EXERCISE: Strengthen your ‘synthesis muscles’

 

Synthesis is at the core of everything we do at Clarity First, and so when I saw an example come across my desk this week I couldn't resist turning it into an exercise.

This email is laid out nicely and yet there are a couple of areas where synthesis can be improved.

When reviewing this one, remember our ‘value ladder' that lays out the different kinds of messages and ask yourself some questions:

  1. What level are these messages at?
  2. How can I synthesise to make it easier for the reader to glean the messages by skimming?

I have included the latest version of the Value Ladder here as reference as well as download links for the before and after versions.

I hope you find it useful.

Dav

 

PS – Those of you who have been following our ‘synthesis project' will note two things with this version of the ladder.

  1. ‘information' includes data that may be catalogued and categorised.
  2. ‘synthesis' can be both informative and insightful. I have labelled that extra level of insight as ‘flair'. We can no doubt debate this more in our next Momentum session!

 

EXERCISE: Rewrite this invitation so your grandma could understand it

This week we worked on an email and ended up discussing another truism that can be very hard to execute on.

This morning’s one was: ‘Write it so your grandmother could understand it’.

As an idea it is both good and infuriatingly difficult to execute on.

How to do that?

The key to this morning’s example was to focus on the substance of the message, rather than on the ‘process’ required to gain accreditation.

Here are two steps to take to transfer the learnings into your own work:

In general, focus more on the ‘why’ …

  1. Introduce not just the topic but why it matters. In the example below you can see there is an embedded assumption that the audience knows why this accreditation process matters. I have added some definitions on the slide for those unfamiliar with the human resources landscape.
  2. Dig further into the ‘why’. Ask yourself why you are communicating to this specific audience about this specific topic that they now understand is important.

Practice this by leveraging the example we used in the working session.

  1. Take note of the graphic below that highlights some of the problems with the original.
  2. Download the original, be inspired by these problems and rework it yourself.
  3. Review the recorded working session where we wrangled with it as a group
  4. Check out an enhanced version of our ‘after’ for your reference. I took what we did in the group (which was helpful but not ‘finished’) and refined it further using my knowledge of the actual situation.

I hope you find that useful.

Have a great week.

Dav

EXERCISE: Email Rewrite (procurement example)

Notes 

As with many customer emails, this one focused far too much on the author than on the audience.

In some ways, they could have kept it even shorter, saying something like:

 

Given we have recently identified that you are a small business supplier, from now on we will pay any new invoice within 30 days.

We apologise for not doing this sooner as we are committed to supporting small businesses like yours.

This, however, doesn’t provide an opportunity to justify why they had not moved sooner in line with Government requirements.

In light of that extra need, my solution is more expansive, while still attempting to be brief.

I hope you find it useful.

 

Solution

Dear valued BigCo supplier,

We have recently identified that you are a small business supplier of ours with an annual turnover of less than $10m.

Moving forward we will be improving your payment terms.

We will pay any new invoices within 30 days of invoice submission in line with the Australian Government’s new Small Business Supplier Payment Code.

Statement – Despite being a big supporter of small business, we have had difficulty in identifying which of our providers are classified as small business suppliers.

Comment – However, a new government tool has been introduced that enabled us to identify small businesses such as yours that deserve short payment terms.

Recommendation – Consequently, we will bring your payment terms forward for any future invoices.

If you have any questions regarding this change in payment terms, please forward your enquiry to procurement@BigCo.com.
Sincerely,
Peter

 

Keywords: Email, deductive structures, 

Patterns vs Structures

Patterns vs Structures

Do you wonder if every story you need to convey ‘fits' within one of our seven patterns?

It may shock you that I don't think they will!

I do think the patterns are a fabulous guide, but encourage you to use them as a starting point that enables you to finesse them using the core storylining principles.

But … how to do that?

I suggest you ‘hack' your structure first using our storyline planner as a guide and then tweak using first principles. Here are some thoughts on how to make that work for you:

Step 1 – Use the planner for all major communication! Work through this process from start to finish so you land your messaging before you waste time editing and potentially rewriting a lengthy document.

I was reminded of the importance of this when – not joking – I was packing my bags to return from the US last week. It was so much easier to pack for the return trip than it was on the way out. The bag was also much more neatly packed. Why?

On the way over I was packing quickly for an uncertain environment. I didn't know what the weather would be like and wasn't sure whether I needed only casual gear or more formal also.

As a result, things went in and out as I worked it through.

The process was I think a bit like working out what ideas fitted into a storyline.

