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.

Why not to use tables alone when recommending which option to use

Why not to use tables alone when recommending which option to use

When I heard that NASA spent millions of dollars trying to find a ball point pen that would withstand the challenges of space I didn't query it too much.

Until I heard that the Russians went with a pencil, that is.

What's wrong here?

While not being present in either decision-making process, it highlights the value of thinking hard before proceeding.

It might also point to the value of pushing ourselves to think through options, which was the topic of a client discussion this week.

We observed that providing a table with ticks and crosses to discuss a series of options is, although common, inadequate. It requires the audience to interpret the table rather than you sharing your insights about what it means.

So, this week I offer a framework to help you develop and chunk your criteria so you can avoid leaving your insights ‘on the table', if you'll pardon my pun.

I offer three steps to employ this idea:

  1. Familiarise yourself with the framework
  2. Think about how to use it
  3. Refer to an example.


Familiarise yourself with the framework. Here are the four considerations that I think need to be canvassed when evaluating options for solving problems:

Strategy – Does this option help us deliver against our strategy? If so, how? If not, why not?

Return – Does this option help us deliver a strong return? ‘Return' might be considered many ways. It might be purely a financial measure, or alternatively consider softer issues such as social or environmental returns.

Practicality – Is this option easy, or perhaps even possible, for us to implement?

Risks – Does this option raise risks that will be hard for us to mitigate against? Or not?

 

Think about how to use it. As with all frameworks, we can use them to generate and to evaluate sets of ideas by helping us identify and fill gaps in our thinking.

Frameworks such as this stimulate us to ask whether we have covered all relevant issues, and whether we have done so well or not.

It is then up to us to measure our options against each criteria, draw out what this means for our decision making and make appropriate recommendations.

The framework helps you prioritise each of your criteria so you can calibrate your tradeoffs more effectively.

Refer to an example. This is a set of criteria for evaluating a set of options relating to a case study, which we explored in a program MasterClass some time ago.

The class focused around options for solving a disagreement about the best way to run races close to the daylight savings changeover when days are short.

Note how I have grouped the different criteria that emerged from the the discussion about the options.

In doing so, the tradeoffs become apparent given the first and third options have the same number of ticks and crosses each.

This then leads us to make a tradeoff between return and strategy: which one is more important?

That way we can decide which option is better. 

 

I hope that helps. More next week.

Davina

PS – this follows on neatly from last week's email about pros and cons (click here to read the post). 

What to do with ‘pros and cons’?

What to do with ‘pros and cons’?

I had a fabulous question this week: where do we fit ‘pros' and ‘cons' in our storyline?

That is a ‘ripper' of a question.

My answer is this: lists of pros and cons don't belong in your communication, they help you think through that message. 

Let me explain.

If we provide lists of pros and cons for an idea we are providing information rather than insight. This matters, because we are asking our audience to do the thinking work for us. Let me illustrate with an example

Pros of skiing in Whistler in January

  • Skiing is fun
  • There are lots of things to do when not skiing
  • Terrain is amazingly diverse
  • Resort is huge, with lots of different areas to ski
  • Altitude is relatively low, so altitude sickness and asthma risk are lower than other resorts
  • Easy access from Sydney (single flight + short bus ride)


Cons of skiing in Whistler in January

  • Snow can be patchy, especially early in January
  • Skiing is expensive
  • Snow can be ‘heavy' compared with other resorts
  • It rains more here than some other resorts
  • Costs have risen since Vail took over the mountain


If, instead, we do the thinking for our audience, we will deliver insights that emerge from our own analysis of that pros and cons list. In comparison, here is what that might look like:

Despite Whistler's snow not being as light and fluffy as at some other resorts, it is the best place for us to ski this coming January.

  • The skiing is incredible (diverse, expansive, sometimes fluffy snow)
  • The village is fun when off the slopes
  • It is easy to access from Sydney (single flight + short bus ride)
  • Costs are manageable (know lots of people to ski with so don't need lessons, can invite friends over to eat in, etc)
  • The low altitude means vulnerable family members stay healthy


If your audience is explicitly asking for pros and cons lists, pop them in the appendix. Focus your main communication around your interpretation of that list instead.

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina


PS – For those of you in our recent group session who were asking about the recording in the portal about ‘taking a great brief', click here to access. 

How do we storyline when not making a recommendation?

How do we storyline when not making a recommendation?

Have you ever wondered whether a storyline is the right tool to use when you are not providing a recommendation?

Perhaps you have been asked to undertake some analysis or are concerned that your audience may not want you to be too assertive or direct?

If so, you may enjoy some insights from this week's coaching discussions which conveniently follow on from last week's focus on communicating details.

When delivering analytical findings, particularly to a sensitive audience, summarise your findings rather than synthesising or recounting your analytical process.

