Chip and Dan Heath are publishing their first book in 4 1/2 years. We have featured their previous books at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, which are Made to Stick (Random House, 2007), Switch (Crown, 2010), and Decisive (Crown, 2013). I use Made to Stick as a required book in my MBA Business Communication course at the University of Dallas. Randy Mayeux has delivered a workshop around the principles of Decisive, that we have facilitated for several companies.
Here is a description of their new book, from an e-Mail that I received from them today:
In this book, the Heath Brothers explore why certain brief experiences can jolt us and elevate us and change us—and how we can learn to create such extraordinary moments in our life and work.
While human lives are endlessly variable, our most memorable positive moments are dominated by four elements: elevation, insight, pride, and connection. If we embrace these elements, we can conjure more moments that matter. What if a teacher could design a lesson that he knew his students would remember 20 years later? What if a manager knew how to create an experience that would delight customers? What if you had a better sense of how to create memories that matter for your children?
This book delves into some fascinating mysteries of experience: Why we tend to remember the best or worst moment of an experience, as well as the last moment, and forget the rest. Why “we feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not.” And why our most cherished memories are clustered into a brief period during our youth.
Readers discover how brief experiences can change lives, such as the experiment in which two strangers meet in a room, and forty-five minutes later, they leave as best friends. (What happens in that time?) Or the tale of the world’s youngest female billionaire, who credits her resilience to something her father asked the family at the dinner table. (What was that simple question?)
Many of the defining moments in our lives are the result of accident or luck—but why would we leave our most meaningful, memorable moments to chance when we can create them? The Power of Moments shows us how to be the author of richer experiences.
Getting the steps right is proving brutally hard, even if you know them.
Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto
This week, I am presenting synopses of Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath and Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, both to law enforcement professionals. (And my colleague Karl Krayer is presenting another book on communication at the same gathering).
Because, these professionals, like so many others in practically every arena, deal with these two problems:
#1 – how to build, and maintain, effective teams.
#2 – how to communicate, clearly and effectively, to everyone on the team (and to those outside the team).
The more I speak, the more I listen, the more I “consult,” the more I realize this challenge. It is not a new challenge, it is not a modern challenge. It is an old challenge.
We don’t get the basics right.
Team building, communication – these are basics. And after countless books and training seminars on both, we still have unclear communication and ineffective, dysfunctional teams.
My counsel to you – keep working on both of these. Pay attention to your team members. Pay careful attention to your spoken and written communications. Do you listen, and encourage, and include, and support each one of your team members? Are your e-mails clear – do you put your sentences together effectively? Do you speak clearly?
Build Teams. Communicate clearly and effectively. These are two of the basics we just have to get right.
Do you have any idea how much time is wasted trying to figure out just what that other person is trying to say to you? Do you have any idea how much time is wasted by that other person trying to figure out what you are trying to say?
Unclear messages, whether verbal or written, are massive time wasters. They create uncertainty, tentativeness, confusion… If you have something to say, you do everyone a favor if you say it clearly: get to the point – get it said!
This is the message behind the Heath brothers’ principles of communication, in which they suggest that all speakers/writers communicate using principles such as simplicity and concreteness.
Here is the way they put it in their book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.
Had John F. Kennedy been a CEO, he would have said: “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.”
Here’s what he actually said:
“I believe this nation should commit itself, to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
Simple? Yes. Unexpected? Yes. Concrete? Amazingly so. Credible? The goal seemed like science fiction, but the source was credible. Emotional? Yes. Story? In miniature.
The moon mission was a classic case of a communicator’s dodging the Curse of Knowledge. It was a brilliant and beautiful idea – a single idea that motivated the actions of millions of people for a decade.
(note: I live in multiple worlds. I read and present synopses of business books, and other nonfiction books; I speak and consult; and I teach speech, and study speech pretty seriously. This is a post from that part of my life).
Every failed presentation fails in one of two ways: the presentation had little or nothing worthwhile to say; or, even if the content was worthwhile, then it was delivered very, very poorly.
Would you like to deliver successful presentations? It is simple (not easy – just simple) – just have something really worthwhile and useful to say, and then say it very, very well.
That’s it. Every other tip (and step and piece of advice) simply elaborates on these two.
If you want the academic terms for these two elements, they go all the way back to Aristotle’s canons. He had five (invention; arrangement; style; memory; delivery — read about all five here), but I think these two really are the whole ball game:
Invention: invention involves finding something to say. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!
Delivery: Delivery concerns itself with how something is said. SAY IT VERY WELL!
The Invention Part requires a host of elements: good, genuine, deep preparation; checking out opposing viewpoints and deciding why your view is correct and the other views are incorrect. Have more to say than the time allotted, thus forcing you to edit effectively; fill your time with great and useful content. Choose the most effective order for your main points, the right illustrations, the best stories, the right words. Follow the principles set forth in such books as Made to Stick by the Heath brothers and Words that Work by Frank Luntz. (see this earlier blog post for a summary of the key content from these two excellent books). And be sure to select the best possible topic – one that you care deeply about, one that really does matter to your specific audience, one that is born of this time and these circumstances, one that is manageable in the time allotted.