So … I can't emphasise enough the importance of landing those messages first.

Step 2 – ‘Hack' at least two high-level structures for your story. Be guided by the So What Strategy book (pages 50 and 51) or your desk reference. Pick one and ‘fill it in' inside the planner using your own material but copying the structure.

Step 3 – Tweak these high-level, skeletal structures as needed making sure you stick to the overall storylining principles. This means that whether the story veers away from the chosen pattern, it still includes

  1. a short introduction that explains what you are discussing and why. Reference the 10 Point Test for definitions of the context and trigger etc.
  2. one single overarching thought that is powerful and articulated in 25 words or less
  3. one of two top-line supporting structures. Use a grouping or deductive structure where the relationships between the ideas are locked tight. This, of course, is where the challenge lies.

Step 4 – Prepare your communication, following the storyline structure to ensure your document conveys your thinking as clearly and concisely as possible.

I thought a schematic of the different generic structures might help so have included it below.

>> Download the reference here.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina



PS – We will be opening the doors for new participants soon. Here is the latest brochure
 (refreshed today!) in case you would like to tell your friends and colleagues about the program.
1 Story, 3 Lessons

1 Story, 3 Lessons

In our most recent working session we helped Brooke prepare a ‘quick’ storyline. Even though on the surface this story appeared straightforward, it turned into an onion.

The more we layered into it, the more we found we needed to think through.

There were enough layers, in fact, to lay the foundations for at least two weeks’ worth of emails so your weekly emails over the next few weeks will focus on our learnings from this session but of course you are welcome to devour them all right now as well!

Here are the three lessons I want to share with you. 

  1. What to do if you have more than one purpose?
  2. How to decide if the story should be a grouping or deductive?
  3. How to slice and dice ideas into a strong hierarchy that resonates with your audience?

You'll find the recording of this working session at the bottom of the page.

 

Lesson 1: What to do if you have more than one purpose?

 

I’ll start at the start and share insights from the early parts of our discussion regarding the notion of ‘quick and easy' as well as the purpose.

Firstly, when you become bogged down with questions preparing your ‘quick and easy' communication, slow down. Don’t keep trying to smash through.

We began this working session optimistic that we would help with two pieces of communication, one for Brian and one for Brooke.

However, as we started probing and attempting to smash our way through Brooke’s story it became evident that this wouldn’t work.

Every time we thought we had something right, another question would arise that made us ask more questions.

We may have kept pushing for too long as we really wanted to make time for Brian's story, but it was an interesting exercise.

The eight or so people in the room could all see that we needed to slow down and stop smashing it out.

If you watch the recording, you will see what I mean.

Regardless, listen to your instincts and slow down when your drafting starts to feel ‘tense’ and ‘off’.

Secondly, avoid compound purposes and instead favour using the higher order action.

This single sentence provided a remarkable amount of discussion for what was in the end a fairly simple script for a presentation.

I have attached the four draft purpose statements we crowd sourced in the chat from our call along with my commentary.

The bottom one provided some extra useful debate around the right verb to use.

Did Brooke need endorsement, approval or support … or all three?

We landed on support as it required stakeholders to both endorse and approve.

If she asked for endorsement or approval, then there was no guarantee they would offer practical support.

If they committed to support, however, they would by implication be endorsing AND approving.

So, such a lot of discussion for such a small thing but very instructive all round.

 

 

Lesson 2: How to decide if the story should be a grouping or a deductive?

 

In this lesson, we continue unpacking Brooke's presentation by drawing lessons from our journey solving the top-line story structure.

As we wrestled with Action Jackson and then Watch Out, the nature of the reasoning required emerged as the decider.

We chose Watch Out as the reasoning was relevant to the whole story, not just one section. Let me unpack that for you here.

We firstly explored the Action Jackson pattern

In Brooke’s story, we initially thought we could use an Action Jackson story to explain the impending changes, as follows:

This story structure worked until we learned two important things. Stakeholders were under the impression that all forms would be migrated to the new platform by October. These same stakeholders could cause delays if unhappy that not all forms would be migrated immediately.

In other words, the mini deductive chain under the discussion about the second top line point related to the whole story, not just that section.

So, what to do?

We elevated the reasoning to the top line and quickly flipped to Watch Out

We flipped into a Watch Out pattern to provide room to explain why an interim solution was needed. Here is where we landed: 
:

We thought Watch Out built with what would be comfortable and easy to agree to. It confirmed that high-use forms would be migrated as they knew before setting them on the path to wonder what would happen to other lower-use forms.

