Warring tribes and the five paper ball technique

The following extract from Ken Segall’s book, “Insanely Simple,” provides a great story on persuasion:
At one agency meeting with Steve Jobs, we were reviewing the content of a proposed iMac commercial when a debate arose about how much we should say in the commercial. The creative team was arguing that it would work best if the entire spot was devoted to describing the one key feature of this particular iMac. Steve, however, had it in his head that there were four or five really important things to say. It seemed to him that all of those copy points would fit comfortably in a thirty-second spot.
After debating the issue for a few minutes, it didn’t look like Steve was going to budge. That’s when a little voice started to make itself heard inside the head of Lee Clow, leader of the Chiat team. He decided this would be a good time to give Steve a live demonstration.
Lee tore five sheets of paper off of his notepad (yes, notepad—Lee was laptop-resistant at the time) and crumpled them into five balls. Once the crumpling was complete, he started his performance.
“Here, Steve, catch,” said Lee, as he tossed a single ball of paper across the table. Steve caught it, no problem, and tossed it back.
“That’s a good ad,” said Lee.
“Now catch this,” he said, as he threw all five paper balls in Steve’s direction. Steve didn’t catch a single one, and they bounced onto the table and floor.
“That’s a bad ad,” said Lee.
I hadn’t seen that one before, so I rather enjoyed it. And it was pretty convincing proof: The more things you ask people to focus on, the fewer they’ll remember. Lee’s argument was that if we want to give people a good reason to check out an iMac, we should pick the most compelling feature and present it in the most compelling way
.”

For most people in our industry, initiating OSS change is all about designing a technical solution that can fulfill a list of requirements. This may be effective in some situations, but in large carrier environments the bigger challenge is almost always in getting the many stakeholders contributing towards a common goal. If the project is big enough, multiple different business units will be involved and/or impacted. Each will tend to have their own objectives / metrics – and they’re often metrics that are misaligned or even in conflict – what common goal?

In the all-too-common “warring tribe” situation, persuasion techniques become essential. A great place to start is by creating an inspiring vision, much like John F Kennedy established when in 1961, he exhorted America to put a man on the moon before the decade was out.

There are many persuasion techniques, but I put them into two categories:

  • What you’re going to add
  • What you’re going to take away

I’m sure you want to go deeper, so Kellerman and Cole’s 64 Compliance-gaining Strategies give some great persuasive food for thought. Different strategies will work better/worse with different stakeholders of course, .

But to loop back to Ken Segall again, if you’re responsible for a significant change that crosses multiple domains and multiple stakeholders / influencers, you may choose to start with a vision based around the “most compelling feature and present it in the most compelling way.”

How many of you are wondering whether you could use the five paper ball technique to persuade in your next OSS stakeholder group when complexity is running rampant?

Read the Passionate About OSS blog for more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *