Our American business friends love the phrase ‘peeling back the onion’. It’s used a lot as a metaphor for life, but I hear it in business most of the time. People use it to describe how you can layer a story or a whiteboard to get your message across, or to reduce something complex and muddle to something simpler to grasp, but for years I was never sure I knew exactly what they meant.

Sure, I get the analogy of how you can remove the layers of an onion, and there is a satisfying feeling to doing it that probably dates back to six-year-old-birthday-party games of ‘pass the parcel’, but there’s not much to it when you peel away the inside layer. There’s no reward in the centre of an onion.

For me, the direction is wrong. Even though I’m an outside-in kind of a guy – by which I mean that I need to understand the whole picture so I can see how the little bit I’m dealing with fits in – I much prefer the inside-out onion layers approach, starting with the core and adding back in the onion layers, or the concentric rings of a diagram, as you go.

Adding the onion layers, rather than peeling them back, starts with something small and simple and builds as you go. It’s not a breaking down or disassembling process, it builds from the nub, the core, the kernel, and layers on the colour, complexity and detail.

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