Explain it on a Napkin
A forgotten exercise that can unlock Eureka! moments.
Clear and Consistent explores Narrative Clarity for Tech Companies.
Learn the simple principles that can turn even the most recluse DevOps engineer into someone who communicates like Steve Jobs.
Explain it on a Napkin
By Art Lapinsch
Dan Roam’s book “The Back of the Napkin” messed me up for good.
As a business student, I devoured the book and drank the kool aid:
"There is no more powerful way to prove that we know something well than to draw a simple picture of it. And there is no more powerful way to see hidden solutions than to pick up a pen and draw out the pieces of our problem." - Dan Roam
I realized that this exercise was extremely powerful in the work context.
Since I was still a business student with limited work experience, it was like handing an AK-47 to a monkey.
Clear and Consistent on a Napkin
Fast forward to September 2023.
I was on a flight from Copenhagen to Athens and while food was served I struck up a conversation with the dude sitting next to me. His name was Foivos and he was the Greek co-founder of a micro-grid technology company. That was interesting since I was just on my way from a climate tech conference myself.
We hit it off and after a while he started peppering me with questions on how to design narratives for tech companies.
I remembered the monkey and his favorite toy. And so, I pulled out my pen and asked if I could draw a few things on the front page of his book.
This is how I explained it to my new friend 👇
How to Structure for Narrative Clarity
What do strong narratives have in common?
They are (1) easy to remember and they are (2) easy to reproduce.
But if it were easy, everyone would be Martin Luther King.
But they are not. So how do we fix this?
Create a Narrative Pyramid - A One-Pager for Your Narrative
A Narrative Pyramid is a structure where all elements of a narrative are recorded.
Why a pyramid?
The higher up you go, the more high-level it becomes. Think of vision and mission.
The further down you go, the more detailed/granular it becomes. Think of value proposition, products, and features.
There are more elements on the bottom and fewer at the top. It’s structured just like a pyramid 🔺
Communicate in the language of your audience.
It’s ok to use technical acronyms if I’m selling to an aerospace manufacturer.
It’s not ok to use technical acronyms if I’m selling diapers to a tired parent.
Be mindful of how your audience talks.
Your goal is to polish the elements of your narrative until they are clearly understood.
Once they are clear, you plug them into your Narrative Pyramid.
Use your Narrative Pyramid as a Single-Source-of-Truth (SSOT).
What goes on the homepage? → Check the Pyramid.
How should we pitch our product? → Check the Pyramid.
How do we onboard our new employees? → Check the Pyramid.
The only question is: Does the Narrative Pyramid have the information I need?
If the answer is “no” then you go back to the whiteboard and figure it out until you have a clear answer.
If the answer is “yes” then you use the element. Et voila, you are aligned and the narrative lives on consistently ever after.
Either way, happy end.
Clear and Consistent on Substack
After explaining this to my new friend I had an epiphany:
I find myself explaining and consulting about this method over and over again. I should write it down somewhere. This is what this Substack is about.
The method is about clarity and consistency. The publication should be called clearandconsistent.com // I checked and the domain was available. I felt like a genius. And so, I bought it while still sitting in the airplane (true story!).
So turns out that explaining ideas on a napkin can unlock Eureka! moments.
Dan Roam - you son of a gun - you were right all along!
In the coming essays, I’ll work my way through all the steps, techniques, and details of designing clear narratives specifically for the context of tech companies.
If this sounds relevant, I’d love to have you along for the ride.
In the meantime, try explaining your narrative on a napkin.
You might be surprised what you’ll find.
Big Request: Tell Me What To Focus On 🙏
Theory is nice and all but actual problem solving is much nicer.
I would be happy to dive into reader requests and focus on concrete challenges/problems that you experience in your day-to-day.
Let me know via email or just leave a comment below 👇
So long ✌️
A shoutout to all my lovely friends who did the right thing by learning a hard skill! I love you all!