Wanted: Correct Solutions delivered compellingly

Wanted Blog

I think that one of the most common mistakes made when delivering a product or deliverable is how easy it is to get so wrapped up in the correctness of the content and meeting the letter of the requirement, that we forget to make things interesting. We forget to take a little bit of time to make our content compelling. As a management consultancy organization, this is a rule that we break all the time. When you break it, you run the risk of not giving your client all the value that they could have had. Now some people will say, “Well you’re just getting paid to provide the answer.” While I think that’s a hundred percent correct, there’s more to it than that.

A lot of times you’re called in to deal with a complex question or an organization is trying to achieve a particular goal. They ask you to come in and look at things so you evaluate a lot of different factors to come up with a result. In theory, it shouldn’t have to be compelling it should just have to be right. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works. It doesn’t just have to be the right idea. In a lot of cases, particularly in very large organizations, it has to win in the marketplace of ideas because a lot of times you’re not the only group that’s working on the problem. Now you may be the only group working on the problem from any particular angle but large organizations pain points oftentimes get addressed not just by one group, but multiple groups. Multiple groups will recognize the pain points and they’re all attempting solutions to address it from their particular angle. Oftentimes with the assumption that if they’re the ones that address it, they’ll be able to avoid a certain amount of organizational pain. This by virtue of being able to have crafted the solution. So I think it’s really important to look at things and go, “I need this to not only give the right answers, but I need it to be something that people will read the entire report through.”

You need to put things into the reports that will make it interesting to people that are notonly cutting fat, cut and dry, just the facts man type of people, but also to people that need to be pulled through a document. Those people need some visual cues. Maybe they need some facts and statistics that make it more relevant to them. Things that make it personal. In order to do this you need to know enough about whose going to being reading or seeing your report or presentation to make it compelling to them. Those are questions that need to get answered just as much as whatever the evaluation, assessment or particular problem is that you’re trying to address.  One of the things we’ve done more and more is utilize things like info graphics. I’ve included an example here.

This info graphic was developed to help us with a report we’ve been working on with a bunch of schools to address school safety issues. This was meant to spur action. There’s a lot of data that gets collected through the ExAM for schools process and we want people to go through and really take a hard look at those things. So we set up this info graphic with that goal in mind. Obviously we’ve got other things that we do throughout a full report but it’s meant to drive people to work through it by setting up the idea that it’s very important that they do so.

I’m actually very interested in feedback on the info graphic itself as well as the idea that you need to cater to people that might not go through an entire report that you deliver just because it’s not interesting. I know that a lot of people come from sort of the old school belief that people should do it because they believe it’s the right thing to do, it’s their job, etc. but that isn’t the case across the board. While those people are going to do it whether I make it interesting or not, it’s also really important you make the people that might otherwise only be casually interested to make it through it as well.  So if it was important enough for someone to engage you to do something, then it’s probably worth it on your side to make it as compelling as possible.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Alternative Tools for Creative Problems

I was thinking the other day about how I’ve really, over time, changed the way that I develop the different things that I’m trying to communicate. Whether it’s through the web, in a presentation, report, or whatever it is, I’ve developed specific tools for specific things. So I thought I’d share a little bit of that with folks. Now I know that as a Mac guy some of these tools are not necessarily available on the PC but if I happen to know a PC equivalent I’ll pass that along. Unfortunately I’ve become a bit of a Mac cripple and so I apologize in advance for those of you that are living in the PC world and are wondering that OmniGraffle was. Maybe that is a good place to start.

Over the years I‘ve started to use PowerPoint less and less. So many people have an axe to grind about PowerPoint and PowerPoint presentations. Either they come down on the side that it doesn’t convey enough information or people have started going to 70 slide PowerPoint decks. There are all these reasons people hate PowerPoint but the biggest thing that I don’t like about PowerPoint is the template driven nature.  I feel that not being able to start with a clean slate so to speak puts unnecessary boundaries on how you think. I know that because it’s so template driven they’ve got a lot of nice things that allow you to make things quickly. The SmartArt has gotten really good. There’s a lot of flexibility to it but I think on some level, it kind of constrains your thinking. As a result, I’ve gone to OmniGraffle to make presentations. (Probably the closest PC equivalent to OmniGraffle is Visio.)

OmniGraffle is a nice drawing tool that has a lot of stencils available from a lot of different makers. This helps you with the ability to create things quickly because there’s a lot of these ready-made tools but there’s a much broader stencil set that you can pull from. There’s also no sort of constraining template that you’re bound by. Now sometimes that can have a little bit of a downside because a blank sheet of paper can be intimidating but that’s why I think one of the most underutilized productivity tools today is the pen and paper or the whiteboard.

I so often start with pen, paper, and a doodle before I touch any other tool because I think that when you get in and you’re using your productivity tools on your PC, there’s a sense of permanence in it.  You don’t want to un-build things that you built once you’ve gone through the trouble of drawing a bunch of lines, grouping them, sending things to the back, and moving things forward so on. You don’t want to break anything. Whereas with a pen and paper, you just scratch things out and spend another three minutes hacking something new together. I think sometimes, especially at the beginning of the creative process, being able to throw things away is important because you’re going to have a lot of bad ideas before you have a good ones. At least, that’s what I’ve found. Your mileage may vary there. I know there are a lot of sharper people than me out there and so it might be that you’re able to knock things out without the number of iterations that I have to go through. I personally find that the easier I make it for myself to throw something away the better the final project is because instead of trying to take something that is halfway there and make it work, I can start over. So a lot of times my process will be pen and paper, or whiteboard if I’m working with a group, and then I’ll take it into Omnigraffle.

If we’re developing a website for somebody, I love Balsamiq.  Balsamiq you can use on the web, you can use it on a PC, or you can use it on a Mac and it allows you to frame things up really quickly. It’s a lot of sort of black and white fuzzy lines and it has the feeling of pen and paper but it allows you to do drill throughs and mimic web activities a little bit better. It’s really good for developing things quickly when you’re working with a client or a group to develop out websites and things like that. I’ve even used it a lot of times when we’re developing reports for people, business intelligence type things. I’ll go in and quickly put something together and mark it up. It allows people to get the idea of what I’m doing without having the focus in on colors and line thickness for the most part.  It really gets people to focus in on the informational elements, the content, and the placement which is incredibly important.  So that is another great tool for rapid prototyping and I really believe in it.

Finally, for graphics development I’m an Adobe guy.  Fireworks is something that I have used for a really long time. It’s just so accessible for people who may not be big graphics people but they need to be able to put together nice looking visual elements quickly without being a pro. Fireworks is a great solution. It’s also a lot cheaper than Photoshop. Adobe currently has a great offering right now which is Adobe Creative Cloud. With this you get access for $50 a month to all of their Creative Cloud offerings. I’ve actually gotten to where I use quite a bit more than just Fireworks but Fireworks has been something that I’ve always liked. It’s especially useful when you’re working with outside designers and you just want to tweak something up really quick. You can take and pull in whatever really advanced thing they’ve done and add in your little tagline, bit of text, or change a color without having to get down into 50 different menus to do it. That’s kind of the final piece of the puzzle for me. That’s where I’ll use Fireworks to pull together a couple of graphical elements and then drop them into OmniGraffle for my presentation or whatever it is.

So those are what I’m using for creative work for our clients. When we’re building info graphics and things like that we use a combination of OmniGraffle, Fireworks, and then oftentimes we’ll do the chart in in Excel or things like that. Then we bring it into Fireworks so that the graphics, the charts or whatever it is, really pops.  So hope that was useful for people and I’m curious if anyone else has any helpful alternative tools they use for creative problems.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.