Anita Roddick: Ethics Sells

24 March, 2015

Anita Roddick transformed cosmetics retailing in the UK with one simple idea: it was time for overtly ethical retailing. Her legacy was one of political, social, medical and environmental campaigning.

Anita Roddick

Short Biography

Anita Perilli was born and grew up on the South Coast of England in the Sussex town of Littlehampton.After college, she did many jobs, including spells with The International Herald Tribune and the United Nations. She also travelled the world, including a visit to South Africa, from where she was deported under the then Apartheid race laws. When she returned to Littlehampton, she married Gordon Roddick and they started a family. They also opened a small hotel and a restaurant. When her husband decided to embark on a travel adventure, Roddick used the hotel to fund her first cosmetics shop, which she opened in the fashionable town of Brighton, in 1976.

Her vision was to sell products with natural ingredients, ethically sourced, and simply packaged. Early on, she offered refillable bottles. She made no hyperbolic claims for her products, nor advertised. It turns out she didn’t need to. She quickly took a business partner, Ian McGlinn, to fund her second shop, in Chichester. By 1978, with her husband back in England, the Body Shop was growing so fast that they started franchising the business to create more shops across the UK, and then across Europe and globally. Many of her early franchisees were women, making many Body Shop stores unusual in a time when most retail shops were owned and run by men.

In 1984, Body Shop was publicly listed  and had around 1,800 shops world-wide. Roddick continued to run the business until 1998, when she stepped down to focus on writing and campaigning. Her books include:

In 2003, Roddick was made a Dame in the New Year’s Honours and then – a bombshell for many of the business’s supporters, Body Shop was sold to L’Oréal.

In 2007, Anita Roddick died of a brain tumour linked to Hepatitis C, which she contracted from a blood transfusion during one of her pregnancies.

What Managers can Learn from Anita Roddick

In reading about Roddick and her story, six lessons come to mind, for both entrepreneurs and managers launching new products, services or businesses within a larger organisation (intrapreneurs).

  1. Start small and simple
    Roddick started with the core of an idea. She had a minimal stock range (15 items, I have read) and the simplest of packaging. Focus on that core, and then…
  2. Make the simple idea a strength
    Roddick kept a lot of the pragmatic simplicity of the early days and made it a feature of the Body Shop’s offering.
  3. React nimbly to opportunities
    The Body Shop idea worked, so Roddick went with the flow and grew the business organically, but quickly.
  4. Be prepared to give up a lot to make it work
    Roddick sold half her business for £4,000 in 1977 (to Ian McGlinn). This is around £25,000 (or US$40,000) in today’s money. But if she had not done so, Body Shop could not have opened its second store – or certainly not for several years. Put simply: 50% of millions beats 100% of thousands!
  5. Stick to your ethics
    Roddick found a market for ethical products and stuck to it: not for her customers’ sakes, but because she believed in it. And that, in turn, is what delivered the customer faith in her brand.
  6. Ethics sells
    There will always be a market for ethically sourced, carefully made, environmentally sensitive and socially responsible products and services. If there is no competitor offering this in your market place, then there must surely be an opportunity.

Frederick Herzberg: KITA versus Enrichment

17 March, 2015

Frederick Herzberg was a clinical psychologist who saw a gap in the research on workplace psychology and filled it with his convictions about what gives people a sense of wellbeing. This places him amongst other great humanistic psychologists, from Maslow to McGregor. His work was widely influential and his keystone Harvard Business Review article, ‘One More Time: How do you motivate employees?’ remains one of the most widely read of that publication’s reprints.

Frederick Herzberg

Short Biography

Frederick Herzberg was born in Massachusetts in 1923 and grew up in New York, where he attended the City College of New York, initially studying history. Incidentally, Maslow also attended City College. Although he loved history, he found the way it was taught too impersonal and overly-focused on events, so he transferred to psychology. But before he completed his course, he enlisted in the US Army, where he served with distinction as an infantry sergeant. He was among the liberators of the Dachau concentration camp which must have affected him profoundly, not least because he was a Jew whose family had come to the US as emigrants from Lithuania.

