Don’t just tell me, show me

“A Picture paints a thousand words.” (Fredrick R. Barnard)

Many of you, like me, probably have a DVR or Digital Video Recorder. My wife and I rarely watch TV live, opting usually to record our favorite shows so we can watch them commercial free. When we do watch, we fast forward through the commercials. I have noticed that as DVRs increase in popularity, commercials on TV are changing. They still have a golden toned voice over, but knowing that people will be hitting the fast forward button, they have also gone to bigger and bolder pictures. Many companies actually put the words that the voice over artist is saying on the screen in large print so they can be read even at high speed.

It has been known in the world of advertising, and in the world of business, that pictures tell a story better than mere words can do. Tell me that 75% of sales come from one place, and I might remember, but if you show me a pie chart, it will be cemented.

When we are driving to align our minds and actions with others, it is usually best to find a way to make the concept come alive for the other person.

Some years ago I was part of a project that analyzed why projects failed at our company. We did a deep dive analysis on over 50 projects that had failed to meet their objectives. We looked at many factors that played a role, and we did so with objective analysis and interviews. One theme that came from our study was that often our own senior management would either delay decisions about key aspects of a project, or would force changes into the projects after they were underway. These, and other actions, tended to make projects either come in late, or over budget.

The study took a couple of months, and I was elected to share the results with the senior managers of our company. The team and I knew that if we really wanted to have meaningful change in the future, we had to have our senior management understand the role that they were playing in the success and failure of projects.

The day before the presentation, I decided to take a bold step. I went to a craft store and bought 10 small mirrors. I put them into nice envelopes and placed them at the seats of the executives before the presentation. I even tied the envelopes shut with ribbon. When it came time to get to that point in the presentation, I asked them all to open the envelope in front of them. When they did, they held the mirror and saw their own reflections. I then proceeded to make the point, with definite examples, of how they had contributed to the failure of projects.

It was risky on my part, because they might have thought that I was trying to show them up. I was careful to point out that all of their decisions were made with the best of intentions, and that they were, of course, correct decisions. At the same time, I helped them to see that even though they were making good and right decisions for the company, they were also putting a strain on the people who worked for them. In fact, they were putting a double strain because they were not only causing projects to fail, but then they were holding the project leads accountable for the very failures that the executives themselves had caused.

At the end of the meeting several of the executives came and personally thanked me. I would love to say that the presentation caused them all to change their behaviors overnight, but that would be an over sell. What is true is that over time they did become more aware of how they were making projects fail, and we found ways to account for that within our results so that the project leads weren’t hit again.

When we need to get people to our way of thinking it is best to remember this principle.

Principle 20 – Dramatize your ideas.

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