Talking Strategy Manifesto

Our friends at ChangeThis just published our manifesto, Talking Strategy: Three Straightforward Ways to Make Your Strategy Stick. Chip and I believe that most organizations do a lousy job communicating their strategies internally. Most execs seem to believe that formulating a strategy is 90% of the battle. If you’re a sole proprietor, that’s true. In a larger organization, though, the test of a strategy is how effectively it guides the specific actions of specific people. And that is fundamentally a communications challenge.

Once you realize that, the action plan becomes clear. You’ve got to translate the strategy into concrete terms that your folks can understand (not “maximize shareholder value”). You’ve got to make sure the strategy is specific enough to be useful to your employees (i.e., it helps them make decisions better). And perhaps most importantly, you’ve got to establish a language that makes it easier for the front-line people to talk back to the boardroom people in terms that both understand. If you do these things, you can avoid the 3 nasty barriers that impede strong strategic communication.

To learn about the full nastiness of those 3 barriers–and to see whether your own organization suffers from them–go check out the manifesto. And tell us what you think of it.

Idea Sandbox’s TV-style elevator pitches

Paul Williams at Idea Sandbox has written a fantastic piece on the admirable simplicity of TV-show intros. As he says:

It can be challenging to boil down what you do into a short blurb… For inspiration, I suggest paying attention to the 30-second narrations at the beginning of TV shows.

At the start of each episode producers deliver the swift backstory and premise of the show. If this was our first viewing, we would understand what makes the show worth attention.

This is EXACTLY what you need for YOUR elevator pitch… What’s your 30-second blurb? Your backstory that builds awareness of the premise of you (or your project, company, etc…) and lets me know why you’re worth my attention?

As an example, The A-Team, which incidentally may represent the greatest artistic achievement of mankind, manages to communicate a complicated and not altogether coherent backstory in the space of 20 seconds:

In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit.

These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune.

If you have a problem. If no one else can help. And if you can find them. Maybe you can hire…

The A-Team.

Link via John Moore of Brand Autopsy, who points out that these intros are admirably sticky by Made To Stick standards. Absolutely. And one thing we can learn from these intros, that is directly relevant to more everyday work communication, is that we should start presentations with a little bit of context and a little bit of mystery. Context: “In 1972, a crack commando unit…” Mystery: “If no one else can help, and if you can find them…”

Giving a presentation implies that you’ve been asked to state your POV on an issue that is non-obvious. AKA a mystery of sorts.

Here’s a bad way to start a presentation: “Good to see all of you at the Volleyball Happy Hour last Thursday. Now let me start by reviewing the basic assumptions of our research.”

Good way to start a presentation: “Our sales have always been weak among exurban buyers. And yet they visit our stores in reasonable numbers. But only 58% make a purchase, versus 78% of urban visitors. Why? Last time this group met, we committed to figuring out why the exurbans were leaving empty-handed. Today, we’re going to tell you what we heard from them, loud and clear.” It isn’t the A-Team, admittedly, but it will keep the audience conscious.


Via Guy Kawasaki and Electric Pulp, there’s now an “Asshole Rating Self-Exam” (ARSE) for Bob Sutton’s new book The No-Asshole Rule. And what a brilliant first question: True/False: You feel surrounded by incompetent idiots.

When Good Chats Go Bad

Yesterday I did a 30-min online chat session for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. I didn’t imagine it would unfold this way. Good times.

Penn & Teller on Numbers

Clarke Ching sent over a link to the Penn & Teller show Bullshit! The Numbers. (30-min Google video) There’s some great stuff here — some cockroach wrangling, some binge-eating, some live street cons, some cursing at Frank Luntz, and a hidden-camera expose of a timeshare salesman. The theme is the way numbers, especially big ones, tend to fuzz our judgment.

Favorite quote: “Your odds of being killed by tap water in the next year are 20 times greater than your odds of winning a multi-state lottery jackpot.” Erp.