need to communicate, but who we communicate to.


Remember the influence of egos – our own and others. This is essential if we are to learn from others both as a giver and receiver of information. As a communicator, we may fear criticism too much and hesitate to share our good ideas. As a receiver, we may be too critical if we think someone else’s idea will upend our own achievements.

The risk is that we are too invested in our ideas to expose them to proper critique and that we bump into others’ egos by not having sufficiently navigated around what mattered to them.

Create the right balance between proximity and distance. Sufficient distance gives us perspective and clarity (aka putting our storyline in a drawer for an hour and getting lunch before checking it), but too much means we don’t see the issues that matter. Being removed from the consequences of our decisions can be a real trap.

We offer specific strategies to help members ‘freshen their eyes’ so they can maintain a critical perspective when reviewing their communication.

I hope that helps and look forward to sending you more ideas from The Great Mental Models again next week.

Kind regards,
Davina


PS – The Clarity First Waitlist is now open. Add your name to the list so you hear when the doors will before anyone else. We are limiting participation to 50 new members this time.

PPS – I receive a small commission if you click the link and decide to purchase a copy of Shane's book from Amazon.

Related posts include

From this series …

  1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate
  2. Further thinking tools  
  3. Thinking Tools #3 – Using Inversions to identify gaps in our thinking
Past posts on thinking skills ..
.
  1. How to use your critical thinking abilities to turbo charge your communication
  2. Strengthen your critical thinking abilities
  3. 4 Ideas to make structured thinking stick

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 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.

Thinking Tools #3 – Using inversions to identify gaps in our thinking

Thinking Tools #3 – Using inversions to identify gaps in our thinking

The first time I recall using the inversion strategy was during my interview with McKinsey.

I remember a Senior Engagement Manager called Saimond putting me through my paces around a case and then posing a leading observation.

“So, you have given me some great demand side ideas there …”

As someone with a kindergarten teaching and then communication background I had not used economic concepts much. But thankfully I had helped review my university boyfriend's economics essays and twigged that he wanted more and different ideas from me.

So, I responded that he was right, and that perhaps he would like some supply side ideas too?

I then invented some on the spot. Using opposites has turned out to be a useful thinking strategy in many situations since.

It is also another model discussed in Shane Parrish's new book The Great Mental Models  which I posted about last week.

Given Clarity First members have asked me to pick my way through Shane's models in bite-sized stages, I am extending my series of posts on this book. Unsurprisingly, today's focus is on opposites, or as Shane Parrish calls them ‘inversions'.

Choosing options: One natural place to use this strategy is when choosing a set of options to evaluate. He offers two strategies to help you use inversions:

  1. Start by assuming that what you are trying to prove is either true or false, then show what else would have to be true
  2. Instead of aiming directly for your goal, think deeply about what you want to avoid and then see what options are left over

Checking our ideas are MECE: We can also use inversions in other ways when we are identifying whether we have a complete – MECE – set of ideas in our communication.

Clarity First members received a deeper email on this topic with a list of ways they can use inversions to strengthen their communication.

The waitlist for the program starting in late February 2021 will open soon.
Watch out for my email as I will be limiting the number of places available and ‘Waitlisters' will get the first opportunity to join.

Our communication is only as good as the ideas that underpin it.

I hope that helps.

Regards,
Davina


PS – Related posts include:

From this series …
1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate
2. Further thinking tools

 

PPS – I receive a small commission if you click the link and decide to purchase a copy of Shane's book from Amazon.



 

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. 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.

Further Thinking Tools

Further Thinking Tools

In last week's post I talked about a powerful consulting framework called ‘MECE'.

This week I wanted to take that conversation one step further to share an idea to help you
be MECE when preparing your communication.

This involves challenging the content of your storyline so you can be confident that your messaging is robust.


To that end, there is an abundance of mental models that we can use.

A book I began reading over the weekend introduces nine of these, some of which I use to help me test whether the ideas within my storyline stack up.

