BRIEF: A book review by Bob Morris

BRIEFBRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less
Joseph McCormack
Wiley (2014)

How to unleash the power of brevity so that what you say and what you do have much greater impact

I am among the staunch advocates of the Lean Six Sigma philosophy and its potentialities in terms of doing more work and doing it much better in less time and at a lower cost. What we have in this volume is what Joseph McCormack has learned about how to unleash the power of brevity so that what you say and what you do have much greater impact. In essence, he is convinced that – in countless situations, but certainly not all — less is more. Years ago, he and his firm were retained to develop an original curriculum for U.S. Special Operations Command to improve the quality of communications. The result was a step-by-step approach to get to the point quickly.

How effective was it? After a few days, McCormack observed significant improvement: Participants “were able to leverage storytelling skills and BRIEF techniques to be clear and compelling when explaining complex missions. They delivered complicated information efficiently and effectively, with clearer context and more compelling explanations. They used fewer PowerPoint presentations. As a result, the leaders fostered better and more engaging conversations.”

McCormack makes skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include “BRIEF Bits” (memorable insights on how to be more BRIEF, each accompanied by a military figure to emphasize the importance of discipline), “BRIEF Basics” (various critical techniques that are essential to mastering Lean brevity), “Executive Attention” (vignettes about two executives and their interaction with others’ inability to be BRIEF), and “Long Story Short” (essential points at the beginning and conclusion of all chapters, 1-20). These devices will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of McCormack’s coverage.

o Four Forces of Overcapacity (Pages 15-22)
o The New Reality: There’s No Time for a Slow Buildup (22-24)
o The Seven Capital Sins of Verbosity (27-33)
o The Exercise of Brevity (43-44)
o BRIEF Maps: A Practical Tool for Delivering Brevity (51-52)
o Where’s the Communication Disconnect? When a Story Is Missing (62-63)
o The Birth of Narrative Mapping: A Way to Organize and Deliver Your Story (64-65)
o Think About Your Audience: Journalism 2.0 and the Elements of a Narrative
o TALC [Talk, Active Listening, Converse] Tracks — A Structure for Balance and Brevity (84-86)
o The Age of YouTube and Business (99-100)
o Mini-Case Study: W.W. Granger (105-110)
o The Discipline of Brevity (134-138)
o Cut to the Customer’s Chase (149-151)
o Walk the Walk; Talk the Talk (168-171)
o Let the Brilliance Shine Through (184-186)
o The “Say-Do” Ratio (197-199)
o Being Brief: Summary and Action Plan (207-217)

Over the years, I have encountered dozens of examples of the power of brevity, an attribute that is more valuable (and more rare) today than ever before. George Bernard Shaw once apologized in a letter for its length because he had not had enough time to write a shorter one. On another occasion, someone informed him, “I walked by your house the other day.” Shaw replied, “Thank you.” A woman once approached Ben Hogan and offered him a ten-dollar bill, explaining that she had bet someone $20 that she could get him to say three words and felt obliged to share half with him. He said, “You lose.” There is also a story about a venture capitalist who was approached (cornered) at a party by an eager young entrepreneur who insisted that all he needed was “only” $5-million to finance a great idea that would earn at least twenty times that. “Do you have a business card?” The young man offered one. “Please explain your great idea on the back of it.” The young man insisted that that would be impossible. “Then I’m sorry but there really isn’t anything for us to discuss.”

This is indeed a time when “being brief is desperately needed and rarely delivered. When we fail to be clear and concise, the consequences can be brutal: wasted time, money, and resources; decisions made in confusion; worthy ideas rejected; people sent off in wrong directions; [so-called] done deals that always seem to stall.” I congratulate Joseph McCormack on the wealth of information, insights, and counsel he provides in this lively and eloquent volume. Of course, I cannot resist the temptation to suggest that he really didn’t need 217 pages but who’s counting?

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