2 posts from July 2010


E-mail and texting have killed the art of writing clearly and persuasively.

Yet, there are times when compelling written communication is key. For example buying or selling a company requires descriptive memorandum, creating a presentation where there are high stakes outcomes for success or failure demands engagement, or basically getting a team to achieve a common goal on time and on budget requires clear communication of complex ideas, required actions and budgets.

Thus, I offer these guidelines, a blend of structure and philosophy:

  1. Assume readers have little knowledge of the specific issue and provide what is essential for gaining critical agreement to recommendations.
  2. Clearly know the objective of the communication. If there is difficulty in writing about a thought, probably it is irrelevant to the central concept. Net, when in doubt, leave it out.
  3. Pursue simplicity. Be concise omitting needless words. Ben Franklin said: " Excuse the length of this letter. I did not have time to write a short one." Net, do not burden the reader or viewer with the responsibility of figuring out what you want to say. Spend time necessary to get the message aligned with the objective concisely.
  4. Hold objectives of communication to under three issues. Otherwise there are none. Think: 10% of 10 to dos is 0 % achieved, not 100% of anything.
  5. Keep big ideas in line of sight. Most sentences should be fewer than twenty words People over 40  especially have short term memory problems.
  6. Know your audience. If academic, use complex words to build rapport. In business, keep it simple.
  7. Minimize jargon. With clarity as the goal, define terms and assign acronyms, for example: gift with purchase (GWP), MacDuff Partners (MCD) thousand house holds (MHH), fiscal year (FY) etc.
  8. Plan how to communicate so as to achieve desired goals. Broadly, structure communication in terms of: 1) Objective, request for approval and top line basis for interest; 2) Background; 3) Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations; 4) Budgets and 5) Key Steps and Timing.
  9. Believe that decisions are emotional supported by fact. Focus on the values of your readers, support recommendations in factual exhibits.
  10. KISS (keep it simple stupid). Restrict fonts, text sizes, colors, underlines

Conflict: Source of Innovation

Most executives look for ways to resolve conflict quietly, yet to me it is a fountain of innovation.

Let's be clear about what healthy conflict is and is not. What it is is a disagreement about issues aligned with a common objective. What is is not is a political or ulterior objective in a non - zero sum game or simply I win you lose scenario. Executives need to understand the difference in leading organizations. Once the nature of conflict is understood leaders are able to guide the energy to productive use or defeat bull shit.

In opposite order of interest value is the ulterior source of conflict. I advise clients and employees to clarify the game that is being played. If it outside the bound of real business performance, get it in the open. Light of day usually disintegrates ulterior games people play.

Conflict is a source of deep emotion. Tap into it for understanding true commitment to ideas. Conflict is a natural way to role play or sort out opposing thoughts, basis underpinning ideas, and emotional commitment to see the job done well. Frequently I assume the aggressive opposing view, challenging assumptions, analysis and facts. This helps understand levels of preparation and tests true beliefs.This verbal combat also inspires new solutions because people dedicated to common goals find common means of reaching them.

The essential idea is that conflict is wrapped in emotional beliefs and in business supported by fact based analysis. There are truly legitimate opposing views about how to reach objectives. Understanding this is hugely valuable and is why social, cultural and intellectual diversity and all the conflict with discomfort it brings along is worth leveraging conflict as a source of creative innovation.