After the war, he returned to New York to complete his degree and went on to earn a masters degree and a PhD at the University of Pittsburg. In the mid-1950s, Herzberg worked at the US Public Health Service where he started to become interested in workplace psychology. After surveying all of the existing literature and finding it wanting, he conducted his own research, interviewing over 200 engineers. This work led, in 1959, to his first book, with Bernard Mausner and Barbara B. Snyderman, Motivation to Work. He followed this with his 1966 book, Work and the Nature of Man, in which he extends the same ideas in a more philosophical direction, adopting the metaphor of the characters Adam and Abraham from the Bible.

Herzberg’s earlier academic work was done at Case Western Reserve University, from where he moved to the University of Utah in 1972. He remained there up to his retirement. He died in January 2000.

Herzberg’s Contribution

Our earlier post, What Motivates your Team Members?, summarises Herzberg’s Hygeine and Motivation theory. He discovered that the things that leave us dissatisfied at work are different from those which satisfy us. Fixing the dissatisfiers (or ‘hygiene factors’) will only stop us being grumpy. Other things motivate us positively and Herzberg argued that employers should stop trying to use the granting and withholding of hygiene factors (which he colourfully described in his HBR article as giving employees a Kick in the Ass – KITA) and start working on the positive, aspirational motivators that enrich our lives. He was an early advocate of engaging employees and bringing the best out of them.

Indeed, Herzberg catalogued what he saw as essential in bringing out creativity and innovation from your team:

  1. intelligence
  2. expertise
  3. an unconventional viewpoint
  4. effectiveness in ambiguity
  5. self awareness
  6. separating motivation from hygiene factors
  7. controlling anxiety
  8. suppressing over-concern for advancement
  9. accessing intuition
  10. passion

Ultimately, Herzberg had an individualistic view of workplace success, ascribing more significance to personal talents and attitudes than to team efforts. He drew a balance between the attitudes and talents that eschewed simplistic egalitarianism, in favour of offering primacy to individuals with more relevant knowledge and expertise. But he also wanted to create a balance between a focus on data and fact on the one hand, with passion and experience on the other.

He taught us, as much or more than anyone else, that the simple approach of carrot and stick brings little more than ‘okay’ performance out of people. It is virtuous behaviours that enrich a workplace, which create great results.


Edward de Bono: Thinking

10 March, 2015

I have already declared my interest as a fan of Edward de Bono in the 2012 blog: The Fertile Mind of Edward de Bono, which I followed up with Six times Four: More de Bono. Now it is time for a slightly wider survey of the work of the man who introduced the term ‘lateral thinking’ and who has been trying to teach business people, governments, student and their teachers to think for nearly half a century.

Edward de Bono

Short Biography

Edward de Bono was born in Malta in 1933, the second of four sons of a doctor father and journalist mother, and was an exceptionally bright pupil at his Malta boarding school. He was three years younger than his class-mates when he got his degree in medicine from Malta University and went off to study psychology and physiology at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where he also earned a DPhil in medicine. This was followed by slew of further degrees and academic appointments, that leave him, technically, Dr Dr Dr Dr (Dr) de Bono. I may have mis-counted and I have bracketed his first qualification as a medical doctor, as that was not an academic doctorate. I think we can conclude that Edward de Bono is both intelligent and academically motivated.

In 1967, he published the first of his popular books on thinking, the now out of print The Use of Lateral Thinking. This book introduced the world to his idea of ‘lateral thinking’ – a term that de Bono coined. His books now number around 60, of which the current most popular are:

De Bono has also created online thinking skills programmes and the CoRT (Cognitive Research Trust) programme for teaching thinking to school-age children.

De Bono’s Contribution to Managers and Business Professionals

I think this is where de Bono has clearly been at his best and least controversial. Many of his techniques and training programmes have provided business people, public service managers and other professionals with practical and helpful tools to enhance their critical thinking and creative thinking skills. Like any creative powerhouse, de Bono has produced easily as many ideas that have not gained widespread use as he has lasting ideas. But we should judge him on the latter.

