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 where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

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

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 where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

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

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 where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

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

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 where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

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

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 where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

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

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 where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

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

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 where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

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

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 where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

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

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 where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

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

Hacks for becoming more strategic

Hacks for becoming more strategic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep your eyes peeled for next week's interview.
 

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

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

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

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

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

Hacks for becoming more strategic

Hacks for becoming more strategic

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

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

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

We were both delighted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Let's get started.

Step 1 – Diagnose and declutter

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

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

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

How to use your critical thinking abilities to turbo charge your communication skills

How to use your critical thinking abilities to turbo charge your communication skills

When I first joined McKinsey as a communication specialist, I was astounded at how quickly consultants came up with rigorous ways to think about new issues.

Over time I came to see how they did it and wanted to share one related strategy that will help you with your communication.

Thinking top down boosts your impact enormously while also providing a useful framework for doing justice to your analysis when communicating.

Here are three ideas to help you put that into practice:

  1. Understand what top-down thinking is about
  2. Get into the helicopter first
  3. Make like a porpoise

I'll run them through in more detail one by one.

 

Understand what top-down thinking is about

Top-down thinking is about identifying the things that matter most before either deciding what problem to solve or building the supporting case for your point. 

In practice, it’s a bit like when you go to an experienced tailor: they don’t tally up each measurement and then look at a chart to know that you are a size 42 regular.

They take a quick look at you and have a hunch that you look like a 42 regular and then test that hypothesis by taking out their measuring tape to check that they are right.

If their measurements disprove their hunch, they adjust their thinking to conclude that perhaps you are a size 40 disguised in baggy clothing.

In problem solving, this means thinking through the roadmap before digging into any particular aspect of the analysis. 

Consultants rely on previously used frameworks to give them ideas for identifying what that roadmap looks like. You can also do this by adopting the standard framework used in your industry or discipline and complement that by grabbing hold of the HBR guide to Key Management Models.

In communication, this works largely the same way. With experience, we can identify the communication pattern and then test it using a set of principles to check that our message and supporting points do their job. We outline both the patterns and a useful test in our short and practical book, The So What Strategy.

Top-down and bottom-up strategies complement each other but starting with the top magnifies our impact and saves us significant amounts of time.

So, let’s look at how you do that.

 

Get into the helicopter first

As with many things, the idea of thinking top down isn’t that hard.

Doing it, however, is not as straightforward unless you have a process to follow.

Here is how I think about it when preparing a piece of communication.

When thinking through my strategy before I draft anything, I focus on absolutely nailing two things: my purpose and my
audience.

This is information that doesn’t appear inside my communication, but rather shapes it.

In going through this process, I ask myself many things to confirm each element. When thinking about my audience though, there is one critical question that I always ask: What would they need to know to agree with me, or do what I need them to do?

I then brainstorm and prioritise my thoughts so that I end up with a high-level list of no more than five points that I must focus on.

I then work top down as much as possible to craft my communication, and work bottom up to test that the ideas are in the right place.

In the Clarity First Program we teach you exactly how to do this.

This brings me to my next point.

 

Make like a porpoise

Have you seen the way a porpoise bobs up and down as it swims?

This is a useful image for me when I think about how I make sure I take full advantage of both top down and bottom up
thinking when I prepare my communication.

As discussed above, I first sort out my top-level messaging.

Having now been helping people prepare their communication for a couple of decades, I am a bit like the tailor I mentioned earlier. I default to key storyline patterns to fast track this process wherever possible.

I then iterate up and down through the hierarchy of my thinking until I am confident that all if the ideas I need to communicate have a logical place in my storyline.

This played out real time in today’s coaching session.

I worked with a team to prepare a short but contentious email outlining some changes to their priorities that partner organisations needed to know about.

We started thinking through our strategy, mapped out our high-level messaging and then as we worked our way toward the end, asked ourselves whether each point was in the right place.

To do that, we assessed the links between our ideas and the inferences we were drawing at each stage.

We checked that the introduction would draw the audience into our main point quickly, that the ideas that supported that main point are organised to be MECE (mutually exclusive and cover everything).

