Archives for posts with tag: Storytelling

A picture tells a thousand words, as the well-worn phrase goes. Most of us would find it very easy to use up a thousand words describing a painting, picture or diagram, and a good picture kind of does all the work for us. People find it much easier to retain something visual, so as sales people, marketers and storytellers we rely on a picture to bring people along. I tend not to do it so much myself, but a lot of people at work tend to want to whiteboard what they’re explaining.

I’m a words guy rather than a picture guy, but that’s not to say I don’t appreciate a good picture. A good picture is simple, powerful and influential. Pulling against this force is the desire to put everything in, include all the thousand words so that nothing gets left out, or left to chance in the mind of the person we’re trying to communicate with. When we do this we risk the simple message being lost, so we’re back to square one.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped me trying, at every business I’ve been involved with, to draw picture of everything that goes on in the organisation, so we can show how it all fits togethers, all the elements and interdependencies. Every time it gets too complicated, too difficult, and I run out of space.

The other day I mapped all the sales, marketing and service functions for your typical organisation serving a customer through their entire lifecycle, from not-yet-a-prospect through to an active advocate customer. It came out as a multi-ringed circle diagram, and I quite like it. I might have cracked it. It helps me help companies see where the gaps are in their coverage and strategy, where the holes are in their 360-degree view of their customers. Of course, it’s not exhaustive, you’d probably need ten thousand words for that, and there’s not a powerpoint slide, poster or whiteboard that could do justice to that level of detail.

You have to stop somewhere, and I have. It’s my new shiny ten thousand word picture. Now I need to test on my market and see if they get the big picture.

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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.