Articulating how I think
Johnny Carson once told Steve Martin: “You will use everything you know.” In his book Born Standing Up, Steve Martin details how this came true throughout his career. One example is that he learned rope lasso tricks while working at Disneyland as a teenager, and performed them in ¡Three Amigos! about 25 years later.
That’s how I felt this past month pitching for strategy and innovation consulting work. I’m diving back into my kitbag and brushing off some of the old activities, skills and mental models I’ve learned over the past 20-something years since I started university.
I’m a connector
According to the Clifton Strengths profile my top 5 strengths include learning, input and ideation. What this means in practice is that things get funnelled into my brain and get remixed. I connect things that may not be obvious.
A simple example: Years ago my RSS feed was made up of webcomics and food blogs. That source material got blended up and poured out into the world as Food Scene Investigation: a restaurant review blog by a fictional food detective, in comic panel style with narration and speech bubbles, and jokes in the mouseover text.
I do the same thing with frameworks and mental models
I’ve ingested a lot of frameworks and philosophies over the years from many, many fields: from improvisation to project management to curriculum design to innovation strategy. I boiled down and mashed together an entire MBA innovation subject into a single Innovation Diagnostic tool.
My brain remixes all of these different ideas when I’m applying it to a new problem.
So when someone asks me — as they have recently as I’m pitching for strategy and innovation consulting work — what frameworks I’m going to apply, the answer is not easy to summarise on a neat slide in a written proposal.
One recent attempt:
We will borrow from a number of frameworks and methodologies throughout our sessions including; Double Diamond, Lean Startup and strategy models such as Play to Win, Hype Cycle and Three Horizons to include strategic and tactical perspectives.
Just for fun I put a version of this into an AI text generator to see what it came up with.
There are many ways to use a hammer
The other thing I’ve learned is that I can use a tool in many different ways to achieve different outcomes.
Let’s use improv exercises as an example. There’s an improv game called “word at a time story”, in which two or more improvisers tell a story by speaking in order, and only adding one word each time they speak.
This one exercise can be used to teach a whole bunch of different concepts depending on the framing and coaching around it. It can teach the concept of agreement (say “yes”), collaborative building (“yes, and”), listening, letting go of your ideas and adapting. Those are kind of the default things it’s used for. But you can also use it to push people to take more risks; or heighten character; or explore genres; or focus in on detail; or apply narrative structures. Same exercise (tool), but different applications.
It’s the same with strategy and innovation tools. A business model canvas can be used for business model generation and ideation, sure, but also for strategic alignment, and hypothesis generation, and story construction, and a bunch of other things. A hackathon can be used to explore new ideas, develop skills, build teams, deep dive into industries or technologies, and many other things.
Again, these are things I’m much better at explaining verbally than in writing.
I struggle to articulate my thinking without coming across like someone who is throwing jargon around and trying to sound impressive. I really don’t want that!
So my process is to get all my thoughts down on a whiteboard, work out how to visualise that in a nice, easy-to-comprehend way, then write some accompanying explanatory text.
I’m still new to this. I’ll keep practicing, reflecting, and experimenting.