Kevin Duncan is a business adviser, marketing expert, and the author of several successful business books, including The Diagrams Book and The Excellence Book. He previously worked in the communications and advertising sector for twenty-five years.
14 Diagrams That Just May Solve All Your Problems
THE DIAGRAMS THAT WILL HELP YOU TO SOLVE ANY PROBLEM
Five years ago I noticed that many of my attendees in training were taking notes in a new way – drawing shapes instead of old-fashioned longhand lecture notes.
So I wondered how many diagrams there were in my training materials. The answer was 46, so I added 4 more and wrote The Diagrams Book.
I had no idea at the time that there was an entire world market in visual thinking.
It is now a delight to have the book coming back in a range of languages – from Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Germany, and Spain to start with. There is more to come from Russia, the Netherlands, Sweden, China, Hungary, and Thailand.
Having trained thousands of people, it is apparent that many find it hard to express ideas and solve problems purely with words.
Diagrams are superb for organising your own thinking.
Once you have done that, you have a better chance of coming across as strategically well organised, or simply being better at explaining your point of view to colleagues and customers.
I use these diagrams all the time in training, and they really help people, so I hope you find them useful too.
THE DIAGRAMS BOOK 5TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION: A WORD ON THE NEW MATERIAL
Of course new material crops up all the time if you read widely enough.
Another of my great pleasures is to be able to exchange ideas with attendees of my training.
One big theme is helping people cope with handling their work. The Essentialist Diagram, The Bar Code Day and #Now Diagram are great examples of this.
Another is how people get on, particularly in teams. The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team Pyramid is a great help here, as is The Ideal Team Player Venn Diagram.
Keep looking for new diagrams, and new uses for existing ones.
1. THE ESSENTIALIST DIAGRAM
- Two diagrams in one. In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown espouses the disciplined pursuit of less. The non-essentialist is all things to all people, pursues everything in an undisciplined way, and lives a life that does not satisfy.
- He or she thinks that almost everything is essential. It’s the mess on the left.
- The essentialist does less but better, creating a life that really matters.
- He or she thinks that almost everything is non-essential, so if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no. That’s the clarity on the right.
- When it comes to energy, instead of doing many things half-heartedly, do one or two things properly. In both cases the same amount of energy is exerted.
- It’s the difference between a millimetre of progress in a million directions and significant progress in what matters most.
Exercise: Look at your list of things to do. Go down it using an essentialist frame of mind. Cross out all the non-essential items. See what’s left. Then go back through it again and ask yourself: “What is the one essential thing I need to do today?” Now do that, and that only. Repeat ad infinitum.
2. THE BAR CODE DAY
- The bar code provides a visual depiction of a day filled with hundreds of short, bitty tasks. This is not usually through the choice of the person doing the work. It’s because they keep being interrupted.
- When that happens, it takes the average person 12 to 15 minutes to get back to doing what they were doing. So if they are disturbed more than four times an hour, they have lost their whole career.
- Studies now show that multitasking doesn’t work, so if you want to produce proper high quality work, you need to allocate a decent run of time for each task, without interruption.
- Planning your day more like the version on the right means you can complete fulfilling tasks on your own terms.
- This includes suitable breaks, and controlled use of email and other technology so that you can really concentrate on what truly matters.
Exercise: Look at your diary planner for the day, or week. Correlate the time available with the nature of the tasks you want to do. Earmark important jobs that require high quality thinking, estimate the time needed, and block out the necessary run of time. When enacting these, go somewhere where no one can find you, and do not take any technology with you. If needed, allocate shorter chunks of time for rapid administrivia or email.
3. THE RESISTANCE
- Much has been written about how easy it is to have ideas. The world is full of them. It’s getting them done that is far more of a challenge.
- Steve Jobs said that “Real artists ship.” In other words, they produce things, and then stand by for the reaction. Response is not always favourable, so shipping takes bravery.
- Not wishing to ship is effectively a fear of criticism, whether that’s a musician still doing their 27th remix of a song, or a painter with a cellar full of work but no exhibition.
- Ideas have to be enacted, otherwise technically they have no tangible existence.
- Overcoming the resistance, as Seth Godin calls it, takes bravery and energy.
- “Could have”, “would have,” and “should have” don’t cut it. They just mean that you didn’t.
Exercise: Take some time to review all the things that you would ideally like to do, whether work or personal. Include all your dreams and half-baked ideas. Now consider how much you really want to do them. If there is something that you really want to do, work out what your resistance to doing it is. Now consider how to remove the blockage. There’s probably nothing stopping you.
4. THE AMBIVERT ARC
- It’s a commonly held belief that extraverts make the best salespeople, but a study by Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania blew all that apart.
- This Ambivert Arc shows the sales performance of introverts on the left through to extraverts on the right.
- Perhaps not surprisingly, extreme introverts have difficulty selling effectively. But so do extreme extraverts, usually because they show destructive behaviour, such as an excess of zeal and assertiveness, and a desire to contact customers too frequently.
- Those that succeed best are ambiverts. This is not a trendy new buzzword. It has been around since the 1920s, and is designed to describe those who can find the balance between being “geared to inspect” and “geared to respond”. It’s a powerful combination, and hopefully of great interest to introverts the world over.
Exercise: Start by regarding selling as simply persuading someone else that your point of view is valuable. Consider your next challenge of this type – a proposal or a presentation perhaps. Now balance the extremes of extraversion (too annoying) and introvertion (too recessive). Pitch your stance accordingly with a blend of both.
5. THE EBBINGHAUS ILLUSION
- This diagram is an optical illusion. The dark circles in the centre of each are the same size, but the surrounding lighter circles confuse us into thinking that the one on the right is larger.
- The name of this illusion comes from the nineteenth-century German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who pioneered studies of cognition and memory.