And don’t forget the techniques of the great speakers. Use repetition – a lot of repetition – on purpose. In a written essay, repetition can be your enemy. In a presentation, repetition can be your friend. Try your best to use parallel structure, especially with your main points. Don’t have too many main points!
And start in a way that compels the audience to pay attention. And end in a way that sends them forth with a clear understanding of “what next? – now that I’ve heard this presentation, I know the what’s next!”
In other words, before you ever get up to speak, you’ve got your work cut out for you. It takes a lot of serious, focused preparation to have something worthwhile to say.
The Delivery Part requires a lot of practice (rehearsal) with deliberate practice/work on specific elements. Start with your posture. Then your voice. Then your eye contact. Then your gestures.
When you actually deliver your presentation, make sure these things happen:
• come across as knowledgeable, but not arrogant
• come close to electrifying the room with your energy
• be perceived as deeply caring about this topic, and these people
• genuinely connect with this audience
Whatever else, don’t fail. Succeed. Have something to say, and say it very well.
It’s tough for college graduates out there, thus it is tough for current college students. What should today’s student major in? In today’s NY Times, one of the top e-mailed articles wrestles with this question: CAREER U. — Making College ‘Relevant’ by Kate Zerniuke.
After discussing the decline of/loss of philosophy majors, and the ascendancy of business majors, here is a key excerpt:
There’s evidence, though, that employers also don’t want students specializing too soon. The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently asked employers who hire at least 25 percent of their workforce from two- or four-year colleges what they want institutions to teach. The answers did not suggest a narrow focus. Instead, 89 percent said they wanted more emphasis on “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing,” 81 percent asked for better “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” and 70 percent were looking for “the ability to innovate and be creative.”
“It’s not about what you should major in, but that no matter what you major in, you need good writing skills and good speaking skills,” says Debra Humphreys, a vice president at the association.
Here’s my opinion. I understand that people need jobs, and that the jobs are tougher to get with a humanities/philosophy/English degree. But I have heard my share of mediocre presentations, read my share of mediocre business writings, and seen my share of ethical lapses. The humanities matter. And I think that business will rediscover a need for such thinking/training. And for those who did not take enough of such subjects, they have some remedial work to do. And, yes, I know that it is tough to do this with a “catch-up” approach. (I wrote about this earlier, based on an article from Harper’s: Dehumanized — A Cause for Alarm in Education, and in the World of Business Books).
You can’t read a book or two to make up for lost years of foundational learning. But, let’s use the paragraph above as providing to set an agenda for some reading in 2010. Here are some suggestions:
If you need to work on: Then you might want to read: “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing,” Words that Work by Frank Luntz; and Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” Big Think Strategy: How to Leverage Bold Ideas and Leave Small Thinking Behind by Bernd H. Schmitt; and The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin. “the ability to innovate and be creative.” The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
by Twyla Tharp and The Art of Innovation (Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm) by Tom Kelley
This is a subject worth following.
I have posted earlier about some excellent communication advice from the Heath brothers (Made to Stick), and from Frank Luntz. (Words that Work). They each have terrific suggestions for effective communication strategies.
But if you are like me, you can always use a few reminders. And I am constantly wrestling with just how a person can learn to communicate clearly. Part of this comes from one of the arenas of my life – I teach speech as a member of the adjunct faculty in the Dallas County Community College system. And so I try to explain/demonstrate/teach the basics to entry level college students. This is not as easy as it sounds.
Here’s my current summary to a four step process for an effective communication encounter/message/presentation:
1) Get their attention.
All effective communication starts with an effective “hook,” an engaging way to get your audience to say, “Yes, this is something I want to hear and understand.” Fail at this step, and nothing else you say will be heard at all.
2) Have something important/worthwhile/useful to say.
If you do not have anything worth hearing/reading, it is best to keep your mouth shut and your pen still. We are all overwhelmed with too many messages. So, if you want me to pay attention to your message, please make it worth my time. I do not have any time to waste on any message that is not teaching me/challenging me/helping me. Have something to say that is worth saying!
3) Say it very well, very clearly.
In a verbal presentation, this includes such issues as organization and enunciation. A good, effective organization (here are my main points; here are action items for you to implement; here is information you can use… the list is long, the possibilities many) makes it easier for the recipient of your message to grasp what you have in mind. Remember, no hassles! If someone has to strain to understand your message, you have failed to begin with.
4) Conclude with a very clear next step.
Call this what you want: a call to action, a request for a decision, the closing of the deal. But effective communication always ends with, “and this is what you can/should do next, now that you have heard and understood this message.” Or, in infomercial/advertising speak, “call now!”
Remember these four, practice them with increasing skill, and you will get your message across. Ignore them, and you might discover that nobody is listening.