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 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,

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.

Deciding how far to go when helping your colleagues improve their communication


We recently had a fantastic session with some of our seasoned Clarity First members about how to help your colleagues with their communication.

The session raised some really interesting questions:

From your perspective – How expedient should we be to protect our own workloads when helping others vs ‘going the extra mile’ to demonstrate to them the value they COULD add as well as the traps you see them falling into because they have some gaps or other inadequacies in their communication.

From the audience's perspective – What would you value from a colleague? A few quick tips or some strategically game changing advice?

From the business’s perspective – what is the greatest value you can add … by investing more in your own priorities or helping your colleague with theirs?

 Listen in to the great conversation for some practical tips and download the session notes below.


Keywords: Design your strategy, Develop your storyline, Patterns, Stakeholder management, Leadership

Need help getting started with the Program?


I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:


  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.