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 avoiding, 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.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.

The Narrative Fallacy

The Narrative Fallacy

Today I step into dangerous territory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> Click here to read more <<

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

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

Keywords: critical thinking, storytelling

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

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.

Shop Co Case Study

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

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

This rich case study encourages you to:

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

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

Introduction to synthesis bonus expires 29 July

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

> Get going immediately so you can see results straight away

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

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

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

This will be followed by Part 2 on 1 September.

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

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

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

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

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

Bojana

Customer Experience Advisor, Sydney, Australia

 

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

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

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

Michaela Flanagan

GM Performance and Strategy, Insurance Industry

Keywords: ShopCo Case Study, workshop, free

How do we know when we are fooling ourselves?

How do we know when we are fooling ourselves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else is happening?

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

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

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

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

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

Why am I sharing this story with you?

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

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

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

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

 

 

Keywords: #critical thinking #decision making #kahneman

 

Are poor emails harming your career?

Are poor emails harming your career?

 A ridiculous thought, isn't it?

Emails are a mundane and routine part of corporate life.

Most are short and many of us send and receive hundreds of them daily.

Business today cannot progress without them.

But what if your emails routinely elicit a groan from their recipients, so much so that they flag them for ‘later', and then often don't even open them?

Does this mean that you miss out on important responses, and also get a reputation for being frustrating to work with, sloppy in your thinking and someone who takes a long time to get things done?

Where does this leave your career?

This was the experience of a client this week who was stunned at the difference that changing her emailing style could create.

She found that by starting with just a  short introduction (perhaps just one sentence for a short email) and then getting to her key point straight away the response time rocketed and she

  • No longer had to chase people to get the information that she needed to do her job
  • Completed her work more quickly
  • Enjoyed doing her work so much – much – more, and
  • Loved the unaccustomed positive feedback she received from her colleagues and superiors

Now, imagine if this small change could be replicated across your whole organisation. Imagine if your whole team – from secretaries upward – were able to consistently make some small changes to the way they prepare their emails: business would move so much more smoothly for you.

Decisions would be made more quickly, there would be less frustration and more people would feel good about themselves at work.

And then extrapolate that further to think that the same techniques could be applied to other documents: board papers, steering committee papers and other presentations.

Imagine – an email-based productivity revolution.

Ridiculous!

In Clarity First we help people cut the amount of time it takes to both their communication – in any format, including email.

Clients tell me they cut the amount of time it takes to prepare important communication in half. Sometimes more.

They are also more likely to be promoted as their good ideas get the traction they deserve.

Why not check us out?

Clarity First is the most affordable top-tier program you will find.

 

 

Why writers need to educate readers on how to read their communication

Why writers need to educate readers on how to read their communication

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

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

At Clarity First we love this approach.

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Cornelis’ findings demonstrate some irony.

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

Here is why that seems to be true.

#1 – Audiences are hard wired into their old habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Keywords: design your strategy, develop your storyline, research

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

Too many books?

Too many books?

I don't know about you, but my book shelves are stuffed to over flowing. And that's just my shelves. Then there's the bedside table, and my work area … perhaps I should stop there. You get the idea.

We love books in our house and I often feel guilty that we have so many – and yet continue to buy more before we finish reading the ones we already have.

Finally, there is someone to tell me this is not just a good thing, but a REALLY good thing.

Curious?

Click here to read more

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.

Do facts change minds?

Do facts change minds?

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

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

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

So true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keywords: critical thinking, leadership communication

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.

Getting to the So What just got easier

Getting to the So What just got easier

This new book introduces seven most commonly used storyline patterns for business communication

How often have you invested significant energy to prepare a piece of communication only to be confronted with this most uncomfortable question from your audience: “So what?”

It’s one of the most uncomfortable questions in business.

Your audience asks because they want to know why the ideas in your presentation should matter to them and to the business, and they want to know in one simple statement. You might have spent hours, days or even weeks preparing, but they want a succinct answer that summarises everything for them in an instant. And you want the earth to open up and swallow you because you don’t know how to answer this question succinctly.

If you don’t answer this question well, all of your work can be for nothing. Early in our careers, we were both on the receiving end of this question and not ready to answer it. Those memories are some of our most crushing, yet also our most instructive.

What’s the solution? To avoid the embarrassment and frustration of not being able to answer that one simple question, you must state the ‘So what’ clearly and unambiguously at the beginning of your communication and then make the case to support it.

But, how do you do that?

Our new book, The So What Strategy, outlines a three-step process to do just that while also offering our favourite seven storylining patterns so you don’t need to start from scratch.

  1. Start thinking before you prepare your communication: During this phase, we encourage you to dig deep so you can articulate your purpose clearly and also be confident that you understand your audience well.
    1. Your purpose should state: As a result of this communication, I want my audience to …. know, think or do something specific …
    2. Your audience should be broken down so that you are clear who the decision-makers, influencers and others are and what specifically interests them about your topic.
  2. Structure your thinking: Here is when we recommend mapping your ideas into a logically organised hierarchy – what we call a storyline – so that you can articulate your main point in just one sentence and back it up logically. There are three things you should know about storylines:
    1. Storylines require you to map out your higher-level ideas so they synthesise or summarise the ideas within each section of your story. Doing this forces you to clarify your own thinking so you can articulate a more powerful case. It also helps you ‘throw out’ ideas that are interesting but not directly relevant to your main point.
    2. Storylines enable your audience to scan your documents quickly to identify key themes. This enables your audience should ‘get the gist’ within 30 seconds of engaging with your communication. It also enables them to find your key points quickly, rather than hunting for them, or assuming they can be found buried somewhere near the end of your communication.
      If you scan this article, for example, you can see that I have organised it around one idea (introducing our three-step process that enables you to answer the ‘So what?’ question) that is supported by a grouping structure, consisting of three actions: start thinking, structure your storyline and share your communication. This is a relatively simple example of what we are talking about.
    3. Storylines don’t need to be built from the ground up every time. Having worked with storylines for more than 20 years each, we have identified the most commonly used patterns. Click here to download a preview chapter.
  3. Share your communication: Once the structure of your thinking is clear, this can be translated directly into any form of communication: phone conversation, email, paper or PowerPoint pack. The key is to make sure that the structure of the thinking drives the communication, not the problem-solving journey you went on or the medium itself.

Davina Stanley and Gerard Castles are founders of Clarity College and Clarity Thought Partners. They are also joint authors of The So What Strategy, released this week. Both trained at McKinsey & Company and serve some of Australia’s most respected organisations.

Keywords: books, leadership communication, online business writing training, the so what

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.

Winston Churchill nails it again

Winston Churchill nails it again

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

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

Well said Winston!

Keywords: leadership communication, Winston Churchill

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,
Davina Stanley

Keywords: design your strategy

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.

Modern Day Dr Doolittle Does Lots for communicating with humans

Modern Day Dr Doolittle Does Lots for communicating with humans

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.

Bizarre but Beaut: Can structure actually stimulate creativity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last week a client preparing a speech experienced just this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.

Why writers need to educate readers on how to read their communication

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

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

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

At Clarity First we love this approach.

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Cornelis’ findings demonstrate some irony.

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

Here is why that seems to be true.

#1 – Audiences are hard wired into their old habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Keywords: design your strategy, develop your storyline, research

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.

Are you too busy to deliver real client impact?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keywords: leadership communication

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include 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.