Once they were ‘warmed up’, we could then explain why those other important forms would not be migrated to the new platform as quickly.

Assuming this persuaded them, the natural question then would be around the implementation, which we discussed in the third, therefore point.

Lesson 3: How to slice and dice ideas into a strong hierarchy that resonates with your audience

In this lesson, we look at how to structure the supporting elements for the ‘therefore’.

There were a few considerations here that I hope will help you in your own storylining.

The key takeaway relates to how we slice and dice ideas into a strong hierarchy that also resonates with your audience.

We agreed that we had some choices about how we organised the actions at the end of the storyline (under the ‘therefore’). We could categorize them by type of query, by type of solution or perhaps by frequency of use within the ‘medium use’ chunk.

So, we started by ordering them by type of form with the type of workaround for each kind of form nested underneath, as follows:

Therefore, we propose to use existing systems for these queries

  • Access general maintenance forms in system X (paper workarounds, digital forms, redirects to existing systems, etc)
  • Access loan forms in system Y (paper workarounds, digital forms, redirects to existing systems, etc)
  • Access account management forms in system Z (paper workarounds, digital forms, redirects to existing systems, etc)

This however, proved unsatisfactory was too general and didn’t connect to the stakeholders’ current working processes. They may be left asking “but … how do I do that”.

So, we fixed the situation by explaining how to change their process rather than ‘what to do’. Here is where we landed:

Therefore, we propose to use existing systems for these queries

  • Use ‘a different’ pathway to access the same general maintenance system for XYZ queries
  • Swap paper forms for the ‘bla bla system’ to access loan forms
  • Swap temporary digital forms for ‘this’ system when solving account management queries

Please excuse our creativity around masking specific details … I hope you can see the point lurking beneath them.

You can see where this section fits in the overall story below.

I hope you have found this series of lesson learnt from Brooke's Watch Out story helpful.

I have included the recording of the session below in case you would like to watch it.

Talk soon,

Davina

 

Diving Deeply into Big Picture Thinking and Synthesis

Diving Deeply into Big Picture Thinking and Synthesis

Over the first half of 2022 a small group of us have been working on a conundrum: what process can we use to synthesise ideas?

We observe that this is a huge challenge for people when communicating and solving problems that storylines and issue trees help solve.

 However, in making full use of them we need more.

 So, we resolved to meet monthly, use the problem-solving tools discussed in the Clarity in Problem Solving course as a process map and work on it.

 This is the third discussion in that series which might start to be useful for those outside the sessions themselves. Do let us know if you would like to join the working group.

INTERVIEW – Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths

INTERVIEW – Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths

I came to Friday's interview with Matt Lohmeyer a bit selfishly. Negotiating has often made me nervous and yet he seems to thrive while discussing and doing it.

So, I wanted to learn how he gets great outcomes while actually enjoying the process.

If I am to interpret Matt correctly, the ‘insight' is to explore ‘possibility’ and seek out ‘opportunity’ rather than be driven by the fear of being cornered by a win/lose proposition.

Here are three fear busters that I took away that I hope help you also.

  1. Deal with the hairy beasts first
  2. See popular techniques as tools rather than the main strategy
  3. Avoid saying no

Let me now give you some more detail about these before offering the interview and two powerful free tools from Matt.

1 – Deal with the hairy beasts first. By that, Matt suggests dealing with the most difficult issues of a negotiation first. He recommends agreeing the negotiation strategy at the beginning as a way to build rapport, rather than dealing with small items. An example might help.

At the beginning you might ask the other person (note, I am deliberate in not saying ‘the other side') to identify their biggest concern. You might even suggest that you think item X is going to be the most difficult thing to resolve.

This gives them an opportunity to agree or to indicate that item Y or Z is a bigger deal for them. Taking this approach offers many advantages. You

  1. Enter into a collegiate discussion about the way forward that builds rapport
  2. Gain insight into their situation
  3. Work out quickly whether this negotiation will go far or not, so that you can avoid wasting time and resources if it is unresolvable
  4. Hold onto valuable bargaining chips that could help you address the hairy beast rather than trading them away to solve lower level issues

2 – See popular techniques as tools rather than the primary strategy. Matt suggests that emphasising win-win solutions or splitting the difference results in mediocre outcomes. Why?

Because they leave you thinking small. They lead you to

  1. Being adversarial which can put you back in the fear corner'
  2. Trading items tit for tat around micro elements of the deal
  3. Taking energy away from finding a really great outcome that neither party may have considered at the start of the discussion.

