Pretty much every “strategy” I see looks something like this:
Whether or not the example in this image is “trying” to be a strategy, the point still stands – the discipline, and indeed business in general, is polluted by a style of communication that actually obscures meaning rather than revealing it.
I think we massively underestimate the importance of communication style in business, because when you think about it it’s the lynchpin that ties everything together.
- It’s what aligns your team
- It’s what connects you with customers
- It’s what structures your thinking
If you can’t string words together in a powerful way, all of that falls apart, and thus the business falls apart too.
What do I mean by powerful?
- And content rich
The first three of these are self explanatory, but the last one is especially important, because most business communication lacks “information density” – i.e. the amount of meaningful info per word is extremely low, as per the ad above.
I believe that if you fix these things, it has the capacity to 5x everything you do, including the weight of your own thought. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend a bit of time discussing how.
It’s one of those hidden parts of strategy which is actually more important than the strategy itself.
Here, then, are my top 3 tips on how to talk and write in a way that makes things happen.
I. Ditch the value judgements
This is one of my old chestnuts, and it bears repeating:
Remove all value judgement words from your writing.
This means anything like “good”, “best”, “better”, “awesome”, “leading”, etc. The problem with such words is neatly summarised in the ad, but to expand on it a little the issue with value judgements is that they are in the eye of the beholder, not the speaker. They are responses to information rather than information itself.
Don’t tell me you’re “disruptive”. Instead just tell me precisely what you’re doing, and if it’s true I’ll respond by saying “wow, that’s disruptive!”. It’s the actual content that counts, not the judgement we attach to that content.
Too often people seem to think that they can “shortcut” this process by simply saying “this thing is industry leading” or “revolutionary” or whatever without actually detailing why that is. But nobody falls for this, so just cut these terms from your vocabulary and hold yourself to higher account.
II. Ditch the terminology
- Don’t say “strategy”.
- Say “the value we’re giving to people they can’t get elsewhere”.
- Don’t say “positioning”.
- Say “the stuff we’re comparing ourselves to”.
- Don’t say “vision”.
- Say “the thing we want to happen”.
In short, don’t rely on technical terms to do your communicating for you – instead just say what you mean.
The reason this is so important is because terms like these have loose meanings that vary from person to person. This means when you use them, everyone hears something different.
Not only that, people often use “jargon” like this when they don’t really know what they’re saying. They use technical language as a sort of “shield”, to get people nodding along even when nothing of value is being said; so a secondary benefit of avoiding them is to expose yourself.
Let me tell you, with the exception of “strategy” which alas is a necessary evil, I have built my entire career without ever using any words like these. Honestly, I don’t even really know what they mean! And that’s been super powerful as it’s meant I’ve always had to be explicit – which is exactly what works.
III. Don’t confuse simplicity for clarity
This is a super subtle one, so listen up:
Clarity and simplicity are not the same thing.
In fact they are often the opposite. Often when people try to be simple in their communications, they strip out “soft” elements which are actually extremely useful in fully landing the meaning of what they’re saying .
Many people’s idea of simplicity is to be brief, dry, and inhuman – which can actually be quite hard to grasp. By contrast clarity is often best served by communicating in a way that is rich and colourful; making full use of metaphor, humour, and even poetry (to an extent).
For example, at the moment I’m working on a project where we have leant heavily on this analogy:
“Don’t build a Rolls-Royce when all you really need is a bicycle”.
The meaning of this is clear, and can be grasped instantly and intuitively, much more so than if I was to “simplify” it to something like:
“Don’t over-engineer your product”.
This more straightforward phrasing is, I would suggest, far less clear, as it lacks traction in our brains. It skims off the surface, and I’ve forgotten it as soon as I’ve read it. That is weak communication.
Providing you don’t break the first commandment above (skipping the value judgements), being more rich and flowery in your writing and speech is good. It makes stuff stick.
Probably you could bucket all of the above under one simple command:
Stop being so professional.
For whatever reason, professionalism really weakens the impact of your words, probably because its primary purpose is standardisation.
But we aren’t trying to be standard.
We’re trying to stand out.
And your words are the root of how you’re gonna do that, so don’t neglect them.