For example, necessity vs sufficiency

  • It is necessary to be able to write to publish a book, but being able to write is not sufficient to be an author of JK Rowling stature.

  • It is necessary to manage a process well to deliver an outcome, but managing a process well is unlikely sufficient to ‘shoot the lights out'.
  • It is necessary to think clearly to communicate clearly, but thinking clearly is not sufficient to communicate with great insight.

The challenge we must be aware of when preparing our communication is whether our ideas are more than just necessary, but also sufficient to do the job.


This easy to read book includes a range of other very powerful models, and I'd encourage you to take a look.

It is written by Shane Parrish of the Knowledge Project podcast and the Farnham St blog, and sponsored by Automattic so that the price is kept low as a community service.

>> Click here to learn more.

 

* If you do decide to purchase a copy, I will receive a small commission

 

 

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. 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.

A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate

A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate

This week's discussions at Clarity First revolved around a thinking tool that some of you will have heard of.

If you have ever worked with consultants, then it is most likely you are familiar with the term MECE.

Depending which firm you have been working with, you will have heard it described as either Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (McKinsey and others) or Mutually Exclusive and Covers Everything (BCG and no doubt others also).

I have a hankering for a different vernacular, NONG, which stands for two things in Australian parlance: No Overlaps, No Gaps and an insult which was hurled freely at children when I grew up.

In Australian slang, to be a nong is to be a bit of a fool.

To my mind if you can master this most useful and frankly tricky tool you are by no means a fool. Quite the opposite in fact.

In our discussion we were using five different techniques to frame communication that passed the MECE or NONG test.

This meant that the ideas we crafted into a clear hierarchy had to not only be relevant to the main message but include a complete set of supporting points that furthered the discussion.

For example, if our ‘so what' was ‘We should buy business X to increase our market share', we used the five techniques to carefully identify whether there were any gaps or any overlaps in our thinking.

In applying this to one example we discovered after our initial drafting that we had six supporting points, and that one of them could easily sit beneath another in the hierarchy.

As we discovered, although the concept is pretty easy, unearthing the thinking problems within it so we can deliver communication that is not just clear, but engaging and insightful is another matter.

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. 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.

Why do stakeholders focus on the minutiea

Why do stakeholders focus on the minutiea

Have you noticed how easy it is to spot the tiny errors in communication, particularly when it was prepared by someone else?

When our stakeholders read our paper, watch our presentation or lose the thread of our message when we speak, they focus on the things they can understand.

This is, I think, why feedback often doesn't help us much.

We are asked to improve things that are easy to fix but sit on the surface of our communication: our ability to write, prepare charts or to find ways to become more confident in front of the room when presenting.

Feedback around the substance comes in the form of generalities that are hard to pin down such as ‘be more strategic' and ‘focus less on the detail' without specific advice on how to do that.

The challenge is to work out how to communicate so you get fewer:

  • Clarification questions
  • Requests to meet and discuss
  • Requests to rework your presentation

My number 1 suggestion for combatting this is to spend more time than you think you need to in clarifying two things before you prepare your communication:

Your purpose: What do you want to achieve with this specific piece of communication?

Your audience: Who are they really and what information do they really need from you to get the outcome you seek?

These two areas are foundational in nailing your messaging so you get less of the wrong kind of feedback, deliver more value … and enjoy your work more.

One of our clients summed it up beautifully this week:

“The magic about storylines is that they don't often get noticed or stand out unless you've made a mistake and it is harder to make mistakes when you use them”

Have a great week, everyone,

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. 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.

The power of ‘why’ in getting more done quickly

The power of ‘why’ in getting more done quickly

This is what happened to Chad.

Chad is a software developer at a trading firm.

Although fluent, English is his second language and this makes him nervous about his communication abilities.

He has also had feedback that his communication can be too aggressive, which has heightened his anxiety.