3 – Avoid saying no, and frame your response as a possible alternative. This doesn't mean NEVER saying no as Matt was quick to point out, but rather avoid saying it.

To give an example. Instead of saying ‘No, I can't have coffee with you tomorrow afternoon', say ‘I could have coffee with you at 9am tomorrow at a location near me'.

This then puts the onus back on the other person to decide whether they will make the extra effort to make that time and location work.

This is a simple example, but a powerful principle that empowers me by offering a constructive way out.

These are just some of the gems that Matt shared. You can visit the recording below, as well as download two powerful resources he has for us all.

 

DOWNLOADS:

1. A diagnostic to help you calibrate your personal blend of preferred negotiation strategies with the norm group of over 2,500 other executives. How do you actually negotiate? To unlock this tool, you will need to use the password Mythbusters.

>> Click here to access

2. A generously detailed PDF full of negotiation strategies for you to employ.

>> Download here 

 

Kind Regards,

Davina

Why ‘updates’ are hardly ever JUST an update

Why ‘updates’ are hardly ever JUST an update

This week's working session drew out one of my pet peeves: Updates.

Leaders, of course, want you to update them on your progress whether your work is ‘business as usual' or project based. They want to know enough to trust that all is on track or to offer guidance where needed.

However, thinking of these communication opportunities as just an update is such a waste!

This week we helped Belinda convert her 10-minute MS Teams update into a powerful story that would engage future supporters. Here are the three biggest takeaways, which I hope help you also.

  1. Having 10 minutes to showcase her project to 450 colleagues was an opportunity to engage potential supporters in her program who would help her deliver on it over coming months. It was so much more than just an update.
  2. The context was an opportunity to not just remind everyone that she was working on two important data collection projects, but rather to remind them of the value those projects will bring.
  3. The trigger was an opportunity to explain to them not just why she was telling them about the project, but why they needed to hear about the project

Here were the highlights.

 

Watch the recording below and download the session notes for more details.

 

Build a Winning Career Series with Bill Cowan

Build a Winning Career Series with Bill Cowan

I have had the pleasure of working with Bill Cowan on a series of live workshops where we discuss how to build a winning career and I believe you will find the insights he shared as revolutionary and useful as I have.

Below you will find the recordings for each of the three sessions in this series: 

  1. Interview – we discussed Bill's new book How To Build a Winning Career and he shared some fantastic insights from his extensive experience
  2. Discussion – we focused on how to market ourselves, something many of us find difficult
  3. Working example – we put Bill's insights into action and helped Brendan craft his personal ‘So What' statement. We have included downloadable notes for this session under the video.

 1. Interview – How to Build a Winning Career

Well, Bill certainly did not disappoint in this morning's interview!

Bill shared career insights that are hugely relevant to all of us, no matter where we are in our careers.

He gave me a new idea for addressing current challenge and judging by the chat messaging others found the same.

I encourage you to take the time to watch the recording below and to consider working with him further. There are three ways to do this:

#1 – Grab a copy of his new book Building a Winning Career, which launched today. He is offering the Kindle version for about $10 for the coming two weeks to make it affordable to everyone, as well as physical copies which Australians can order directly from him, or those overseas can access via online book stores.

#2 – Learn more from him in the following two Clarity First sessions included below. The first will be a book discussion and the second a working session to help those present.

​​

2. Discussion – How to Build a Winning Career

Bill Cowan rightly pointed out in this week's workshop that most of us are good at our jobs, but not necessarily​ good at marketing ourselves.

I put myself in that category. Marketing is so very much harder and yet Bill's strategy for building a winning career seems highly achievable.​

That might be because at its core, it's a relationship strategy.

To continue the discussion I have here my top three takeaways as well as some next steps for you all.​​​​

First to my top three takeaways from this week's discussion.

#1 – Build a large network of friends and colleagues whom you can call on for advice. Never ask any of them to help you find a job: it is awful for both of you when they say ‘no'. They most likely won't know how to help you find a job and then the conversation gets awkward very quickly.

#2 – Know that connection matters as much, if not more than competence when hunting for a new role. We talked about how a ‘dad joke' bot helped my son get his first grad role in NYC … this was a lovely example of how this played out quite naturally and accidentally. Bill had quite a bit to say on this topic too.

#3 – Have courage to be ambitious about the sort of role you look for and, equally, to leave a bad one. Leave when three things are in play:

  1. ​your boss isn't helping you,
  2. ​you don't feel you are making a difference and
  3. ​the organisation itself is struggling.

​Bill believes courage is more important than confidence too, no matter what level you are at.

There were loads more, and I'd encourage you to go to the recording to listen. I have posted it as video, but you may find it a good one to listen to instead as it's more discussion than presentation.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.​

And to another opportunity to work on your own career
​​
Here are two things you can do to prepare for the next session:

#1 – Get hold of Bill's book Building a Winning Career if you can

#2 – Brainstorm out a list of things that you think make you distinctive in your career.

​Thanks again for being such active participants in this journey with Bill. He's been very generous with his time and I think well worth listening to.
​​

Please excuse the camera wobbles at the start … it gets better a few minutes in.


3. Working Example – How to Build a Winning Career

This week we wrapped up the Winning Career series with a working session to help one of our members craft their personal ‘so what' statement.

In Bill's language, this is describing ‘what makes you special', which as we know is a really hard thing to do but central to any job hunting process.

It might also feel a little outside the scope of the usual storylining situation.

However, to quote Ravi who was part of that session, his takeaway was that we should ‘trust the process'.

Even though it felt at times as though we were wallowing, our collaborative and structured process led to a clear statement for Brendon's Microsoft application.



​​​


Discussion – Building a Winning Career

Bill Cowan rightly pointed out in this week's workshop that most of us are good at our jobs, but not necessarily​ good at marketing ourselves.

I put myself in that category. Marketing is so very much harder and yet Bill's strategy for building a winning career seems highly achievable.​

That might be because at its core, it's a relationship strategy.

To continue the discussion I have here my top three takeaways as well as some next steps for you all.​​​​

First to my top three takeaways from this week's discussion.

#1 – Build a large network of friends and colleagues whom you can call on for advice. Never ask any of them to help you find a job: it is awful for both of you when they say ‘no'. They most likely won't know how to help you find a job and then the conversation gets awkward very quickly.

#2 – Know that connection matters as much, if not more than competence when hunting for a new role. We talked about how a ‘dad joke' bot helped my son get his first grad role in NYC … this was a lovely example of how this played out quite naturally and accidentally. Bill had quite a bit to say on this topic too.

#3 – Have courage to be ambitious about the sort of role you look for and, equally, to leave a bad one. Leave when three things are in play:

  1. ​your boss isn't helping you,
  2. ​you don't feel you are making a difference and
  3. ​the organisation itself is struggling.

​Bill believes courage is more important than confidence too, no matter what level you are at.

There were loads more, and I'd encourage you to go to the recording to listen. I have posted it as video, but you may find it a good one to listen to instead as it's more discussion than presentation.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.​

And to another opportunity to work on your own career
​​
Whether you were there or not, please do prepare for our next Winning Career discussions during the upcoming working sessions. Here's what to do to prepare:

#1 – Log in and register for the session that suits you best on the first Tuesday in February​​

#2 – Get hold of Bill's book Building a Winning Career if you can and also listen to my previous interview with him.

#3 – Regardless of whether you get the book or not, brainstorm out a list of things that you think make you distinctive in your career.

#4 – Bring the list with you to the session so we can work with you to help you clarify what is distinctive about you. This lays the foundations for helping you work out what direction to head in.

​Thanks again for being such active participants in this journey with Bill. He's been very generous with his time and I think well worth listening to.
​​​
Have a great week,
Davina


PS – Do let me know if there are other communication-related topics that particularly interest you. I would love to have one or two more speakers join us this year.​​

Please excuse the camera wobbles at the start … it gets better a few minutes in.

​​​


How to tell a story when you can’t offer a recommendation

I am often asked a question that goes a bit like this: “How do I use a storyline when I can't or don't need to offer a recommendation?”

There is at times a concern that storylining isn't fit for purpose in this setting.

We saw a terrific example of this play out in a December coaching session, which I'll unpack here for you.

The easy answer is that although we don't offer a pattern for this, you can easily use a storyline to provide a summary at the top and supporting levels.

Here is what that might look like at the top line for the stock review we discussed

For example, when writing a stock report you might want to offer a recommendation like this:

“We recommend adding Aristocrat (ALL) into your investment portfolio”
as this could be out of the scope of the work you have been engaged to do.

If you were to take this approach, the supporting points would be reasons, explaining why you recommend adding ALL to the portfolio. You would most likely use a version of the Pitch Pattern.

However, in some settings this is prohibited or unwanted. Your financial services license may not permit you to offer ‘advice', or your client may have specifically asked for your findings only.

If this is the case, you might offer a summary (akin to an ‘observation') that says something like this:

“ALL's acquisition of Playtech opens new avenues of growth and an early EPS uplift given the financial structure of the deal.”

This describes what has happened in the past quarter without saying ‘buy this stock'.

If you were to take this approach, the supporting points would still be reasons, but would put forward a different kind of argument. They would be explaining why it is true, or what evidence you have, to support the idea that the acquisition opens up new avenues of growth.

In either case the supporting points could follow a classic Grouping Structure.

You can download the example and/or watch the video of this session below.

How to handle ‘background’ in board papers

How to handle ‘background’ in board papers

How often do you see decision making papers that begin with a section for background? And … how often is that background really, really long?

This is a problem on a number of levels, not only because board members and other leaders routinely list ‘too much background' as one of their pet hates.

Some audiences, however, have greatly mixed needs for background which creates some difficulty.

So, what to do?

I am offering five strategies you could employ depending upon your confidence regarding the audience's situation.

Where you are confident that the audience needs a ‘quick refresh' rather than an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues, adopt these two strategies:

Strategy #1 – Refer to and link out to any past papers to avoid repetition but still provide new members with access to the relevant history. You might say something like this: In last month's meeting we discussed four potential options for solving problem X (See last month's paper here). This is easily done where you are using an electronic paper system, such as BoardRoom.

Strategy #2 – Include relevant past papers in an appendix. This is useful when you don't have the ability to hyperlink to the past paper.

Where you are not confident that the audience will remember the content (perhaps because the discussion was truncated or you have a highly technical issue that is on the margins of their experience), include the information in the story in one of three ways.

Strategy #1 – Weave the messages into the new story. If reminding them about options discussed earlier, you might go with a deductive structure to allow more room for reasoning. Here are two suggestions.

  • Use a To Be or Not To Be structure to explain the options before making your recommendation, rather than just saying ‘Option B is Best before offering a list of reasons why you are recommending it.
  • Remind them of the problem being solved by merging Houston and To B or Not To B. You can use a Houston structure for your ‘statement', and following with ‘However, Option B is Best' for your comment and then leading into your therefore, implement Option B.


Strategy #2 – Use a Watch Out pattern to include a generous amount of detail on what's been done so far. This is always a useful pattern for when you need to change direction, but where your audience isn't keeping up with you, you may find it useful to be ‘fulsome' in your statement. The comment that allows for ‘risks ahead' can be tweaked in all sorts of ways to allow for necessary changes that you have just identified.

Strategy #3 – Add a section in your grouping to cover off on the ‘background'. This could be done (at least!) two ways:

  • In an Action Jackson story where you are describing how to implement something, start the first section with a message like this: “Become familiar with the options available”. This provides an opportunity for you to then describe the options as the first step in a process.
  • In a Pitch Pattern, weave the information throughout the story as you touch on key topics. If you are referring options, then describe the options in a deductive flow underneath the “We have a great solution” section.


I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina


Related posts …

How to know when you are stuck in the weeds

How to know when you are stuck in the weeds

Have you ever wondered how to know when it's time to ‘pop up' out of the weeds so you can see the big picture?

A number of people in the program have asked this question and a December working session focused on the issue in a way that is useful to all of you.

The key takeaway was that if you find yourself going really deep on one section of an issue before clarifying the top level you need to come back up.

This is particularly so when building issue and hypothesis trees when problem solving. There is a tendency to go and ‘do the analysis' to answer a question while the ideas are fresh and run the risk that we have spent significant energy doing the wrong analysis.

We also risk wasting effort if we dive in too deep when preparing our communication. We aren't always clear on what the messaging should be in a section of a story before we know what the high-level story is like for the whole thing.

This means that we can prepare pages in packs and papers that end up being redundant because we ‘chased a rabbit' down a hole.

So, here are some ideas to help you ‘stay out of the rabbit warrens'

  1. Take a look at the recording. Click here to access.
    1. The topic is simple and interesting (addressing an employee shortage in a US County) and illustrates very clearly the problem.
    2. It offers a chance to refresh or perhaps dig into the problem solving concepts in the Clarity in Problem Solving course.
  2. Stick to building your one-page storylines before building your papers or packs
  3. Go a step further and ‘hack' the high-level storylines before you get to building your one-pager. There is room for this in the storyline planner, and plenty of examples in the recorded sessions of this strategy at work.


I hope that helps and look forward to checking in again next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – Don't forget to get a copy of Bill's Book, Building a Winning Career so you can contribute to the discussion during the mid January and early February working sessions.

Exploring bottom up and top down thinking when problem solving

This was a terrific session where we explored a concrete example that we can all relate to.

