No Fish Guts: The Power of Simplicity

Leave the deck, bring the notecards.

By Steve Frechette

A VP walks into a CEO’s office, the room walled by floor to ceiling windows showcasing the blinking-light, city skyline. She’s got nothing in-hand but ten notecards and a pen. She lays the cards face-down on the broad, marble-topped desk, five stacks of two cards each. Each stack is labeled with a single word that describes her project, each written in black. The VP takes a seat and says to the CEO, “So, which of these would you like to talk about?”

The CEO is the head of a billion-dollar company. The VP is a woman who knows the power of simplicity, and put in the time and effort required to hone the message to its absolute core.

It’s been over a year and the cards are still on that CEO’s desk.

We’ve all been there. Securing the rare 30 or 45-minute time block to speak directly with a senior leader about a critical topic can be next to impossible. The inclination is to build that glorious 30-pager: a meaty deck that says “we did work!” — each slide encapsulating multiple layers of message, nuance, and detail. We stand at the ready, poised to leap onstage and belt out the opening notes of our operatic masterpiece: “Lead Customer Insights to Inform our Strategic Growth Initiatives!”

We have an idiom here at Jump called “No Fish Guts.” A Jumpster once saw a sign on a dock emblazoned with those words, and had an epiphany: it’s all about simplicity! The sign didn’t say: “When filleting native or non-native fish species caught in the coastal fishing region, properly dispose of all fish entrails in accordance with municipal law.” The sign said: “No Fish Guts.”

When meeting with that business manager, be prepared for a taxed, scattered, sleep-deprived person juggling a dozen different tasks (oh, and having the weight of the company on his or her shoulders). Think of ways to bring that person along with you. Keep that person engaged, in the driver seat, and learning as you go. And socialize the concept along the way, rather than waiting for a dramatic unveiling of the “operatic masterpiece.”

Spend your time honing the message down to its core, rather than trying to layer that third level of nuance onto your slides. Maybe you ditch the slides altogether and bring the note cards, or a few video clips, or physical prototypes.

Remember the words of our 17th century friend, Blaise Pascal: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”