How can you help people wrap their heads around a complex situation?

Draw it.

One of the tough leadership challenges is simplifying complexity such that you can communicate it to others.  But if you can start with a simple visual, it will help.

If 65% of us are visual learners, 10% are auditory, and the rest are kinesthetic (physical), then what portion of your people will you effectively reach by holding a meeting where you:

  1. Show them a simple drawing that explains the situation,
  2. Talk through it verbally, allowing participants to process it out loud, and
  3. Give them the opportunity to take notes - or draw a new version - on their own hard copy (or electronic copy on a tablet)?

I was working with a business that was struggling in a particular market.  It was selling a software tool that allowed the customer to work more effectively in several different ways, but we just couldn't get much traction.  We were flying all over the place promoting the software to this market, and doing a lot of quoting, but not getting critical mass.

After digging around a bit, it became clear that there was a very good reason why we weren't getting traction.  The crude visual below became my way of communicating the situation (I've made it more generic here to maintain the anonymity of the business).

Why This Market Is A Struggle

It turns out there were all kinds of ways for the customers to do Methods 1 through 5 - which were valuable to them - because the barrier to entry was relatively low.  So there were alternative competitors everywhere.  And the customer found only weak value in the one area where we were uniquely strong: Method 6.

It isn't pretty, but it was effective.

It helped us cut through a whole lot of arguing about whether the next seventeen quotes represented (finally!) a breakthrough, or whether one prominent customer's excitement over the software indicated vast potential, or whether we just needed to beef up our offering in Method 1.

Over and over, starting with a visual clarifies the situation, and leads to productive discussion of what to do about it.

You don't have to be an artist.  I've used stick men, Venn diagrams, the human body... anything representative.  And even if you're off a bit, talking through why the visual is wrong will help everyone get it right.

Next time, try doodling.