- Dr. Jessica Witt of Purdue University had these images projected onto golf holes, and then watched the results unfold. Those golfers who faced the “little surround” on the right sank twice as many putts as the others.
- This effectively shows that performance can be affected by perception. So next time you are faced with a tricky task, you can use this visualization technique to perceive it as large and inviting rather than small and forbidding.
- Life isn’t a game of golf, but perception of a challenge can certainly affect performance.
Exercise: Choose a difficult task, project or challenge. Imagine a visual image that sums up what is at stake or what needs to be achieved. Either use your imagination or a sketchpad to envisage how it can be viewed in a less scary way, or in a more attainable form.
6. THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
- In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek introduces the Golden Circle, with why in the middle, then how, then what on the outside.
- The sequence is important because it’s the reverse of what happens in most companies, who can easily say what they do, and sometimes how, but rarely why they do it.
- In fact, it doesn’t so much matter what you do in business – it matters why you do it.
- The sequence mirrors how the brain works – with the limbic brain in the centre responsible for our feelings (why), and the neocortex performing rational functions (what).
- Business leaders can inspire everyone to take action when they start with why.
- Companies need clarity, discipline and consistency to stick to their ‘why’, and this becomes their true authenticity, unlike other companies who hilariously ask their customers how they can ‘be more authentic’.
Exercise: Choose a suitable subject, such as your company, department, or a major project. Write down what it does (this should be fairly straightforward). Now explain how it does it (possibly harder). Now articulate why it does it. This last one could be difficult. If there is no answer forthcoming, examine your purpose in detail. Without a clear one, people could be working in the absence of a decent reason, leading to poor motivation.
7. THE FIVE DYSFUNCTIONS OF A TEAM PYRAMID
- According to Patrick Lencioni, five dysfunctions can ruin the effectiveness and cohesion of any team, particularly leadership teams.
- Absence of trust. This stems from an unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Those who are not open about mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build trust.
- Fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered debate.
- Lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions openly, team members rarely buy in or commit to decisions, though they may feign it.
- Avoidance of accountability. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused people fail to call their peers on counterproductive actions and behaviour.
- Inattention to results. Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where team members put their individual or departmental needs above those of the team.
Exercise: The model can be used effectively in any management team awayday. Discuss openly with the team how you can encourage the following: Trust (by overcoming invulnerability and admitting to weaknesses); Constructive conflict (to replace artificial harmony); Commitment (by removing ambiguity); Accountability (by raising low standards); and Inattention to results (by removing status and ego issues).
8. THE IDEAL TEAM PLAYER VENN DIAGRAM
- Again according to Patrick Lencioni, there are three essential virtues that make someone the ideal team player:
Humble: humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute.
Hungry: these people are self-motivated and diligent.
Smart: these people demonstrate common sense when dealing with others (it’s not the same as intellectual smartness).
- Those with just one are fairly easy to spot:
Humble only = the pawn, who often gets left out.
Hungry only = the bulldozer, who often annoys everyone else.
Smart only = the charmer, with great social skills but low contribution.
- Those with 2 out of 3 are much harder to identify:
Humble and hungry = the accidental mess-maker, unaware of their effect on people.
Humble and smart = the lovable slacker, who only does as much as asked.
Hungry and smart = the skillful politician, out for their own benefit.
Exercise: Apply the technique to analyze hiring new staff, assessing current employees, developing those who are lacking in one or more of the virtues, or looking at your organization’s culture. Choose a team, examine their qualities, and plot them on the diagram. Use the analysis to promote understanding of who is performing what role.
9. THE #NOW DIAGRAM
According to Max McKeown in his book #Now, you can’t change the past, but you can change the future, and now is where everything can be changed.
- Nowists love moving and seek joy in doing things; they don’t waste their lives seeking happiness, so they seek it now; they make rapid, effortless decisions; they see sequences, and have a sense of where they are going; they are hard to stop and a force of nature; self-trusting, confident in their abilities; and have do-it energy.
If you learn to embrace your haste, and love your Nowist nature, you can discover effortless action and decisions, embrace opportunities, obstacles and crises, and keep moving forward in a thoroughly positive way.
Those living in the past are called Thenist – they suffer from loss, regret and worry. Nowists are more likely to achieve growth, joy and reward.
Exercise: We live in the present but carry the anxieties of the past and concerns about the future with us at all times. Envisage a task or situation. Remove all baggage by breaking with the past. Forget the future too – it will come soon enough. Then work out precisely what your approach to this issue is right now. Now do that.
- Anyone working in a service industry (over 80% of the Gross Domestic Product of both the UK and the USA) will often be strung between the customer and what their company can realistically do.
- In this respect, anyone in sales, account management, customer service, and scores of other roles are effectively the gatekeeper of the relationship between the customer and the company.
- It’s a tricky place to be, and can leave the individual torn between the two sides, somewhat like the Roman god Janus, who is usually depicted with two faces, one facing the past and the other the future (hence January).
- Confident leaders need to become comfortable with this apparent contradiction.
- Looking outward, they should advise and educate customers, whilst resisting unreasonable demands.
- Looking inward, they should protect, lead and motivate their staff so that they can provide an excellent service, without fear.
Exercise: Consider the nature of your, or your company’s, relationship with the customer. Imagine your role as double-sided. Separate the apparent contradiction between the two perspectives. Then draw up an approach for each view. Now understand the dual nature of the job for yourself, or explain it to colleagues.
HUMOROUS FOOTNOTE: THE DON’T BE A DICK FLOWCHART
No explanation required here.
By Kevin Duncan
Kevin Duncan is a business adviser, marketing expert, motivational speaker and author. After 20 years in advertising and direct marketing, he has spent the last eighteen years as an independent troubleshooter, advising companies on how to change their businesses for better.
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