Lateral Thinking

This term is now so widely used that de Bono’s original meaning has been largely subsumed into the wider context of ‘creative thinking’. By ‘Lateral Thinking’, I believe de Bono originally meant perceiving the world in different ways, so that your thinking about a problem can pursue lateral branches, rather than following the main route that is obvious to it. It therefore means looking for new starting points for addressing a problem – an implicit assumption that existing patterns of thought rarely solve new problems effectively.

Provocation

A central theme of a lot of de Bono’s books on creative thinking is the idea that provocative assertions stimulate lateral jumps in our thinking. De Bono crystallised this idea in his (now out of print) book Po: Beyond Yes and No. By analysing the provocation (or ‘Po’), we can reach new and possibly fruitful insights.

PMI Analysis

Another key theme of de Bono’s work, including Po, is that the dichotomies of yes versus no, or right versus wrong, or good versus bad, lead us into linear thinking that is poor at identifying new ideas or thinking in a rich and subtle way. Arguably de Bono’s single most powerful tool is PMI analysis, which can get you over that problem.

It takes its inspiration from Kurt Lewin’s force field analysis approach (which, incidentally, leads directly to SWOT Analysis). But instead of looking at the driving and restraining forces, or the strengths and weakness alone, PMI analysis asks us to look at the Pluses, the Minuses and the things that are Interesting about a situation, option or challenge. This third dimension opens your mind to the subtleties and to new ideas.

Six Thinking Hats

We covered this idea more fully in an earlier blog, but the essence of the concept is simple: that there are different ways to think and that we will solve problems more effectively and make more robust decisions, when we apply multiple modes of thinking, rather than a single, favourite style. The six thinking hats represent six modes: analytical, risk-averse, constructive, imaginative, emotional, and procedural thinking (white, black, yellow, green, red and blue hats respectively).

Controversies

De Bono’s work is not without its critics – even his ‘mainstream’ contributions. Many cognitive scientists have critiqued the lack of evidence base for the efficacy of his methods and programmes – which matters deeply where the teaching of children is concerned, as for his CoRt programme. However, I am not qualified to assess these arguments. It does seem to me that there is a dichotomy here between the theoretical/academic assessment and the practical/utilitarian usage. His ideas as an addition to other training and teaching make a useful contribution to thinking skills for many people. There is plenty of testimony to support that assertion, even if the rigorous evidence base is lacking.

So, as with so much else in the world of management ideas, the proof is in the practical application: take de Bono’s ideas out for a test drive, and decide whether they are for you. If they help you: use them. If they do not: consign them to the bookshelf, and take them to the charity shop, next time you are passing. Maybe, if you donate one of de Bono’s books that I don’t own, I may well buy it!

 

 


Rita Gunther McGrath: Transient Advantage

3 March, 2015

The commercial world is unpredictable, with societies shifting, technology evolving and competitors bringing new products and services to market rapidly. The old world of a long-term competitive advantage is pretty much over. Now we see short periods of a new product securing a competitive advantage, before it is supplanted by the next.This is the thesis of Rita Gunther McGrath, a Columbia Business School professor, who has also been developing tools and methodologies for planning and strategising in this shifting landscape.

Rita Gunther McGrath

(Very) Short Biography

Rita Gunther McGrath was born in 1959 and grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. She earned a BA in Political Science and History at Barnard College in 1981 and a Masters in Public Administration from Columbia University in 1982. She then spent eight years in senior roles at The City of New York, before entering a PhD programme at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Here she collaborated extensively with Ian MacMillan, with whom she co-wrote three books.

  1. The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Strategies for Continuously Creating Opportunity in an Age of Uncertainty (2000)
  2. Marketbusters: 40 Strategic Moves That Drive Exceptional Business Growth (2005)
  3. Discovery-Driven Growth: A Breakthrough Process to Reduce Risk and Seize Opportunity (2009)

Completing her PhD in 1993, she joined the faculty of Columbia University Business School, but continued her collaboration with MacMillan.

