The Power of “Only”
When you’re trying to clarify and simplify your big idea, the word “only” is extremely important. You need to make sure your audience gets only what they need in order to act. To do that, focus on the action that you’re looking for.
Keep in mind that understanding isn’t an action— it’s a prelude to an action. Instead, think specifically about what you want people to do. You need to make sure that you’re particular about what that is if you want to clarify and simplify your big idea. Go with one action, not multiple.
Once you have an action, you can go back and build your Red Thread around it. Only use the pieces of the Red Thread that support that action. Only include the information that supports those pieces. To help, you can try the “Jenga test,” a great technique Tamsen learned from the fine folks at Oratium, where she used to work. Try pulling out a story or piece of information and see if your message still stands. Only include the information your audience needs to act and you’re on your way to clarify and simplify your big idea.
- EP056: Focus on the CHANGE: Defining the Intent That Guides Action
- EP057: Focus on the ACTION: How to Make the Change Actually Happen
- EP071: How to Make a Change More Actionable
- The Red Thread Worksheet
- Actions List
– What makes an idea more clear? Is it simplicity or complexity? Most of us are going to agree that it’s not complexity that makes an idea more clear. Complexity gets in the way of clarity. And if we’ve got something in the way of clarity, then we’ve got something in the way of the big impact we want our big idea to have.
So how do we make sure that we don’t bury that big idea and all this extra stuff? Well, that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread. If that sounds interesting to you, then like this video or podcast, and subscribe. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com, and I’ll be your host.
Most of the time, when we keep adding stuff to our idea we do it for good reason. There’s a positive intent there. Sometimes it’s selfish, because we want people to see our idea as sophisticated, and maybe therefore see us as sophisticated. Other times, I think we’re doing it for other people, the people who we want to serve with the idea. We want to make sure that they understand it, and they can apply it. So we keep adding all this extra stuff on. But there’s a big difference between understanding an idea and acting on an idea.
Somebody has to understand, at least to some extent, what an idea is before they can act. We need to understand that where the brain is concerned, less is more, especially when it comes to action. We need to make sure that people get only what they need to understand in order to act. Which means for you, when you’re putting something together that helps explain your big idea, this word, “only,” is going to be really important to you.
And in fact, there’s a technique you can use. It helps make sure that only the information that belongs in a particular communication is there is to focus on that action that you’re looking for. But this is where I need to remind you that understanding, in and of itself, isn’t an action. It’s a prelude to an action. So you need to think about what specifically you want people to do.
Now remember, though, that those actions can be things like plan, measure, choose. Plan, measure, choose, three completely different actions, though related, that can be the result of somebody hearing your idea.
Now of course, the first step in all of that is to make sure that you’re choosing one, and you’re not like, “Well, I want to do all three.” No, no, you need to choose one. Choose one action that is the most important to you.
So let’s say you do choose something like plan. That you want somebody to plan to, make a plan to apply this idea that you’ve given them. Now that you know exactly what you want them to do. Now you can go back and build your Red Thread for that to be the action.
And here’s where the word, only, comes in. Only the pieces of the Red Thread that serve that action go in. Only the pieces of information that support those pieces of the Red Thread go in. Keep asking yourself that question. Is this only what they need, only what they need in order to act?
In fact, you can do a little test with this. I used to work for a company called Oratium, and they called it the “Jenga test” after that wooden block game. The game where you would build up blocks, and then try to pull one out without having the whole tower of blocks fall. And we would say you could this with the communication as well. You can pull out pieces of information, pull out a concept, pull out a story, pull out a fact, and see, does the whole communication still stand? Does the understanding that somebody needs in order to make an action still stand?
If that tower of information still stands with the thing that you pulled out out of it, then leave it out. But if it starts to crumble, then put it back in, and then start testing other pieces that aren’t nearly as critical.
Because when it comes to making sure that your idea is as big as it can be, as Clare Booth Luce said, “The height of sophistication is simplicity.” And only what people need to understand to act is your key to get there. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com. Thanks for listening to this episode of Find the Red Thread.