A guest post by John Mataraza of Digital Influence Group.
We’ve all made the association that bigger is better. That saying more means you have more to say. That the more we pontificate, the more likely we are to eventually say something smart. That the longer our PowerPoint presentations are, the more astute we are going to seem. That a 100-page deck with complex measurement readouts and vague meaningless “results” is better than a distilled and focused one-page dashboard.
The truth is: A great idea is only great when others can understand it and easily act on it. The best ideas are similar to magic; they are amazing yet easily understood on the surface. In a time of an overwhelming abundance of information, data, and options, the more efficiently you can explain your strategy, the better it most likely is.
Strategic elegance is critical to how well your ideas or strategies are received.
My take on how to explain elegance in regard to strategic storytelling is related to the formula for density (below in gray), which basically defines how much stuff is crammed into a defined space. I’m defining elegance as how much “space” you need to convey your thinking. Examining the red formula below, strategies (m) told without the need for a ton of pontificating (V) equate to ideas with a high elegance factor. Those strategies tend to be more understandable, which is the first step of making them actionable and sellable.
Building in contrived complexity to make it seem like you “put a lot of work into this” serves only to keep your ideas from becoming actionable. Complexity makes your idea seem too hard and casts doubt regarding how feasible it is to implement your idea. Ever notice people don’t like ideas that they perceive will result in a lot of work for them?
Unfortunately, it’s easier to complicate something than it is to simplify it. Making brilliant ideas seem simple is a unique and invaluable talent. Doing so requires much more thought. You need to conjure up the brilliant idea—and do the thinking for the folks to whom you are going to present this idea. You need to make your brilliant idea easily understood.
On the other hand, it’s easy to just throw all the charts and words you can together and submit a 100-page measurement deck because maybe your audience will find something of value in it. However, that 100-page deck betrays an incredible lack of confidence in what you are saying. In giving a long-winded presentation, you aren’t saying anything at all. Details are critical but should never be used as a crutch. Elegance with respect to analytic storytelling continues to be an anomalous occurrence.
This propensity for pontification is tied, in part, to fearful corporate cultures where taking action seems scary. There is comfort in size. The notion that a deck should have a “thunk factor” (named as such for the sound your ridiculously bloated presentation makes when it is dropped on a desk) only shows you didn’t invest the time on your reader’s behalf to determine what was important. Instead, you crammed it all in and hoped the deck gives the impression that you know what you are talking about.
Distilling simplicity from complexity is not easy. However, being unafraid to commit to a clear point of view is true thought leadership—and we need more of it. Nobody has the time or desire to wallow in a sea of unnecessary details that only obfuscate your strategic intent.
Sure, there is safety in numbers, but there is power in simplicity.
(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Bright Idea)