The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The Best Bit Of Advice About Problem Solving You’ll Ever Get …


We love them.

The bigger and badder the better.

Of course you have to be sure you have the right problem.

And then you have to remember that as much as some people may want to claim it, business – and life, for that matter – can not be approached like one big engineering problem.

Well, it can, but the solutions are – at best – short term and – at worst – ignored for being utterly bland, boring and emotionless.

But that’s not what this post is about.

You see, in our quest to solve big problems, we like to show our solutions by overwhelming the client with our brilliance.

Brilliance of our considerations.

Brilliance of our proof points.

Brilliance of our brains.

I get it …

You not only want to lead the client through your thinking so they ‘get it’, but because you’re proud of what you’ve done.

But there’s 3 things wrong with this approach …

The first is – as my Dad used to say – if you’re desperate to show how intelligent you are, then you’re not that smart.

This has never been more true in the creative industry where the reality is the work should be doing the proving, not you.

And secondly, this ‘demonstration of intelligence’ approach more often than not, results in presentations that are hundreds of pages long.

Literally hundreds.

Slide after slide that takes people on an extremely long journey on how difficult the problem is you have to solve and how complex and detailed the path to your solution has been.

It is, at best, a strategy where the goal is to beat the recipient into submission.

And why am I saying all this?

Well recently, I caught up with someone who told me 3 things I absolutely love.

Three things that should change the way companies approach problems and communicate their solutions.

Now full disclosure …

The person who said this is not some random individual.

In fact I’ve known and worked with them for a long, long time.

But more than that, he is – and has been for 2 decades – at the top of his game.

The business leaders, business leader.

An individual with an incredible history of success through pragmatic decision making and investment in innovation.

I asked him if I could mention his name but he said he preferred if I didn’t. Not because he wants to be mysterious, but because he’s humble … which is another reason he doesn’t work in adland, ha.

That said, he has personally shaped the way I present …

Semi-structured, singular stories rather than a mass of slides.

Strong visuals rather than pages of information.

Clarity rather than confusion.

Spoken through the nuanced, authentic lens of culture rather than superficial generalisations of convenience.

Communicating as an informed outsider rather than a blinkered insider.

The language of people not corporates.

Provocative rather than comfortable.

Inspiring the possibilities of creativity rather than creating structures to stop it.

Now I appreciate not everyone appreciates my style – and that’s fine – however, it has led to a lot of success for me and now, I realise why.

You see what this individual said to me was this:

1. Make sure your presentation is focused on the opportunity not the problem.

2. Remember, solutions need to be simpler than the problem.

3. If you can’t sum your solution up in a sentence, you have either an ego problem or a problem with your solution.

That’s it.

Sounds obvious doesn’t it.

But how many of us are doing it?

How many of us are writing presentations that celebrate the complexity of the problem rather than the power of the opportunity?

How many of us are talk about our approach to executing the solution rather than what the solution actually is?

How many of us talk about solutions as a range of elements tasks rather than one overarching idea?

I would like to think I’ve been following those 3 steps for years, but even now – I read them and go through old approaches and see where I could have done things differently.

More concise.

Cleaner … at least in the articulation of the solution and how I got there.

One of the best bits of advice I ever got was ‘talk to a friend outside the industry about your idea. If they don’t get it, you might need to re think about it.’

This is not about dumbing down.

Or being simplistic and basic.

It’s about really thinking about what you’re doing and how you’re expressing it.

Because as Ronald Reagan said, “if you’re explaining, you’re losing”.

39 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Now that is a post full of good advice. Especially #2. I really like how that has been expressed. Though it should be said there are a lot of companies and industries who make more money selling the complexity of the solution.

Comment by George

I was incorrect. There are a lot of companies and industries who make more money selling the complexity of a solution to appear they are offering minimised risk when it really is minimising opportunity.

Comment by George

A major part of the economy is built on companies like these. Except they all sell their conservatism as smart practice.

Comment by Bazza

The entire consultancy business is built on this premise. I can’t imagine the profits they will make scaring companies into preparing for the next pandemic.

Comment by Pete

Yeah, I love #2 too. So obvious and yet rarely followed – often for the reasons you say. To be honest even I think this post is packed with good stuff. Of course, I can say this because none is from me.

Comment by Rob

I don’t remember telling you this. But thanks for the compliments about me.