However, when I meet with him I find a warm, engaging and enthusiastic person who does not seem the least bit aggressive.

So, what is going on here?

To illustrate, I will first outline the situation that led to a lengthy and frustrating email chain, then offer our before and after emails before offering two questions you can ask to avoid putting yourself in Chad’s position.

The situation that led to a lengthy and frustrating email chain

When Chad and I worked through an email chain between him and some overseas colleagues, the issue slowly became apparent.

His communication was polite and detailed.

But it missed one critical ingredient.

Instead of explaining why something needed to be done, he jumped straight into how the overseas colleagues needed to do it.

This, in turn, led to a ten-email chain debating the details of the task, with a heavy overtone of ‘do it yourself’ from the overseas team.

Let's have a deeper look at the issue by reviewing the original email and an alternative.

Our before and after emails

Even though the information is technical, I think you’ll see what I mean when I show you the original (sanitised) ‘so what’ message versus the revised one:

Original – We need your help to come up with the implementation that supports System A in filtering the symbols and foreignID.

Revised – Given our own ABC filtering mechanism leads to a configuration that is hard to maintain, we need your help to implement ‘System A’ in filtering the symbols and foreignID.

Interestingly, the rest of the email changed dramatically too. 

It no longer consisted of a list of reasons why the suggestions from the overseas team were wrong, it included a list of reasons why he needed their help.

On reflection, he decided that if he had drafted this email in the first place the whole chain of about 10 emails would have been avoided.

And the problem would have been fixed much sooner.

So, how to avoid this happening to you?

Two questions to ask to avoid putting yourself in Chad’s position

This experience raises an important issue for me that I hope will help you also.

Before ‘smashing out' your next email request ask yourself these two questions so you are sure about your audience's situation:

  1. Are we certain that the people we are asking to help us know why we need their help, not just how we want them to help?
  2. How much time would we get back each week if we routinely slowed down and stopped to think about our audience's situation before we hit send?

I hope that helps.

Have a wonderful week.
Davina

Keywords: strategy, emails, ESL

 

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. 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.

Clarity and insight are not the same thing

Clarity and insight are not the same thing

This week in Clarity First we have been having lots of discussion about things that are both core to communication and on the fringe of it.

One big ‘aha' moment came during Thursday's Accelerator Workshop.

‘This isn't just about communication. It's about negotiation', said one new participant.

This was a magical penny drop.

The same penny drop occurred in three other corporate workshops I ran. 

To craft a clear message is a critical and useful thing to do.

To crafting an insightful message is not the same – and frankly harder to do.

It involves both doing and not doing a number of important things.

Crafting insightful messages requires you to do many things, including the following five:

  1. Be crystal clear about your value-adding purpose. This is where negotiation skills start to play a role.
  2. Understand your audience deeply. People skills, stakeholder management, business acumen as well as negotiation are key here.
  3. Summarise the right data accurately. Critical thinking plays a key role here
  4. Draw out useful insights. Ditto here, along with synthesis and again business acumen. Think carefully as to whether your message will hit the right notes at the time it is delivered.
  5. Tie all of those things together to craft one single, powerful, insightful message that packs a real punch.

All of this means doing, at a minimum, the following three things:

  1. Creating meaningless titles in Word and PowerPoint that look like this: Finance or Sales or Risks
  2. Blindly filling in templates without constructing an overarching narrative for the whole communication
  3. Holding back from sharing a point of view.

I hope that helps. Have a great week.
Cheers, 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. 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.

A BIG week indeed …

A BIG week indeed …

You know your stuff.

You have been working on it for a long time.

You have been promoted.

But now you need to deal with more senior stakeholders and nobody seems to be able to articulate what they need from you.

And, in looking at your predecessor's communication you can tell it's not how you want to communicate.

But … how do you communicate to your new leaders?