Discovery-Driven Planning

McGrath came to the business world’s attention with a Harvard Business Review article (co-written with MacMillan) that has become one of the magazine’s best-selling reprints. In ‘Discovery-Driven Planning’ the authors note the obvious: that strategic ventures are risky. For a business to launch a substantively new product or service, it must set off into the unknown. Unlike other, less uncertain endeavours, therefore, it is not possible to define a full plan, because the web of assumptions on which you need to base that plan would be too tenuous.

Instead, the authors suggest a process by which the plan evolves as new evidence and data are uncovered and assumptions can be tested and either validated or replaced. This is ‘discovery-driven planning’. To manage risk, resources are allocated incrementally, at milestones where further certainty is locked in.

The methodology the authors spell out includes five ‘disciplines’ and four inter-connected tools, or documents.

The Five Disciplines

  1. Specify the outcome for the initiative, and specify what your business will look like, at maturity
  2. Scope the market and identify benchmark parameters against which you can measure your success
  3. Specify what your initiative will deliver to the organisation
  4. Document your assumptions and constantly test them
  5. Create milestones for when you are going to crystallise what you have learned to date in revised assumptions and plans, and then release resources for the next period

The Four Tools

  1. Reverse income statement
    This models the  economics of the business
  2. Pro forma operations specifications
    These set out what operational processes you will needed to run the business
  3. Key assumptions checklist,
    Use this to ensure that your assumptions transparent and constantly under review
  4. Milestone planning chart
    This specifies the assumptions to be tested at each project milestone.

As your venture unfolds and you uncover new data, update each of the documents.

Competitive Advantage under Uncertainty

McGrath’s latest book – and her first written on her own – is End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business (2013). In this book, she demonstrates the nature of contemporary competitive advantage as a transient state. But the source of that competitive advantage came out clearly from her research. In surveying 4,793 publicly traded companies (every company with a market capitalization of at least $1 billion), she looked for those that had grown their net income by 5% or more in every year from 2000 to 2009. There were only ten.

When she compared each of these ten to their top three competitors, she found a clear differentiator. They were ‘pursuing strategies with a long term perspective on where they wanted to go, but also with the recognition that whatever they were doing today wasn’t going to drive their future growth’. They were not following any sustainable competitive advantages; but rather, temporary ones.

McGrath advocates a simple cycle of:

  • Innovation
  • Develop the innovative product or service to maximise its commercial potential
  • Exploit your transient advantage
  • Disengage resources from that old strategy and reinvest them in the next

McGrath at Campus London

Campus London is a Google event for UK Entrepreneurs. Here is McGrath speaking about The End of Competitive Advantage in 2013.


Daniel Kahneman: Judgement and Bias

24 February, 2015

Daniel Kahneman has won many awards and honours, but none more surprising, perhaps, than a Nobel Prize. Why is this surprising? Kahneman is, after all, one the most eminent and influential psychologists of his time. It is surprising because there is no Nobel Prize for psychology: Kahneman was co-recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics ‘for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgement and decision making under uncertainty’.

In short, what Kahneman taught us was that, before he and his co-worker, Amos Tversky (who sadly died six years before the Nobel Committee considered this prize and so was not eligible), had started to study human decision making, all economic theories were based on the same, false assumption. Kahneman and Tversky taught us that human beings are not rational agents when we make economic decisions: we are instinctive, intuitive, biased decision makers.

And, if that sounds pretty obvious to us now, then we have Kahneman and Tversky, and their long walks together, to thank.

Daniel Kahneman

 

Short Biography

Daniel Kahneman was born in 1934 to Lithuanian emigré parents living in Paris (although he was born when they were visiting family members in Tel Aviv). When Nazi Germany occupied France, the family went on the run, ending up after the war in what was then (1948) Palestine under the British Mandate, shortly before the formation of the State of Israel.

