How ‘constraints’ can turbo charge your impact

How ‘constraints’ can turbo charge your impact

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

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

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

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

Personal: a clever idea for using space driven by constraints

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professional: opportunities for us to get creative also

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards,
Davina

 

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

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

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