Clarity and triangulation

It’s almost always worth it to spend a lot of time searching for the most powerful way you can find to get a message across. Exactly as politicians do when they want to break through the noise, you have a leave a business audience with something that sticks, something (maybe the only thing) they take away. A hook, if you will; like something from a pop song that you remember thirty years later.

That’s particularly true if the message you have to give is one that’s complex or one that people don’t want to hear. Even if it’s a simple message — “profits aren’t where we need them” — which you’d think they’d get immediately. No, unfortunately not. They understand it intellectually, but it doesn’t make an impact. You want them to take an action, perhaps a very specific action. To get that, you have to break through. Just like in politics.

One way is triangulation. This means to say it (roughly) three different ways. We learned about this when working overseas, where our skills in the local languages were serviceable but far from fluent. We discovered that If you use the local language to say what you mean to say, and they give you a blank stare, don’t just repeat the same words more carefully. Instead, re-phrase it a different way from a different axis; and then, if that still doesn’t work, re-phrase it a third, totally different way. We achieved nearly a 100% comprehension success (= basic message getting through) if we were willing to keep re-phrasing it from different directions.

So rather than just showing the P&L and noting the stats you don’t like, you instead also show: a trend of what if this keeps up; an analogy (“this is like …”); a translation of what it means to them; a visual (or several); a story; and so on. Now this seems like extra effort, and it is, but the fact is that most people don’t process and act without impetus, and impetus declines in effectiveness if it’s what they’re expecting. Or if they’re busy, or tired, or have something else on their mind.

We’ve found that when designing the systems for an organization it’s helpful to create flows that show the data from multiple axes, using multiple types of visuals, in order to make the point. For example, a dashboard on the wall, plus the P&Ls, plus flash reports, plus periodic re-forecasts. Think of it as taking your information to market through multiple channels.