We also double checked that the words on the page achieved our initial purpose and addressed the concerns of the most important audience members.

The team will then communicate the message top down.

They will begin with a short introduction and follow with the main idea and then the right depth of carefully mapped ideas to support that idea.

They will enable their audience to get the big picture quickly and follow the argument step by step.

Click here to learn how to do this for yourself.

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

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

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

Strengthen your critical thinking abilities

Strengthen your critical thinking abilities

Critical thinking skills are central to clear and compelling communication.

This video introduces some ideas that will help you think more critically as you prepare your communication.

This is something we consider to be foundational at Clarity First.

We believe that communication that gets the right results quickly does so because the thinking is clear. 

That might sound like a platitude until we dig in more deeply and understand what that means.

This video will help you start digging.

Clarity First will help you go further.

Click here to learn how to turn one of your great assets – your critical thinking abilities – into a superpower when preparing your own communication.

 

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

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

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

Can business communication be thought of as a science?

Can business communication be thought of as a science?

Many people think that fantastic communicators have unnatural gifts, an innate mastery of a dark art that is so hard to master that it must be with them from birth. You know who I mean, those who command a room or craft stunning prose that transports us to another place.

In contrast, those with technical backgrounds are often told from a young age that they are no good at communication: they would be better off if they stuck to the sciences.

But, what if that were not entirely true?

It may surprise you that your analytical skills can be an advantage when preparing powerful business communication. Here are three ideas to help you make the most of your analytical brain when communicating:

  1. Think long and hard about your purpose and your audience before doing anything else
  2. Use your critical thinking skills to clarify your proposition
  3. Structure your story using a pattern

Let me explain more about each of these three here.

Think long and hard about your purpose and your audience before doing anything else

Before you put pen to paper, invest more than you normally do in understanding your audience. Think about who they are – think through who will make a decision, who will influence that decision and who else you need to consider. Also think about what keeps them up at night about your topic. How much do they know already and how much do they care about it? If you don’t know, find out.

The next step is to think equally deeply about your purpose and phrase it by finishing this sentence: As a result of this specific piece of communication, I want my audience to know think or do …. What?

As a CEO of a mid-sized manufacturing company (who originally trained as an engineer) said this week: “I spent more time thinking about where my audience was at than I have ever done before to make sure my presentation started at the right place for them, rather than just for me.

“In the actual meeting itself, we then spent about one hour out of three confirming we agreed on the starting point for the discussion. This meant that the rest of the time together was hugely productive and we were able to walk everyone through our presentation really easily and got the decisions that we needed to move forward.”

Use your critical thinking skills to clarify your proposition

Working bottom up to test that your proposition is valid is critical if you want to be confident that your proposition stacks up. Here are five steps to help you do that:

  1. Brainstorm your ideas onto a whiteboard
  2. Categorise them into groups, carefully assessing whether ideas really do belong together or not
  3. Look at each group and ask yourself: What do you want to tell your audience about this set of ideas?
  4. Articulate the highest-level message that emerges from that category in a single sentence
  5. Rinse and repeat as you go up the hierarchy until you get to the one, overarching thought – the ‘so what’ – and build your communication to convey and support that one, single idea.

Structure your story using a pattern

It may shock you to learn that there are a small number of commonly used patterns for effective business communication.

In spending a combined five plus decades between us (this too is shocking, we know!) helping consultants and other professionals clarify their thinking so they can communicate clearly, we have distilled what we think are the top seven patterns for day-to-day business communication. Here they are:

  1. Action Jackson for action plans
  2. Close the Gap for improvement recommendations
  3. Houston, We Have a Problem for explaining how to solve problems
  4. The Pitch for pitches and proposals
  5. To B or Not to B for explaining which option is best
  6. Traffic Light for updates
  7. Watch Out to counter emerging risks

You may be pleased to know that although there is plenty of room for artistry in using these patterns, it is not essential. Synthesis plus logic will lead to great clarity and great impact on their own.

Click here to download a chapter of our book describing the Action Jackson storyline pattern.

Keywords: critical thinking, leadership communication, pyramid principle, the so what strategy

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keywords: critical thinking, leadership communication

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

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

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