Years ago, about eight years into my management consulting business, I was invited to work on a project for a large multinational company. To kick off the project, we were invited to a presentation which gave an overview of the entire project at the client site.
I was referred by a colleague I had met at a Silicon Valley Startup, and walked into the room very confident in my business acumen and experience.
The lights dimmed, and a two-hour presentation commenced, complete with 300+ PowerPoint slides filled with complex charts, graphs and acronyms.
The first 15 minutes, I thought to myself “This is kind of complicated, but I am sure my understanding will kick in soon.”
An hour in, I thought to myself “Am I the only one in this room who is kind of confused?”
And two hours in, as the presentation wrapped up and the lights came up, I was sweating, thinking to myself “I truly have no idea what this project is about. What is wrong with me?”
We took a short break, and I went into the hallway to get some water. Another consultant from the meeting who had been working on the project already walked up and I said quietly “So, um, if you had to summarize the nature of this project quickly, what would you call it?”
“It’s a reorganization!” he said, clearly and confidently.
My shoulders dropped with relief.
I knew how to do corporate reorganizations. I was just so confused by the complicated charts, diagrams, acronyms and jargon that I could not see the forest through the trees.
Why make things so complicated?
The leadership of this project had fallen under the spell (or might we say fallen ill with the disease) of “complexitis” – the tendency of large consulting companies to make simple things sound extremely complex, and to build complicated models and methods that only they understood.
Because things were so complex, clients often felt they had to hire a large army of consultants to build complicated slide decks, decipher long and complex reports, and hold endless meetings with multiple layers of process.
There are some cases where a thorough and complete model or process is necessary to ensure health, safety, legal or financial compliance.
But mostly, our models should use:
- Clear and compelling language
- As little jargon and as few acronyms as possible
- No more than 3-5 steps or phases
- One clear infographic or slide to explain the model — not 300 slides
- A clear storyline that makes its case – what Tamsen Webster refers to as a “Red Thread.”
When designing the model or method in your core offer, don’t fall into the trap that to sound smart, you have to make things complicated.
Clear and simple solves the problem.
Your clients will thank you for it.
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