Provide a summary answer rather than a true synthesis. The examples below illustrate how to offer a summary rather than a synthesis:

  • Level 1 focuses on ‘what' you found or what needs to be done by illustrating ‘what we found', or ‘what we need you to do'.
  • Level 2 offers the implication of those things by placing them in a context. In these examples we are either offering a comparison to other options or explaining how these actions will help.

Avoid describing what you did to deliver your findings, but rather focus on what you found.

This played out perfectly this week when a data analyst in a pricing team for an energy company needed to backtest the pricing model. His goal was to assess whether the model was accurately reflecting the market by checking actual versus predicted market pricing over the past quarter.

The temptation was to explain the steps he took to confirm that the model was accurate rather than explaining that it has proven to be accurate this past quarter because it ‘ticked all the boxes'.

Listing all the steps he took required the audience to work through his analytical process rather than focus on the outcome.

This is a common challenge I see at play among analysts, which could also play out if you were trying to navigate cultural sensitivities about being too forward.

Allow your audience to make the decision if you are concerned about cultural sensitivities around assertiveness.

When I was based in Asia, particularly in Hong Kong helping consultants communicate with mainland Chinese clients, we had to be very careful about how we couched our messaging.

Our advice was not going to be welcome if we were too assertive, and we needed to respect a specific cultural need for leaders to be seen to make their own decisions.

The role of consultants in these contexts is different than in more direct, Western environments so we tailored our approach accordingly.

The example on the left of our value ladder is more useful in this context, with level one being pretty clear that ‘Black' is the way to go without going as far as saying that. Some interpretation is still required by the decision maker, which allows them room to ‘make the decision'.

This approach can be used more broadly when making a recommendation without being seen to recommend.

I hope that helps. More next week!

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – please note that in the example to the right you will see we jump from ‘four things to do' to ‘two ways to help'. This is because in the actual example we grouped the four into two parts as we elevated up the storyline hierarchy.

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 ‘amp up’ your message

How to ‘amp up’ your message

In a recent working session, we worked up a ‘soft’ sales pitch for a software company to deliver to an existing client.

Hiding inside are some useful lessons that will help you increase the value you deliver when communicating.

To illustrate the point from the get-go: which is more useful to you?

  1. The most outstanding lesson to me is the difference between structuring our communication around ‘categories’ versus around ‘messages’.
  2. The most outstanding lesson to me is way we can ‘amp up’ the value we deliver by structuring our communication around ‘messages’ rather than ‘categories’.

My hope is that you went with #2!

The first is a bland statement, and the second offers a clear point of view. Let me unpack that more for you using today’s example and a couple of other recent ones also.

Today’s example emerged from a visually stunning template that hid the messages

Today’s initial draft that used the organisation’s ‘classic’ template had some terrific things going for it. It was stunningly branded and designed, had very little information on each page and was visually crisp. It had super short titles like:

  • Product name
  • Problem
  • Team

These are useful categories to cover but hide the message. What are you saying about the product name or the problem? In fact, what IS the problem you propose solving?

This is something I see a lot across all of my clients, especially when templates are in play, so I thought worth raising here.

Using message titles massively ‘amps up’ the value you deliver when communicating

The ‘amp’ comes from delivering a point of view rather than just data.

This requires us to take a risk when thinking through our communication which might feel a bit scary, but which demonstrates we are in a ‘thinking role’ not just a ‘doing role’.

If we want to transition from operations – or deliver maximum possible value in our operational role – I suggest that this is essential.

Business leaders who compliment their team’s communication are rarely first and foremost focusing on their language use.

They may comment on the polish as an aside, but they focus on the substance – the value-add.

You go from ‘product name’ to ‘Product X is a great fit for you, or perhaps Product X is well placed to solve Y problem (that you currently face)’

Or, perhaps, from ‘Team’ to ‘Our team can integrate seamlessly with yours given our existing relationship’

This is also relevant outside sales environments, such as this one.

So, let’s amp up your own communication by using 3 steps to layer messages onto the categories
  1. take advantage of your ability to categorise at the outset by jotting down the high-level categories you want to discuss in your communication. This will help you get started while also helping you assess whether the ideas are MECE.
  2. describe your observation about that category
  3. now go further and draw out your insightful message about that observation.

Here’s an example from a non-sales setting:

  • Category: Current landscape
  • Information: We need to understand the current landscape from everyone’s perspective
  • Insightful message: Understand that the current process isn’t serving anyone’s interests

You may also like to visit this post where I talk about the communication value ladder. It offers more insight and examples to illustrate the sorts of communication that adds value.

You will notice that ‘category' doesn't even make it to the bottom of our value ladder.

I hope that helps.

Have a great week.
Davina

Want ideas for getting the most out of 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.