February 1, 2010
The moral of Aesop’s fable ”The Dog and the Oyster” is about the importance of thinking before acting. First, a little bit of scene setting. Aesop lived in Greece 6 centuries before Christ. Oysters were plentiful by the seaside. So were dogs.
“A Dog, used to eating eggs, saw an Oyster and, opening his mouth to its widest extent, swallowed it down with the utmost relish, supposing it to be an egg. Soon afterwards suffering great pain in his stomach, he said, “I deserve all this torment, for my folly in thinking that everything round must be an egg.”
There are far too many projects in which people think everything round is an egg and, without first engaging their brains in “sufficient thought”, they jump dangerously to the creative endpoint. Communication is about reaching the right audience with the right message at the right time…but, first, it’s about figuring out what the right things are. Strategy – a comunicator’s best friend – is a carefully devised plan of action. Well, here’s a process you can put to work on every project. I do.
This is where the client says what’s on their mind, and we listen. We ask probing questions, too – to make sure that everyone’s really clear (and in agreement) on what we’re setting out to do. This step is complete when we’re able to give voice to what I call ‘The Challenge’ in less than 120 words. Importantly, it’ll become the benchmark against which the entire success of the project will be measured.
This is research. It’s where we dive in to find out more about what’s really going on. We’ve listened (in Step 1), and defined what ‘The Challenge’ is, but what’s ‘The Situation’ that’s getting in the way of achieving it? What are the obstacles, influences and extenuating circumstances that may have some bearing on the matter? Let’s find out. There are various kinds and levels of research. It’s cool when we can go really deep with focus groups, ethnography, polling, quantitative analysis ‘n all that. However, that’s not mandatory in all cases. Reading and reviewing whatever can be searched and found (or provided) works, too. Basically, it’s about engaging the brain in a targeted direction. It stirs up the tea leaves so we can read them.
This is where we put into words (and images) what we’ve learned, and feed it back the client. It sounds ordinary and obvious, but it’s possibly the most powerful, surprising and thought-provoking part of the whole process. A good, strategic writer will have the uncanny ability to express what you have always wanted to say, but couldn’t find the words (or time) to do so. When your thoughts are fed back to you as clearly articulated statements, they take on a presence that allows you to deal with them.
Now comes the heavy lifting of figuring out what’s what. We’ve defined ‘The Challenge’. We’ve done a deep dive on what might be getting in the way – ‘The Situation’. Now, we need to put our thinking caps on and get those brainwaves working on the problem. And here I get to quote one of my favourite quotable quotes – “There is no problem that can stand the assault of sustained thinking.” Voltaire. Smart dude. He nails the secret of my process, which is really no secret at all. If I/we/the project team thinks long enough about the dramatic tension between the ‘The Challenge’ and ‘The Situation’, the answer (or something close to it) will make itself known.
This is that exact moment during the activity of thinking when we crack the code and actually ‘get’ it. It’s the magic. The insight. I call it ‘The Essential Truth’. It’s when the core truth about what’s really going on is grasped… allowing everything to fall into place and provide a platform of understanding. It’s not the solution itself. It’s the light that illuminates the rest of the process.
Don’t be a sick dog. Be strategic!