In 1954 he gained his BSc from the Hebrew University, in Psychology and Maths, and joined the psychology department of the Israeli Defence Forces, helping with officer selection. Four years later, he went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he was awarded a PhD in 1961. He returned to the Hebrew University in 1961.

It was in 1968, while hosting a seminar, that he met Amos Tversky. They started collaborating shortly afterwards. Their fertile discussions often involved thought experiments about how we make decisions and judgements, uncovering in themselves a series of heuristics – or thinking shortcuts – which they went on to observe in controlled laboratory experiments. Their collaboration continued until Tversky’s death in 1996.

In that time, they collaborated with other researchers, most notably, Paul Slovic and economists Richard Thaler and Jack Knetsch. Their many insights into how we make judgements and the application to economic decision-making eventually led to the Nobel Committee recognising Kahneman with the 2002 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

Kahneman’s 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow is a summary of a remarkable life’s work. If the ideas are new to you, they may well rock your world. It is not an easy read, but it is remarkably well-written for an intelligent lay audience. Even if Kahneman’s work is familiar to you, this book will repay close reading.

Kahneman’s Ideas

There is far too much in Kahneman’s work to even begin to summarise it, so I want to focus on three biases that he discovered, which have a profound impact on the choices we make; often leading us far astray.

The Anchoring Bias

The first information we get biases any subsequent choices we make. Your father was right, or your mother or anyone else who told you at a young age that first impressions count. Systematically, the human brain takes the first information it receives, and creates an interpretation of everything else that is anchored in the inferences it draws from that first impression. In management terms, this accounts for the horns and halo effect, that biases us to seek and spot confirming evidence for our pre-existing assessment.

The Representativeness Bias

Who is a more likely person to find working in a car repair shop, changing your brakes? Is it A: a young woman with blond hair and pink eyeliner, or B: a young woman with blond hair and pink eyeliner, whose father owns the car repair shop?

If you think B, you have fallen for representativeness bias. The story makes more sense in our experience, doesn’t it? A young woman with blond hair and pink eyeliner is not a person you’d expect to see in that environment. But a young woman with blond hair and pink eyeliner, whose father owns the car repair shop, may feel right at home. But statistically, this is rubbish. For every young woman with blond hair and pink eyeliner, only a small proportion will also have fathers who own a car repair shop.

The Availability Bias

Recent events bias our perception of risk. They are more available to recall and hence have a stronger impact on our intuition than do counter examples. The classic example is perceptions of risk of train travel, after a train crash. Trains are safe: they rarely crash. Cars crash a lot: there are many accidents every day. But they are rarely reported, so we have no immediate intuitive sense of the statistics.

The Impact of Kahneman’s Work

Kahneman’s work has had a huge impact. Decision theory existed before he came along, but he and Tversky revolutionised it. But it was Kahneman, along with Tversky, Knetsch and Thaler who pretty much invented the discipline of behavioural economics – and perhaps the relationship that drove that development was the friendship between Thaler and Kahneman.

Now Behavioural Economics infuses much of public policy and social influence that corporations try to exert over us. Thaler’s book, Nudge (with Cass Sunstein) is a best seller and Thaler and Sunstein both advise Prime Ministers and Presidents. Next time you get a document from Government, or go into a store, and you find yourself complying with their wishes without thinking, there is a chance that you have been ‘nudged’. And the roots of these ‘choice architectures’? The roots are in understanding our heuristics and biases. And that was Kahneman’s contribution.

Kahneman at TED

Here is Daniel Kahneman, talking about how we perceive happiness and discomfort.

 


David Packard: The HP way

17 February, 2015

When I was a physics postgrad, all of the best electronic equipment in our lab was made by one company; the oscilloscope, signal generator, analog-digital converter and the plotter. They were made by Hewlett Packard.. My professor had a deep admiration for the quality of their engineering. Every since, I have had an almost blind faith in the quality of HP printers. Hewlett Packard was founded by two college friends, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. It was Packard who ran the company for many years, and his management style is the epitome of Theory Y.

