Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Sesame Street simple" communication with a story

My first reaction to this Bob Sutton post--"Sesame Street Simple: A.G. Lafley's Leadership Philosophy"--was a slight recoil. Perhaps because I thought we had tapped out on learning from A.G. Lafley (can't we let the man run his company in peace?). But also because my natural communication style is not "Sesame Street simple." Unsure of that? Read this blog for a while.

But, after letting it sit a few weeks, I'm starting to get what Sutton is saying. He's onto something important about communicating with and influencing large numbers of people:

...although executives who talk about many ideas and complex ideas will be viewed as smarter -- wiser and more effective executives pick just a few simple messages and repeat them over and over again until people throughout the organization internalize them and use them to guide action. Constantly changing messages lead to the "flavor of the month problem" where people don't act on the current message because they have learned that, if they wait a few months (or days) the message will change (managers in such organizations become very skilled at talking as if they are acting on the flavor of the month, but not actually doing the thing that senior executives are pushing at the moment.) And making things overly complicated may make the senior executives seem smart and feel smart , but if a message is too complicated to understand, it is also means that the implications for action are impossible to understand as well.

Managers "talking as if they are acting...but not actually doing" recalls the damaging "false urgency" that inflicts many companies, as John Kotter discusses in his new book.

There's a way to do "Sesame Street simple" in a way that provides powerful insight and direction. Telling a story. Stories can be understood by everyone. They can be retold and honed for a particular group ("what's our 'the consumer is boss' story?"). They can convey complex lessons and spawn deep discussions about meaning.

That's a "Sesame Street simple" approach even I can understand.

(Photo: Hokey Pokey Elmo from Toys R Us)

Related Posts:
On John Kotter's "A Sense of Urgency"
More on "A Sense of Urgency"
A.G. Lafley: "The Consumer Is Boss"

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