So, what if you could go from here to:

  • Nailing two major approvals in one week (involving millions in funding)
  • Getting fast and consistent ‘yesses' from leaders
  • Being awarded for overall excellence in your role

But, enough from me. 

Cerise should tell her own story.

First, the email then the short video.

 

Learn how Cerise achieved this.

Hear from other program participants

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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. 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.

Bonus Hacks …

Bonus Hacks …

I am loving this journey of becoming more intentional about how I spend my time so I can multiply my impact.

The conversations of the past weeks with my client Steve and newfound collaborator Richard Medcalf have been enlightening.

So much so that I wanted to share just a few more practical tips with you that have emerged this week in the hope that they may help you also.

#1 – Auditing my time was far more useful AND fun than just filling in a spreadsheet (thank goodness). Each time I made an entry I became much more conscious of my priorities and ways to spend less time doing what I was doing. Download here if you haven't tried it yet. I can thoroughly recommend the exercise (instructions inside).

#2 – Richard's idea of using prisons and fortresses in freeing up time is golden. I am experimenting with some ways to do this that I thought might help you also, as well as some organisation-wide tactics being employed by some of my clients.

First, my own two experiments:

My prison – Locking away 90 minutes late in the day each Friday to do the admin stuff. No more checking who has paid us first thing every day, working out which invoices to chase or edit, or tidying up loose ends as they decide to loosen themselves. I am finding the reduction in context shifting useful but finding it hard to be disciplined!

My fortress – Saving Thursdays for my ‘flow day'. This means no meetings, coaching sessions or any other interruptions if I can possibly help it. I'll move the day when needed (especially for the rest of this half year as I have existing client bookings I can't move). Next year, however, I'll lock it away universally. So far, the very idea of having a whole day with no meetings feels luxurious, making Thursdays (ie today, when I am writing this post!) feel a bit like a sanctuary.

If you want more information on how these work, listen to my interview with Richard in our free Clarity First Base Program. Register here and you will be taken to the library. Search the word ‘hack' and you'll find the interview in the third post in the series.

He has some really great ideas: it's worth listening.

And to three other interesting ones I have heard of recently:

  • Facebook holds ‘Meeting Free Wednesdays' to enable their people to dive deeply into their work. In working with them over the past couple of years I can confirm they stick to it and find it productive.
  • Endeavour Drinks does this differently. They block out between 1-2 hours early in each day where meetings are banned. Given the fast-paced nature of retail businesses, I can see these smaller chunks which taken together equal about a day of time, working well. Their need to be responsive to customers means locking away a whole day would not work for them.
  • Steve, the client who gave me the ‘strategy hacker' idea, locks away two, two-hour blocks each week to solve problems and work at his whiteboard. He has found that between 10am and mid day on Tuesdays and Thursdays work best for him. This enables him to clear his desk and mind of urgent things first and then ‘grab a cup of tea and a biscuit' before heading to his office to hunker down for a couple of hours.

#3 – Using an electronic time tracking tool is also becoming surprisingly useful. I had not realised how much time I spend emailing for one thing. I am still getting the hang of it, but am finding RescueTime offers me a low-effort yet insightful view on both how I spend my time. It also allows me to tell it how productive I am using each tool I use which gives me a crude measure of productivity too.

#4 – For this to work, I need to get better at delegating. I don't just mean willing to do it, either. I mean knowing how to do it. Some of my efforts here have borne fruit, others need me to be more specific, particularly when working with new team members.

Again Michael Hyatt has come to the rescue with his tips on the subject. He offers four levels of delegation, which you can learn more about here

I hope you have found this useful – do let me know how your own experiments have gone.

Please note, this post contains affiliate links, and as RescueTime 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. 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.

Hacks for becoming more strategic

Hacks for becoming more strategic

I am usually not a fan of completing audits.

Keeping records of minutiae has never been my strength.

But, wow.

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

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

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

He offers a number of terrific ideas including how to:

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

And plenty more too.

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

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong. 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.