MT Expert - People: Make stuff simple

Chris Barez-Brown, the founder of consultancy Upping Your Elvis, on why simplifying is always the best strategy.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
In these testing days we cannot afford to lose one iota of energy from our business efforts and yet the business world often sabotages itself. What I mean by that, is that the business world is a self complicating machine. If three senior executives are left in a room with a box of matches, a candle and a glass of wine, you can guarantee an hour later they won’t have enjoyed a deeply connecting human conversation and the complex aromas of the vintage, but will have analysed the consumer proposition of romance and worked out the ROI if sprinkled onto their key SKUs.

Complicating things is often perceived as clever when actually it’s stupid. To make things simple you really do have to be smart and it takes a lot more effort in thinking and energy than most senior execs ever invest.

People want to get stuff; we love to understand and yet the language and jargon that folk use in business is designed to make that virtually impossible. Not only does this type of language exclude everyone but those in the club is also makes some very dangerous assumptions that others have the same understanding. It’s a bit like the Emperor’s new Clothes. When a piece of language is being used by a higher up and you aren’t absolutely clear what it is they mean, you rarely question it in case you’re perceived as a bit dumb.

I remember years ago I was a squeaky clean and massively keen brand manager on Carling Black Label. I had worked for about a year in brands but never had the budgets that Carling offered. I remember clearly being in a media review looking at a recent TV campaign and seeing a very fancy pie chart on the screen showing viewing figures by each segment of the day. The guys from the BBJ were professionally taking us through the analysis but while I was listening to it I realised I didn’t understand some of the categories, especially one labelled ‘coffee’.

Feeling confident that my question was valid, I asked " hold on a second guys, what’s coffee?"

The answer to which came immediately from one of the biggest characters in business, a man of legend known as Mogul, the head of media the Bass Brewers. He said," it’s what you’re drinking, you knob!!"

It was a hilarious moment. I found myself chuckling along the rest of them. However funny as it was, if I wasn’t the Elvis like god that I am, it would be very easy for me to no longer ask questions, stay quiet and stop contributing.

Human nature is such that in meetings we often don’t want to rock the boat or draw more attention to ourselves, especially when the big cheeses are in town. Therefore if there is anything unclear that is said or shown in a business, chances are few people will challenge it. Therefore your job as a leader in the shiny bright new world, is to talk in such a way that everybody gets it immediately.

This means avoiding jargon and business speak. This means using more pictures, metaphors and analogies to help grab people’s attention. This means telling more stories and bringing things to life in such a way that all generations of your family would understand what you’re saying.

I recently saw Al Carey, the CEO of Frito-Lay, explain their mission. It was beautiful. I absolutely got it because he broke it down into simple headlines and then each one of those he had a visual icon, a personal story and a video that made his point real. I’m sure it took a lot of investment of time and money to make it that solid, however when you consider the power of getting it right and having all business alignment behind that powerful message, it’s worth every penny and every drop of sweat.

All of us have the opportunity to give more clarity in the work that we do. When we are simple and real, people get us and what it is that we are driving for. That in itself, helps us to shine more brightly and create more impact in the business world.

Next time you have something to communicate in a business meeting, think about how you can do it differently, how you can grab their imaginations in a more simple and more powerful way. Then your Elvis will be well and truly upped!

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