We dug into Ravi’s housing shortage challenge again to explore how we might use hypothesis trees, issue trees or design thinking to help.

We were reminded of a number of things during this session:

  1. Understanding the problem is vital in order to effectively solve it.
  2. MECE is a fantastic tool to use while problem-solving as it pushes us to look at the problem from multiple angles.
  3. Pulling back intermittently to check that you aren't ‘too deep into the detail' can help keep your problem-solving session on track.

Our notes for this session are available for download underneath the recording.

Keywords: Clarity in Problem Solving, State the Problem, Issue Tree

How to use a storyline as a thinking tool to develop your strategy

How to use a storyline as a thinking tool to develop your strategy

Two of this week's coaching sessions shone a very bright light on how storylining is about much more than ‘putting words on a page'. It's about surfacing the ideas that we want to convey.

So, this week I want to focus on how you can use a storyline rather than how you build one.

Let me give you the high level story first and then explain by way of example.

  • As you know, a storyline is a tool for mapping ideas, which can also be described as a ‘thinking machine'.
  • The thinking rules that make the ‘machine' work provide an opportunity to use storylines to develop our strategies not just describe them.
  • So, I encourage you to collaborate as you follow the storyline planner steps to develop and describe your own strategies

As you know, a storyline is a tool for mapping your ideas, which can also be described as a thinking machine. One of my old colleagues used to call it an ‘insight engine'.

If we understand the rules that hold our ideas together we can test whether the ideas on a page ‘fit'. If they don't, we can use the rules to work out what is wrong and to strengthen or replace the ‘misfit' ideas.

This both pushes and guides us so we think harder and communicate more impactfully because our ideas are more impactful.

In the classic sense, we can use storylines to prepare our communication so we engage our audiences better.

However, the thinking rules that make the ‘machine' work provide an opportunity to use storylines to develop our strategies, not just describe them. This can be particularly effective when we collaborate with our colleagues.

This is where this week's coaching comes in.

In both sessions we needed to prepare a story that the participants would deliver to their senior leadership in our final workshop together.

The stories needed to be practical and focus on live problems that were substantive enough to engage their leaders.

The challenge for these two groups was that they were not in the midst of a natural paper cycle, and so didn't have anything big enough to share.

Our solution was to use our storylining session to address a problem that they had not yet thought through fully and come up with a solution.

In one case the team developed a strategy for fine tuning their recent organisational transformation to agile ways of working. In the other, they did two things. They

  1. developed a new business case template that enabled them to use a storyline to convey their case in two pages rather than the eight that the previous template had required.
  2. pitched and gained approval for the new template from their Tribe lead and CEO in the final Wrap workshop

It worked a treat, so I wanted to explain how we used the storyline as a tool to help them work out what their strategy was, not just communicate it.

 

So, I encourage you to collaborate as you follow the storyline planner steps to develop and describe your own strategies. Here are some steps to take if that is your situation:

  1. Download the storyline planning template to guide your process.
  2. Work through the four sections, spending a fair chunk of time on the first ‘brainstorm' section so you can download your ideas. You may like to involve a colleague in this part of the process to draw out the key ideas. They don't need any special storylining knowledge to do this with you.
  3. If you can, work with a colleague to shape the storyline too, testing the rigour of your thinking as you go. If you need to work independently, then take the one-pager and share that with a colleague or two to test your ideas further.
  4. Come back to the Ten Point Test after you have received feedback and further refine your storyline to make sure the ideas fit both the structure and your purpose.
  5. Prepare any document you need to share your strategy with decision makers or those who may need to act on it.

So, even though we are using a communication technique here, it has a deeper purpose which you can take advantage of once you really lean into the storylining rules.

I hope that helps and look forward to seeing you at our upcoming working sessions.

Kind regards,
Davina

A script to help you get feedback on a storyline

A script to help you get feedback on a storyline

This week one of our number was using a storyline with their manager for the first time and was wondering whether there were ways to set up the conversation better.

In the spirit of helping, I have outlined some suggestions to help you explain to a ‘non storyliner' how to engage in a storyline.

Here's the draft for you to cut and paste into your own email or to stimulate a conversation as well as an opportunity to download the draft here.

++++++++++++++++++++++

Hi colleague / boss,

I have been thinking about X issue and have outlined my early thinking on a page for your consideration.

Before you review it, I'd like to explain how the page works so the diagram makes sense to you.