Comment by Bazza

The business leaders, business leader. Yes, that’s you. 💯

Comment by Pete


Comment by Rob

youre a better fucking basketballer than business leader.

Comment by andy@cynic

This -> This has never been more true in the creative industry where the reality is the work should be doing the proving, not you.

Comment by Bazza

The problem is when clients think “clever work” translates to expressing the brief in the headline.

Comment by Pete

Or they forget they have been living with the work for months and assume the public will be on the same page as them. Or that they will be as interested in the subject matter as they are.

Comment by George

Or they just don’t care.

Comment by DH

Robert’s fathers advice is also very good. I’ve seen many people fail in their attempt to look good.

Comment by George

Yep. My dad was a smart one. And he showed it by not trying to show it. Though to be fair to Reagan, his quote is excellent too. Though that might be the only smart thing he said, even if he spent his entire Presidency trying to look like he was. Then we have Trump and Reagan looks like Einstein in comparison.

Comment by Rob

Reagan was very deceptive. Most things you assume about him are wrong. His “ciients” thought he was giving them what they wanted, but he was actually giving the users/electorate what they needed. Was he conservative or liberal? Think again.

Comment by John

What on earth makes you think that? Especially as it is widely known he was a mouthpiece for others ideas and ideals rather than his own. He certainly wasn’t as bad as many claim, but he certainly wasn’t as good as many American memories suggest.

You should watch The President’s Gatekeepers … you’d enjoy it.

Comment by Rob

I didn’t say he was good or bad and I don’t know which groups you’re citing when you write those terms and therefore what good or bad would actually look like to them. I’m just saying he wasn’t quite what was/is portrayed. The Moral Majority supported him but didn’t get a whole lot in return.

Comment by John

Fair … but my point is the US seem to regard him as an excellent president so is your comment about him not being exactly as he was perceived from their context or the international audience?

Comment by Rob

Dear Commie. No, he wasn’t exactly what his base support thought he was but, equally, Two Tribes was a video not actual footage.

Comment by John

nice comment doddsy. for once.

Comment by andy@cynic

A question for you Rob.

You are excellent at presenting. When I read your characteristics for your presentation style, I was nodding through first hand experience of seeing you deliver them. But they are very much your presentations. I remember once having to deliver something you wrote and I was terrible. So in your mind, is a good presentation something that works well for the individual and audience or one that anyone can pick up and deliver with clarity?

Comment by Pete

Ha … that’s a good and evil question.

First of all I remember the presentation you did of mine and the response was good so stop saying otherwise. There will always be some clunkiness when someone has to present something someone else has written – but for me, a good presentation is when the audience get what you are trying to communicate. That’s it really. Which is why I always end up having to do one version for the actual presentation (which suits my style) and one as the leave behind (that says what I said, rather than just my usual approach of weird picture and maybe a word on it. Maybe. Ha)

Comment by Rob

I was there, he wasn’t good.

Comment by Bazza

Thank you for your support.

Comment by Pete

As we are critiquing presentation styles, would you like me to review some of your “greatest hits” Baz?

Comment by George

I’d like you to critique both of them George.I’m sure there are lessons to be learned.

Comment by John

They had their good days. They had their bad days.
They needed more good days. But that was a very long time ago.

Comment by George

Thanks for helpful reminder Rob. I see so many presentations that fail on one or more of the points you highlight.

Comment by Daniel Gregory

I’m assuming the third point refers to a distillation of the argument rather than some bland slogan.

Comment by John

Of course … though that is a big problem today with too many people – including clients and agency folk – thinking a strap line line is the idea.

Comment by Rob

an idea is not a fucking ad. an ad comes from an idea. why the fuck is that so hard for people to get? pricks.

Comment by andy@cynic

+ 1

Comment by DH

this post is alright. but the big fucking question is if youve ever fucking done something without stealing it from someone else campbell?

Comment by andy@cynic

The only taste Rob has is who he steals from.

Comment by DH

Now that is a burn that is worth applauding.

Comment by Bazza

Excellent David.

Comment by George

Indian Stok market me pese kese bna skte h

Comment by Sunil

[…] written about a bunch of other brilliance he has told/taught me over the years, which you can read here. […]

Pingback by The Opposite Of Agile … | The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Leave a Reply