This evening we helped Carla prepare for some conversations with senior health researchers that offers some insights for us all. 

The fun thing with this piece is that it doesn’t fit one of our patterns, and so we need to work from first principles. 

I’ll explain in three parts: 

  1. Outline Carla’s situation  
  1. Discuss the options we explored  
  1. Describe first principles approach 

Carla’s situation: Carla was preparing for meetings with experts whom she might collaborate with on her Masters’ Project. 

Carla was seeking input for a research project. As part of her Masters’ program, she needs to collaborate with experts interested in designing acute psychiatric wards in ways that are part of the therapeutic treatment. The idea is that the facility can be designed to deliver some of the treatment. 

For example, access to daylight helps heal those experiencing acute psychosis. Likewise, the right kinds of sound exposure can help some patients. 

She has been overwhelmed with interest from academics and industry leaders and now needs to identify which experts she will work with. The risk is that she is swept up in other people’s agendas rather than balancing those agendas with her own. 

Options explored: We balanced the need to remain open to input while maintaining some control over the research direction. 

Option 1 – crafting a list of questions would have opened her to the risk of needing to reject help and get these esteemed industry experts off side 

We discussed developing a well-grouped (of course!) list of questions for Carla to ask but decided this left the conversation too open. 

While it can be useful to do this on a pure fact-finding mission, her goal here was more specific. 

She wanted to see whether the researchers were interested in collaborating with her within her broad area of interest.  

Although open to their input, she didn’t want to go too far off her desired path to prioritise the researchers’ areas of interest over her own. 

Option 2 – Couching the story as a discussion starter rather than a locked-in proposal offered the right balance 

We limited the frame for discussion to her area of interest while also keeping the door open for significant suggestions. 

Although we weren’t initially aware of this, the order of the points was pivotal to maintaining control. We began with the idea that she was most confident in, which was the area she wanted to focus on. We then moved toward the areas that she needed more input on. 

We built the story together as a grouping that operated from first principles rather than using a pattern. Here’s how that went: 

So What – outlined her high-level goal. This was to find the best way to contribute to making inpatient care more restorative and so reduce the need for restraint and seclusion.  

Top line supports – outlined her preliminary thinking. We worked from the things she was most confident about to the areas where she needed most help.  

Point 1 – Area of research focus 

Point 2 – Research areas she’d already identified and was keen to test 

Point 3 – Initial ideas about research methodology 

Point 4 – Ideas about what success might look like 

Note that I have outlined here the topics she was covering, but not the messages. See the storyline below to review how those came together. 

I did this deliberately to reinforce another idea. We want to make sure all points are fleshed out as messages rather than topics that can be misconstrued. 

First principles approach: We worked from first principles rather than using a pattern as none of the seven fitted the situation 

You can see from the skeleton above and the example below that this does not fit one of our patterns, but rather is from first principles. 

Here’s what I mean by that. 

We have a short introduction (as usual) with a context, trigger and question. 

There is one main message, a ‘so what’ which provokes a single question. In this case, that question is ‘why?’. 

We then answer that question with a set of reasons, each one covering off a different topic. 

The Pitch and Traffic Light patterns are based on this generic ‘why story’ structure. Both put forward an idea and then support with a list of reasons. 

So, even when you can’t find a pattern, you can still use the storylining principles to build your story. 

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,

PS You can watch the full session below to see us using first principles in action.