  1. It is a discussion draft. Although the ideas are I hope in a clear and logical place within the structure, the ideas are very much open for debate. I thought mapping them out like this would help us discuss the issue further so we can land on the final messaging.
  2. It outlines my current thinking in a way that may seem more assertive than usual. You will see that the ideas are anchored around a single message that is crafted as a point of view. The technique I am using encourages us to flush out the main thought and be upfront about it, before diving into the details below. As mentioned, the ideas are very much open for debate.
  3. Once we agree on the messaging, we can easily turn these ideas into a well-structured document of any kind. I would like to hold off on preparing the document until we agree the ideas to minimise rework. Focusing on the one-pager first will keep us focused on the main ideas and encourage us to ‘nail these' without being distracted by document formatting. My experience so far suggests we can save time this way.

I look forward to discussing issue X with you further in our upcoming meeting.

Regards,
Fred

++++++++++++++++++++++

 

 

Kind regards,
Davina

 

PS – Watch out for a separate email this week inviting you to an opportunity to hear from William Cowan, on Building a Winning Career.

William is terrific and we are privileged to be the first to hear about his new book, which launches on the day of our interview.

I hope you can join us at 8am on Thursday 2 December Sydney time. We will of course record for those who can't make it.

The difference between being ‘clear’ and being compelling’

The difference between being ‘clear’ and being compelling’

This week's working groups provided an excellent opportunity to think about the difference between being ‘clear' and being ‘compelling'.

I have drawn out three key takeaways that highlight that although being clear is a useful place to start, it is often not enough.

Making the leap from being clear to being compelling required us to lean into my favourite question: why?

Did the ‘trigger' really describe why we were communicating about the information in the context? For example:

Version 1 – The Board has used this as an opportunity to review the Constitution and governance practices to ensure compliance and to identify opportunities for improvement.

Version 2 – We are proposing some amendments for your consideration ahead of the coming AGM

Did the ‘so what' synthesise the items together and explain 
why this group of actions was necessary?

Version 1 – Amending the Constitution will ensure it is able to reflect community expectations, provide flexibility, allow for technological advances and meet best practice governance standards.
 
Version 2 –The Board seeks Members' endorsement at the AGM to amend the Constitution to meet best practice governance standards and maintain full funding.
Did each top line point explain explain why each group of actions was important?

Version 1 – With one exception, was a list of topics rather than messages
    • Reflect community expectations [the exception]
    • Clarification and flexibility
    • Technological advances
    • Governance best practice
Version 2 –A list of outcomes that each group of amendments would deliver
    • Reflect community expectations by being more inclusive
    • Clarify lines of responsibility to tighten governance and qualify for future funding
    • Allow for technological advances
    • Update timeframes around the voting process

Here is the video from the working session.

How to make a deductive structure ‘really sing’

How to make a deductive structure ‘really sing’

 Have you ever wondered what holds a deductive flow together?

Part of the success requires the statement and comment to be tightly linked together, along with the comment and the therefore point.

However, weak support for any of the points, but particularly the comment can bring the whole story undone.

This played out with what was a ‘good cyber strategy’ that I worked on with a senior leadership team this week.

Let’s unpack what we did to convert it into a great cyber strategy.

  1. The introduction was tight and led to a clear and compelling ‘so what’
  2. The high-level storyline be a promising ‘Houston’ pattern. It set up the problem as the first point, explained how to fix that problem in the second and led to a clear and related set of actions
  3. The storyline was let down by a disconnect between the comment and its supporting points. This storyline fell into a common trap of outlining the actions in the strategy here rather than explaining why these are the right actions

I have simplified and sanitised the before and after versions here to illustrate. You can also download the example below in pptx format.

I hope that helps and look forward to bringing you more next week.

Regards,
Davina

The importance of asking ‘Why?’

In this session, we worked on Brooke's email which highlighted the importance of asking ‘why'.

  • Why might audiences be objecting (are they unwilling or unable?)
  • Why do you need to communicate? What is it you need them to know?

Once you have nailed down the ‘why', the storyline becomes so much clearer.

As always, we've included the notes below so you can see how we work through the storyline planner from the initial brainstorming through to the first draft of the email.

Hacking requirements for a job application

How do you handle being provided with 7 criteria that must be addressed in a cover letter when you want to offer a tight message highlighting your strengths?

In this short session, we showcased a strategy for ‘hacking’ requirements on a job application letter. This strategy allows you to give the potential employer what they want while making sure you also get to feature the skills and experience you wish to.

Including your storylining and communication skills, of course!

UPDATE: A few weeks later, we had the chance to work through the cover letter Andrew created as a result of our first session. I've included the recording below as it is a useful example of how to finesse the final product.