David Packard

 

Short Biography

David Packard was born in 1912 and grew up in Colorado. He attended Stanford University, graduating in electrical engineering in 1934. There, he met two people who were to dominate his life: his wife to be, Lucile, and Bill Hewlett.

After a spell at General Electric and further study at MIT, Packard and Hewlett formed a partnership in 1938, starting the Hewlett Packard business with just $538 of capital, in a garage in Palo Alto, in what is now known as Silicon Valley. HP, as it is known, quickly became a successful business, becoming one of the world’s most admired companies. This is, in large part, due to the exemplary management style of its founders and of Dave Packard in particular.

In 1957, Packard wrote ‘The HP Way” a statement of the values and management principles of their business. This later (1995) evolved into the book, The HP Way, How Bill Hewlett and I Built our Company.

In 1969, Packard temporarily left the company to take up a political post (Deputy Secretary of Defense) in the Nixon administration. There, he became involved in resource management, setting up the Defense Systems Management College and in amending the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act to extend presidential powers to involve military personnel in certain civilian matters.

He returned to the company in 1972 and remained Chairman, and then Chairman Emeritus, until his death in 1996. He left around 4$ billion to the charitable foundation that he and his wife founded, and which is now administered by his son and three daughters.

Packard’s Contributions to Management

Not only was Dave Packard a model of humanistic management, but he is closely associated with his own particular style of management…

Management by Wandering About (MBWA)

Management by Wandering (or Walking) About is exactly what it sounds like. He and Hewlett would wander about the business, engaging staff in conversation, listening to them, showing respect, and empowering them to do their best work. They valued both the informality and the egalitarianism (in a time when the senior management of most US corporations ate apart, in a management dining room).  This seemed to come naturally to them both and is not, perhaps, too surprising, as they were both, like many of their staff, skilled and enthusiastic electronics engineers. You can get a good sense of the level of respect that Packard had for his people from 11  rules that Dave Packard presented at HP’s second annual management conference, in 1958 – a year after he wrote the first version of The HP Way. We cold all do a lot worse than to try and live by these rules, which you can see on the HP website.

Organisational Agility

Another important principle that HP lived by was the need for organisational agility. They maintained this by breaking the company up into smaller divisions whenever any of them grew too large (1,500 people or so). By keeping a business made of small units, each one could stay focused and  its leaders could fully understand what was going on and, crucially for a cautious business leader like Packard, stay aware of the risks it was incurring.

Innovation and Compassion

In 1972, despite early scepticism, HP introduced its first pocket calculator, which led to another round of significant growth and its subsequent investment in the computing business. I still use my HP12C financial calculator, which is so admired that there are numerous apps cloning its looks and functions on my iPhone.

But Packard’s innovative sense could also be applied compassionately. In 1970, the US economy fell into recession and many of HP’s competitors made massive lay-offs. HP did not. Instead, it agreed with all workers and management to cut wages by 10% in return for them working only 9 days out of ten. This meant that no-one lost their job and, to the company’s advantage, it also meant that there were no costs of redundancy and , when the economy recovered, they could get back to full productivity without the costs, delays and pain of re-hiring.

Quality First

The final lesson to learn from Packard is his over-riding commitment to the quality of the firm’s products. This was what had so enchanted my professor and won his loyalty. In one memo to HP staff (1961), Packard wrote:

‘Our main task is to design, develop and manufacture the finest [electronic equipment] for the advancement of science and the welfare of humanity.’

That is an ideal worthy of our respect, as well as the loyalty of one eminent physics professor.


Nancy Duarte: Story Telling

10 February, 2015

Almost anyone who calls themselves a manager, a leader or a professional has to create and deliver presentations. Whilst oratory and rhetoric have their origins in classical times, it would not be unreasonable to argue that the modern presentation is the most recently invented new literary form. Yet, as a way of communicating, its newness means many of us use it very badly; throwing data, diagrams and bullet points onto a screen with little thought about who we are speaking to and what their needs are.

