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




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 and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

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.

The Art and Science of Communicating Strategically

The Art and Science of Communicating Strategically

The Art and the Science of Powerful Communication

Many of us are asked to ‘be more strategic' in their communication.

But what exactly does that mean and how do you do it?

I share a series of tips through one powerful case study, which does at least three things. It

  1. Focuses on a commonly applicable topic
  2. Offers a complex story with lots of considerations to manage (ie that require both art AND science)
  3. Includes at least 3 takeaways you can use straight away

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.




Bonuses expire 9pm AEST 16 October

1-1 Coaching sessions for early birds

Richard Medcalf of XQuadrant will offer the first 3 team leaders a 1-1 coaching session.

Davina Stanley of Clarity First will offer the first individuals a communication coaching session.

Kick start your learning with the two-part Accelerator 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'

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

Extend your strategic thinking skills by attending Richard Medcalf's intensive 90-minute workshop.

Recordings available for those who cannot make the 21 January session

Hi Davina
It’s s funny to listen to myself 🙂
Perfectly happy for you to use however you would like.
FYI – I also got an award for my great work today.  Nothing big but still, the recognition was nice.  I feel like much of it was thanks to the work I’ve done with you!
Thanks for creating such a great program.
See you next week!
PS You can go here to hear Cerise's story along with that from several other program participants

Program Manager, Sydney, Australia

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!


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: Art and Science of communicating complex ideas, workshop, free

3 tips for THINKING for yourself but WRITING for your audience

When working with a technical team recently I was reminded how most of us ‘write to think' at least some of the time, if not a lot of the time. 

This is particularly the case when working with complex material.

Here's what happens: we sit down to write and map out and fill in our initial crude structure piece by piece. However, while we are doing that our ideas clarify and we become increasingly clear about what we need to convey. By the end of the paper, we are very clear.

However, here's the problem: the writer was only clear about what they wanted to say by the time they got to the end of their document, not at the start.

And what does the reader see first? The start.

And, just when you thought that you could cut and paste the last ‘aha' paragraph or so to the front of your document to fix this problem, think again.

Whether the ‘aha' paragraph is at the front or the back of your document your poor reader is left to walk alongside your own thinking journey to try unpick not only the writer's key insight but how the writer got there.

Here are three suggestions that will help you avoid the “write to think” trap when you next write something so that you provide your reader with a compelling argument that is aimed at them, not at you.

Firstly, begin writing knowing that you are writing for yourself, not for somebody else. If by chance your first draft is fabulous, great: but this is unlikely to be the norm.

Secondly, prepare your early drafts as a note to yourself, not in the final deliverable format. This way you avoid any confusion about your audience as well as the risk of sending something important out before it is really ready. For example, in drafting this post I am writing it in our beta site so that I don't share it with you before I am happy with the content.

When you are confident that your ideas are sufficiently thought through for someone else to comprehend your meaning, copy and paste the text into an audience-friendly format, whether that is an email, memo, letter, report … or whatever you need.

Thirdly, find a way to test your draft before you send it.

Here are three suggestions for doing that:

      • If you are very pushed for time, changing the visual appearance of the ideas helps enormously. You might put the ideas into a one-page storyline format, or into an email, or – even – just change the font so it looks different.
      • If you have a little time, put the draft down and do something else for a while before coming back and looking at it again, or ask a colleague for their opinion
      • If you have a substantial amount of time, leave it overnight and review again in another format in the morning and repeat the process whenever you hit a new milestone.

If you would like some more ideas that will help you orient your communication more directly toward your audience, consider joining the Clarity First Program.

We help you communicate complex ideas so that demanding audiences stop and listen.



Keywords: #design your strategy, #develop your storyline, 

Helping technical teams turn their communication ‘on its head’

Helping technical teams turn their communication ‘on its head’

Is the gap between the way your technical teams communicate so vastly different from what your leadership needs to hear that you often rewrite their papers yourself – or edit them so much you may as well have?

This is because you naturally understand that you must not sacrifice technical accuracy and incur the wrath of your team (who will accuse you of ‘dumbing down' their work), but that you also must provide a clear sense of perspective and clarity about the context of the work for those who need to make the decisions.

While it is valid to think that in sitting between these two worlds you are well placed to translate for them, there are some practical things you can do to help your technical team communicate to non-technical audiences. 

Here are three to get you started:

Appreciate that “writing” is not the same thing as “communicating” to an audience

Writing is a tool both for the writer to complete their own problem solving and sense-making as well as a tool for conveying ideas to another person.

It is vital that a writer learns to discern when they are communicating to themselves and when they are communicating for another person.

Understand what their audience really needs from them

Have a clear picture of the people they are communicating to: their interest (or lack of) in the writer's pet topic, existing biases, and purpose for wanting to hear from the writer in this particular instance.

Flip their early drafts on their head

When pouring out the first draft or two, writers so often describe their own problem solving journey: “we did this, found this and then did this and … and … etc.”

However, once a writer is more familiar with not just the journey itself, but what this journey told us, they can flip early drafts upside down and communicate the conclusion up front to address our audience's key concern.

Writers are ready to flip their writing to focus on their audience only when they can explain their key points to another person while ‘standing on our head' – not that I suggest you try it: explaining the main points to someone who is not a technical expert in less than a minute will do.

If you would like some more ideas that will help your technical team turn their communication on its head, take a look at the Clarity First Program.

We teach individuals and groups how to communicate so that their good ideas get the traction they deserve.

Keywords: #design your strategy #develop your storyline