I say, I say, I say, what is short, pointy and smaller than a banana?
The words on that index card.
I have to produce a performance report for my organisation every quarter. We send out a large official looking email, to all the staff who have to provide us with information asking in detail exactly what is needed.
We got about a third that we need.
With 2 days to go before the deadline I wrote down on an index card exactly what was needed, 3 bullet points containing statements of fact on what difference had been made throughout the year backed up by data. And one bullet point on what challenges remained, again fact+data.
I walked through the building, sat next to people who needed to send me information and showed them the card, said this was what was needed. Pointed at it and said “fact plus data, that would fit on this card, no more needed just this size.”
By the end of the day everything was in.
Admittedly its all bollocks, but it is in. There is now a report with words in in sentences, that are spelled correctly or at least are spellcheckable. I know this report is cack of the highest order, but when the thinking is all wrong I am often asked to do wrong things, and this is one example.
So why did an index card work?
It is simple, unexpected and concrete. The original email I had sent out contained paragraphs for God’s sake, that hides a simple message “send me information” behind layers of nonsense. By stripping everything away to the core message of “fact+data” the actual message was revealed. Also shoving an index card in someone’s face doesn’t often happen, it broke peoples expectations, emails are expected and therefore easily forgotten.
Best of all it was concrete. I wanted short and punchy bullet points, but describing that it very different from showing it. The information I had sent to me in response to the email was not punchy, it was lengthy. 2-3 sides of A4. But with those people that had the index card shoved in front of them, they had seen exactly what short and punchy looked like. They had something to work off, so they could copy what they had seen.
I often complain in this blog about people trying to control the world through paper documents, plans, customer standards and the like. I fell for the same myth, that a thoroughly detailed email outlining exactly what was wanted would be the cause that would effect a return to me of what I wanted. Like being given 3 wishes by a genie.
Instead I learned that the wondrous lessons in the book “Made to stick” are best learnt in action, by failing to get a message across. I learnt that doing the opposite of simple (lengthy emails), unexpected (yet ANOTHER email) and concrete (descriptions of what was needed rather than showing it) will result in people not hearing, understanding and being able to act.
Why is this post called slug trails?
Think of the slime trail that a slug leaves behind it, you can see where it has been as it leaves a trail.
Think of any message you want to get across, will it result in slug trails of message being left behind on peoples minds? What would stick from your message? Make it simple, unexpected, concrete, emotional and have a story in it. Do that and a slug trail will be left behind.