But presentations offer us a powerful medium to communicate ideas and to persuade. No one has done more to understand how to do this well, and to offer her insights to the world than Nancy Duarte.

Nancy Duarte

Short Biography

Nancy Duarte studied maths at college, which I think is important: she clearly has an analytical brain and can understand data deeply. So part of her success comes, I suspect, from fusing that with an understanding of design. Her husband, Mark Duarte, started a design company in Silicon Valley in 1988, about which Nancy Duarte was sceptical. However, after making some sales calls for the business, she landed three large accounts (including Apple, for whom the company still works) and she became persuaded. She joined the business in 1990 and is now the CEO, while Mark is CIO and CFO.

As a general design agency, Duarte had little to differentiate itself from its many competitors. Nancy Duarte’s big insight (from reading Jim Collins’ Good to Great) was the need to specialise deeply, so they picked something other agencies shunned: helping their clients to create great presentations.

Some of the key points in Nancy Duarte’s career are:

  • Helping to create AL Gore’s slide deck, which he used in his presentation (and subsequently movie) An Inconvenient Truth
  • Attending UCLA’s Management Development for Entrepreneurs (MDE) MBA-level programme
  • Linking up with the other great presentation guru, Garr Reynolds, and subsequently writing her first book, Slide:ology
  • Discovering the pattern of contrasts in many great speeches and presentations
  • Turning these insights into a TED speech (below) and her second book, Resonate

Nancy Duarte’s Ideas

Nancy Duarte’s first book, Slide:ology, shows how to create great presentation graphics to show information in a clear and compelling way. But it is her second, Resonate, that contains her big idea. She describes it as a prequel to the first, and in it she sets out how you can craft a narrative flow that will make your ideas resonate with your audience; making them persuasive. Of the relationship between the two books, she says:

‘Gussying up slides that have meaningless content is like putting lipstick on a pig’.

Let’s forgive her both the cliche and the insult to porcine-kind: her point is well made. Great slides do not make a great talk, they can merely enhance it.

If you present and want to make an impact, then put Resonate at the top of your reading list. It is filled with ideas and illustrations. Let’s summarise the two big ones.

The Hero’s Journey

Duarte emphasises the importance of your presentation telling a story, and she uses several models to help explain how to do it, including The Syd Field Paradigm for screenplays. This has a three act structure, where act 1 sets up the story, with a key plot point towards the end. Act 2 creates a confrontation, with a major event around the middle. It ends with a vital plot development. And act 3 resolves the story.

Her primary model, however, is the idea of a Hero’s Journey, first developed by Joseph Campbell. Star Wars is, famously, modelled on this archetype. The distinctive point of Duarte’s analysis is this. When you build your presentation, cast your audience as the hero. You need to be their mentor and guide: showing them a possible new world, helping them to overcome their resistance to entering it, and then building their loyalty to the new idea., so they feel they can re-enter their familiar world having achieved a triumph and feeling enriched.

The Contour of Communication: The Sparkline

What I think lifts Duarte’s thinking to a new level and introduces insights that were certainly new to me, is her way of illustrating the form of a presentation and her insight into where a presentation’s power comes from.

Contour of Communication

 

Duarte suggests that all great talks, speeches and presentations alternate between what is and what could be. They start with what is, develop a sense of imbalance and then suddenly reveal what could be. Through the middle part, the second act, they alternate between the two, creating a greater and greater sense of contrast, before moving to the end section with a final transition that ends with the reward, triggered by a call to action. The dotted line represents the audiences future.

Contrast, Duarte says, creates contour, and you can contrast present and future, pain and gain, resistance and action, emotion and reason, information and insight… anything. And she offers three modes for doing this: your content, emotional register, and delivery style.

The Secret Structure of Great Talks

Nancy Duarte’s TED video is one of my favourites. For some reason, TED does not allow embedding of this particular video, so click the image and watch it on TED.

Nancy Duarte: The Secret Structure of Great Talks

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